Anathem - Neal Stephenson

  • math
  • library grapes & oak
  • tangles

From Neal Stephenson's Anathem:

“The tangle had been invented way back (…). Cob grew straight up out of the ground to the height of a man's head and bore rich heads of parti-colored kernels late in the summer. In the meantime, it served as a trellis for climbing vines of podbeans that gave us protein while fixing nitrogen in the soil to nourish the cob. In the web that the podbean vines spun among the cob stalks, three other kinds of vegetables grew: highest from the ground, where bugs couldn't get them, red, yellow and orange tommets to give us vitamins and flavor our salads, stews and sauces. Snaking along the ground, gourds of many varieties. In the middle, hollow pepperpods. Tubers of two kinds grew beneath the ground, and leaf vegetables gathered whatever light remained. The original ancient tangle had comprised eight plants and the people who cultivated them had over thousands of years bred them to be as efficient as they could be without actually reaching in and tinkering with their sequences. Ours were more efficient yet, and we had added four more types of plants, two of which had no purpose other than to replenish the soil. At this time of year, the tangles we'd been cultivating since thaw were in their glory and sported a variety of colour and flavor that couldn't be had extramuros.” (136)

“ The library grape had been sequenced by the about of the Concent of the Lower Vrone in the days before the Second Sack. Every cell carried in its nucleus the genetic sequences, not just of a single species, but of every naturally occurring species of grape that the Vrone about had ever heard of - and if those people hadn't heard of a grape, it wasn't worth knowing about. In addition, it carried excerpts from the genetic sequences of thousands of different berries, fruits, flowers and herbs: just those snatches of data that, when invoked by the biochemical messaging system of the host cell, produced flavorful molecules. Each nucleus was an archive, vaster than the Great Library of Baz, storing codes for shaping almost every molecule nature had ever produced that left an impression on the human olfactory system.

A given wine could not express all of those genes at once - it could not be a hundred different species of grape at the same time - so it “decided: which of those genes to express - what grape to be, and what flavors to borrow - based on some impossibly murky and ambiguous data -gathering and decision- making process that the Vrone about had hand-coded into its proteins. No nuance of sun, soil, weather or wind was too subtle for the library grape to take into account. Nothing that the cultivator did, or failed to do, went undetected or failed to have its consequences in the flavor of the juice. The library grape was legendary for its skill in penetrating the subterfuge of winemakers who were so arrogant as to believe they could trick it into being the same grape two seasons in a row. ” (175)

“The cells of the Vrone oak's heartwood - still half alive, even after the tree had been chopped down, sliced into staves and bound into a cask - sampled the molecules drifting around in the wine, releasing some, making others percolate outward until they precipitated on the outside of the cast as fragrant sheens, rinds and encrustations. This wood was as choosy about the conditions under which it was stored as the library grape was about weather and soil, so a winemaker who treated the casks poorly and didn't provide them with the stimulation they liked, would be punished by finding the crusted and oozing with all the most desirable resins, sugars and tannins, with nothing left on the inside of the cask, but cleaning solvent. The wood liked the same range of temperature and humidity as humans, and its cellular structure was responsive to sympathy with the human voice, and so wine that had men stored in a vault used for choir rehearsals would taste different from that stashed along the walls of a dining room. ” (176)

Page trees - “Despite the best efforts of the sequencers who had brought these trees into being, only one leaf in ten was high-grade page material, suitable for a typical quatro-sized book. The most common flaw was smallness or irregularity, such that when placed in the cutting frame it would not make a rectangle. That was the case for about four out of ten leaves - more during cold or dry years, fewer if the growing season had been favorable. Holes gnawed by insects, or thick veins that made it difficult to write on the underside, might render a leaf unusable save as compost. These flaws were especially common in leaves that grew near the ground. The best yield was to be found in the middle branches, not too far out from the trunk. The arbortects had given them stout boughs in the midsection, easy for young ones to clamber on. Every autumn when I'd been a fid, I'd spent a week up on those branches, picking the best leaves and skimming them down to older about who stacked them in baskets. Later in the day we'd tie them by their stems to lines stretched from tree to tree, and let them dry as the weather turned colder. After the first killing frost we would bring them indoors, stack them, and pile on tons of flat rocks. It took about a century for them to age properly. So once we'd gotten the current year's crop under stone, we'd go back and find similar piles that had been made about a hundred years earlier, and, if they seemed ready, take the rocks of and peel the leaves apart. The good ones we stacked in the cutting-frames and made into blank pages for distribution to the connect or for binding into books.” (185-186)

“We'll allow the invasive species from the riverbank to make inroads into the clover. The starblossom vines run along the ground like light cavalry-it's incredible how fast they advance. The slashberry is slower, but better at holding ground - like infantry. Finally the trees come along and make it permanent. With a little weeding and pruning, we can make it all work just like Trantae, except it'll take six months or so to play out” (209/210; note - Trantae is a battle)

“We have nothing in common with the Geometers. No shared experiences, no common culture. Until that changes, we can't communicate with them. Why not? Because language is nothing more than a stream of symbols that are perfectly meaningless until we associate them, in our minds, with meaning; a process of acculturation. Until we share experiences with the Geometers, and thereby begin to develop a shared culture - in effect, to merge our culture with theirs - we cannot communicate with them, and their efforts to communicate with us will continue to be just as incomprehensible as the gestures they've made so far: throwing the Warden of Heaven out the airlock, dropping a fresh murder victim into a cult site and rodding a volcano.” (628)

  • anathem_notes.txt
  • Last modified: 2013-06-20 10:50
  • by armormin