Friday, March 27, 2009

Lexicons in literature

I am currently reading "Anathem" by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson's writing is, well, it is *not* concise as can be seen by this 935 page volume. It is, however, extremely clear and well-written. The way he uses words amazes me. He creates his own vocabulary to describe the futuristic world where this novel takes place. For example, he uses the word "saunt" to mean a person that is a combination of a saint and a savant. The context gives absolute clarity to the term while you are reading - and makes me wonder why we don't have many of these words in our parlance already.

So my question is, why would one include a lexicon in a book when crystal clear definitions for the terms have already been given? Stephenson's lexicon is interspersed throughout the story. Some are at chapter breaks and some right in the middle of a scene (for lack of a better word). I personally find this to be quite irritating. I am compelled to read the definitions because I am afraid that I will miss something vital to the story if I do not, and yet I rarely learn something that he has not already revealed through his diction. I would be tempted to see them included as footnotes - but know that I would still stop to read them in the same manner. For me, it would be best to put them at the end in a glossary that I could read if I wanted to, or if I had a question about the meaning of a term. With all that said, however, it is a really well-written book and has some interesting ideas for archivists and philosophers - as well as musicians, mathemeticians, scientists... Just read the book.

Another interesting question, or thought really, is also raised in my mind as I read this book. Has Stephenson created a new genre with his latest creation? This work is what he styles as speculative fiction, as opposed to science fiction. It definitely contains some science, and it is fiction - yet it is more than that. To hear what Stephenson himself has to say about this potentially emerging genre, click here.

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