Fall, or Dodge in Hell

Fall, or Dodge in Hell

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves, Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon returns with a wildly inventive and entertaining science fiction thriller—Paradise Lost by way of Phillip K. Dick—that unfolds in the near future, in parallel worlds.In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibil...

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Title:Fall, or Dodge in Hell
Author:Neal Stephenson
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Edition Language:English

Fall, or Dodge in Hell Reviews

  • Bradley

    This is a very hard book to review, but one thing is absolutely true:

    I'm absolutely blown away by this book.

    Ameristan! Lol MOAB! lol

    This is definitely one of Neal Stephenson's better books. Just for the ideas and the great twisting of several tales in one, I'm already looking forward to a glorious re-read. He does lead us down a few winding paths that eventually turn out to be VERY important to the whole, and I admit to laughing out loud several times when the important bits bit me

    This is a very hard book to review, but one thing is absolutely true:

    I'm absolutely blown away by this book.

    Ameristan! Lol MOAB! lol

    This is definitely one of Neal Stephenson's better books. Just for the ideas and the great twisting of several tales in one, I'm already looking forward to a glorious re-read. He does lead us down a few winding paths that eventually turn out to be VERY important to the whole, and I admit to laughing out loud several times when the important bits bit me on the butt. :)

    All told, it's the hundreds of wonderful details, ideas, technological problems, and the nature of our world of Lies and Truth in the Miasma (Stephenson's term for the future of the Internet) that make this an extremely memorable book, but it's the depth of the themes that go well beyond the obvious Milton's Paradise Lost that make me grin like an idiot.

    My favorite is the whole perception-as-reality by way of Philip K Dick, hitting all the big points AND even throwing the scholars a bone by setting up a fantastic Manichean Heresy (Real God and the Flawed God and the temperance of Sophia.) (And for you PKD fans, look no further than Divine Invasion.

    The other obvious theme connecting it to Paradise Lost is actually a subversive red herring. There's a big twist to this that makes it a lot more like PKD, including the paranoia, the corruption, and the faulty memories.

    I came into this kinda expecting a single viewpoint adventure like many old SFs that take on uploaded consciousnesses and/or Hell, but you know what? This is so much better. We have many viewpoints, great adventures, and very little actual Hell except in a (you brought this with you sense). Kinda awesome when you think about it. No cheap theatrics, only an in-depth issue revolving People doing what People always do. Character-driven, with a lot of added juice.

    Like several ages of mythology run by high-speed processors in the ultimate game of Life (as an afterlife), skirting the edges of a technological singularity, and wrapping it all up with a reality-based hackathon by way of a Gamer's Ultimate Quest.

    I think I see the point, here. For all of us future afterlifers, let's MAKE SURE THE GAME DESIGNERS retain control over it. Please? No one wants to live an (after)life CONTROLLED BY THE BEAN COUNTERS. :)

    The book has some great mirroring going on, rooting itself in near-future meatspace with tons of corporate intrigue, funny/nasty worldbuilding that put the quality of Truth on trial. The whole SF of tackling perception-as-reality is taken to new heights and multiple threads that keep twining and intertwining in really great ways. And then it takes on HUGE significance in the digital realm. Nasty significance. :)

    Lordy! The Moab disaster (in more ways than one) is the very thing that sparks the Heaven 2.0 disaster! I loved that! The whole mad-god theme is great! And perfectly in-line with regular corporate madness, too. :) Why shouldn't we bring all our usual messes into the afterlife? We are, after all, only human, even when some of us become gods, angels, or incarnations of DEATH. :) lol

    I had such a fun time with this, I can't even begin... or rather, I have begun, but I could keep going on forever.

    Like I said, it's a really hard one to review. :) It has a lot of great depth to it that is rather MORE surprising than I ever gave it credit for, and this is coming from an avowed fanboy of Stephenson. I definitely like it more than Seveneves and Reamde. I'd have to re-read Snow Crash and Diamond Age again to see where it ranks by those. :)

    I will always have Anathem as my primary love, tho. :)

    BUT I think I will have to nom this one for next year's Hugo. Just for its sheer audacity and richness. :)

  • Will Byrnes

    Bitworld meets Meatspace in Neal Stephenson’s latest novel. Those of you who were around in the 70s and 80s may remember an ad campaign for

    . Two manly men would stage a faux argument over the best quality of the product. “Less filling,” one would say, the other responding with “tastes great,” the first repeating “Less filling,” but louder, and back and forth they would go. It was cute. And pretty successful for the makers of that product. For a more cinematic image, you might consider Faye Dunaway in

    “She’s my sister. She’s my daughter. She’s my sister. She’s my daughter.” You might find yourself in a similar back and forth (hopefully without the slapping) with Stephenson’s latest novel. Its science-fiction. It’s fantasy. It’s science fiction. It’s fantasy. Stop yelling. You’re both right. Calm down. Have a drink, on me (but please not that Miller Lite swill).

