Anathem (Neal Stephenson) - Harper - 2009 - 981 pages

This is the best work of science fiction that I have read in decades.  Author Stephenson has created  a parallel cosmos that is somewhat like the one that includes Earth but with many differences.  The terminology is odd but similar.  It takes a few pages but most readers will understand it enough to continue.  The glossary and "The Dictionary" are very helpful.  Fraa ("male avout") Erasmus lives in a walled community that keeps scientists from causing too many advances in the "Saecular" world.  His main job is to wind the giant clock daily with his crew of fellow "Decenarians" (those who have been within the walls for less than ten years).  The walled community ("concent") seems like a quasi-prison/religious cult but most of the residents prefer it to the chaos of the outside world ("extramuros").  The life of Erasmus is extremely regimented (and dull) until the planet ("Arbre") is attacked by visitors from a different cosmos ("The Cousins").  Then, the walls are breached and the fraas and suurs ("female avouts") are released into the Saecular world since The Powers That Be realize that they need some smart people to fight this threat to the planet.  The author manages to stir opinions about religions, cultures, science, and conspiracy theories while maintaining a plausible plot line about the futures of cosmi.  The novel is truly an adventure into another possible world with many surprises for the reader.  Mr. Stephenson has established himself as one of the great syfy writers of our time.  [JAM 7/18/2015]