In "Anathem," the avout (fraa and suur) used "spheres" to do various things. The spheres wered used as a tool to make life comfortable in most cases, but what are they exactly? How should I visualize them? Stephenson didn't really paint a clear picture of it.

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    It is also made of "newmatter", just like a cord, which is why it has all these strange properties. These are the only pieces of advanced technology allowed in the mathic world.
    – Dima
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 14:32

2 Answers 2


It is hard to describe a visual image of the spheres, simply because their forms were so malleable.

The sphere is a porous membrane. Each pore is a little pump that can move air in or out. Like a self-inflating balloon. The spring constant - the stretchiness - of the membrane is controllable. If you turn the stretchiness way down (that is, make it stiff) and pump in lots of air, becomes a hard little pill.

You can also do the opposite, and make the membrane very stretchy, and or/remove most of the air.

So the sphere can look like anything from a small, hard ball, to a large, floppy disk, plus anything in between (in the passage that follows the above quote, fraa Erasmas makes his sphere into a flat mat, and then inflates it into an air bed between two and three feet in diameter).

In another reference, it can be shrunk to a size that fits easily in the palm of a hand.

  • I guess that'll do, even though those are the ideas I had anyway. Like you said, it's hard to describe a visual image. Thanks.
    – Mr_Spock
    Commented Nov 1, 2011 at 19:52
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    In addition to the above mentioned features, the spheres could also be made to glow, to be used as low level lighting.
    – Ingmar
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 22:38

The whole thing is a geometric metaphor. Think about it: you have the "bolt" which is a flat sheet, basically a cartesian plane. Then you have the "chord", which is a rope, or a platonic line, and then you have the "sphere", which is a sphere.

It has some practical applications (as you see in the book), but it's mainly symbolic.

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