Three fraas and two suurs sang a five-part motet while twelve others milled around in front of them. Actually they weren't milling; it just looked that way from where we sat. Each one of them represented an upper or lower index in a theorical equation inolving certain tensors and a metric. As they moved to and fro, crossing over one another's paths and exchanging places wile traversing in front of the high table, they were acting out a calculation on the curvature of a four-dimensional manifold, involving various steps of symmetrization, antisymmetrization, and raising and lowering of indices. Seen from above by someone who didn't know any theorics, it would have looked like a country dance. The music was lovely even if it was interrupted every few seconds by the warbling of jeejahs.Please, Internet, deliver me video of this mathematical dancing. Somewhat more seriously, though, moving pictures often float in my mind (and I suppose the minds of others) as I attempt to understand various mathematical structures.
Stephenson gave an interesting
talk/Q-and-A at Google about the book, if you've got an hour to kill. I think if you liked Cryptonomicon
you'll like this one; on the other hand I was disappointed by the Baroque Cycle, which lots of people seem to have liked. I suspect this has to do with the times in which they're set; the Baroque Cycle takes place a few centuries ago, Cryptonomicon during World War Two, and Anathem on another planet entirely, but one in which the secular world is roughly comparable to present-day Earth. (Perhaps a bit too comparable; Earth intellectual history and the intellectual history inside Anathem are essentially the same thing with different names.) Except in Anathem, the mathematicians live in what are essentially monasteries cut off from the outside world. I don't think I could handle that. I suppose some would argue that universities aren't the Real World, though...