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Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outsidethe Extramurosfor the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.
Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gatesat the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.
Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramurosa threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can opposeas, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his worldas he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 49.
- Review Date: 2008-07-28
- Reviewer: Staff
In this follow-up to his historical Baroque Cycle trilogy, which fictionalized the early-18th century scientific revolution, Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind “concent” (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational “saecular” outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, “collected” into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or “tenner” (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world. Stephenson's expansive storytelling echoes Walter Miller's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, the space operas of Larry Niven and the cultural meditations Douglas Hofstadter—a heady mix of antecedents that makes for long stretches of dazzling entertainment occasionally interrupted by pages of numbing colloquy. An accompanying CD of music composed by David Stutz is suitably ethereal. (Sept.)