20 days and counting
Steven Levy profiles Neal Stephenson for Wired magazine. I did my best to not look at the Anathem details, so I'll quote these interesting bits:
Stephenson sees a parallel to the George W. Bush-era wars between science and religion, made possible because the general population is either indifferent or hostile to extended rational thought. "I could never get that idea, the notion that society in general is becoming aliterate, out of my head," he says. "People who write books, people who work in universities, who work on big projects for a long time, are on a diverging course from the rest of society. Slowly, the two cultures just get further and further apart."[...]
Stephenson spends his mornings cloistered in the basement, writing longhand in fountain pen and reworking the pages on a Mac version of the Emacs text editor. This intensity cannot be sustained all day—"It's part of my personality that I have to mess with stuff," he says—so after the writing sessions, he likes to get his hands on something real or hack stuff on the computer. (He's particularly adept at Mathematica, the equation-crunching software of choice for mathematicians and engineers.) For six years, he was an adviser to Jeff Bezos' space-flight startup, Blue Origin. He left amicably in 2006. Last year, he went to work for another Northwest tech icon, Nathan Myhrvold, who heads Intellectual Ventures, an invention factory that churns out patents and prototypes of high-risk, high-reward ideas. Stephenson and two partners spend most afternoons across Lake Washington in the IV lab, a low-slung building with an exotic array of tools and machines to make physical manifestations of the fancies that flow from the big thinkers on call there.
"In Neal's books, he's been fantastically good at creating scenarios and technologies that are purely imaginary," Myhrvold says. "But they're much easier imagined than built. So we spend a certain amount of our time imagining them but the rest of our time building them. It's also very cool but different to say, 'Let's come up with new ways of doing brain surgery.'"
That's right—brain surgery is one of the things Stephenson is tinkering with. He and his team are helping refine some mechanical aspects of a new tool, a helical needle for operating on brain tumors. It's the kind of cool job one of his characters might have.