Having never read Neal Stephenson before, I decided to borrow this book from the library on the basis of having seen his name appear on various awards lists. I had no idea what I was getting into. (See also: You wouldn't believe what happened next)
When a book has it's own Wiki page, you know things are pretty serious. The first 100 pages or so of the book were very difficult to read, because like Frank Herbert's Dune, it is an entirely fictional universe with many new words created by the author. The book even has a glossary.
It was inspired by this 10000 year clock that is being built, which is a pretty thought-provoking project in itself. Basically, a clock that keeps time for the next 10000 years. We'd never be able to see the millennium hand move in our lifetimes (although we did witness the new millennium in 2000, so not complaining)
So the book starts off in a concent (an amalgamation of concentration camps and convents) which is like a monastery for philosophers, mathematicians and scientists, Then there's space travel, going through the arctic circle, being next to a volcano, and outer space. It's all so outlandish and not exactly 100 percent believable that the main character is key to all these events, but you just go along with it anyways.
I guess if Harry Potter could save the day for (most) of the books, then the main character here can do likewise.
I think the strong point of the book were the mathematics and philosophical discussions. Basically exploring the implications of contact with extra-terrestrials and how we might be able to communicate. Mainly through geometry or maths, because a square is a square and will always be a square.
It reminded me of the Voyager's Golden Record. It's pretty crazy to think how the Voyager has now traveled further than anything else ever.
It's quite interesting to think that an intelligent alien species might come across this record and decipher it out, knowing numbers, addition, multiplication, and fractions by the end of it.
He also postulates and references a Hylaean Theoric World where perfect geometric forms and ideas inhabit. Kind of like the Theory of Forms and Plato's Cave.
Okay that's mostly all I want to remember from the book. Hahaha.