    - image from his Goodreads page

    Stephenson begins where his 2011 novel

    left off. Despite carrying forward some characters,

    is not really a sequel, but a totally different book, and can most definitely be read as a stand-alone. In the earlier book, Richard Forthrast was the creator of a massively popular multiplayer on-line game that was hacked by people whose game was theft, and led to a rollicking action-adventure tale that paralleled the real-world with the immersive on-line gaming experience. In

    , a sixty-something Forthrast goes to an outpatient facility for what is supposed to be simple procedure. There are complications, and Forthrast’s game-over announcement is played. But hold on a minute. On checking his will, his bestie, one Corvallis, or C+ from the earlier book, learns that Forthrast had left instructions for just what to do in case of such an event. Along with other billionaire sorts known as Eutropians he had ensured that his brain would be preserved, and then, when the tech was available, scanned with the best available means, and uploaded to the cloud. (Doubt there are any harp-wielding angels

    .)

    - image from Wikipedia

    One of the things that Neal Stephenson does best is walk through the steps necessary to get

    He is for hard sci-fi what Arthur C. Clarke was in the 20th century, limiting himself to the scientifically possible (although he does take liberties from time to time, as in his explanation for the moon’s sudden demise in

    ). So, what tech will be needed to scan brains? What sort of algorithms might be needed to make sense of the scans? What sort of power might be needed, both in computational and real-world energy requirements, and how might that be provided? How would this all be paid for? Great stuff. Love this!

    Stephenson gives serious consideration to

    for a person, a consciousness, an entity, a what? that finds that their death is not quite so permanent as they’d thought, and now find themselves in a totally alien environment, floating in a sea of chaos, with little clue as to how to move on, in any sense of the word. How much does memory define personality? Can you have a meaningful being without a meaningful place? These discussions are going on as we

    read. Forthrast is eventually scanned and uploaded, Stephenson makes his best guess as to what this might be like, and it’s game on.

    This is not so far out a notion as you might expect. There is considerable interest among the silicon valley gazillionaires in

    . A recent NY Times article told of attempts to revive decapitated pig brains. I will leave you to construct your own joke out of that. The article (link in EXTRA STUFF) also addresses the approaches to recording the brain’s layout and activity. All for neuro experiments that have immediate medical application, of course, but you have to know that such work will be gobbled up by those with the means to advance the work from the theoretical to the actual.

    Stephenson’s stories tend to take place over

    s. This one covers about a century, well in real-world time, anyway, and we are kept abreast of some of the ongoing social and technological changes that occur over this period. In BitWorld, time sometimes runs faster and sometimes slower than it does in real time. Changes are considerable. I expect this also mirrors the author’s experience of how the writing of a book progresses.

    Stephenson is also fond of carrying forward character and institutional

    . That continues here. The mysterious and very long-lived Enoch Root, for example, shows up, having survived untold ages in earlier books. Will he snuff it in this one? There are plenty of other links to the past. I did not keep track. He is also fond of cryptography. That shows up in

    as well, although mostly in a symbolic form.

    The first third, or so, of the book takes place primarily in what is referred to as “meatspace” in the extant culture. It is set bit into the future, but not really all that much. In addition to looking at the technological possibilities for the digital extension of life, Stephenson offers a harsh satire of a United States that has become divided between the coastal, educated, better off, parts of the country, and

    , a vast flyover area generated by the Facebookization of the nation, to the point where truthers insist that a fake nuclear bombing of Moab, Utah took place, despite the very obvious, provable truth that it did not. This dumbing down of the population, often deliberately and for dark purpose, has created a need for actual paid humans to serve as editors for people’s internet feeds. It helps to be well off. Those not so fortunate are left with an internet that is referred to as “the Miasma.” Religious kookery comes in for a look, very much a part of the triumph of disinformation and know-nothingism. It is way, way too resonant with contemporary trends in digital media and the impacts of those on our sociopolitical reality for comfort.

    The middle of the book offers a back and forth between Meatspace and BitWorld, until it is taken over almost entirely by the goings on in the digital sphere, at which point it becomes, to my taste anyway, less filling. Back in the day, Ace published sci-fi books in pairs. They were called Ace Doubles. Read one, maybe 125 pps, then, literally, flip the book over and read an entirely other novella, maybe another 125 pages. You don’t need to flip this one over, and it would take particularly fit wrists to manage it, in any case, but it really is two books in one. The second is a fantasy, with battling gods, flaming swords, giants, angels, talking birds, a fortress, rebirth, a quest, secrets, familiar elements of many a fantasy.

    In

    , Stephenson alternated between the real world and the gaming environment. The stakes are a bit higher in

    as the alternating universes may flip between life and after-life worlds for the reader, but for the characters there is no such back and forth. The notions of consciousness inside the game T’Rain and the consciousness in the Bitworld of

    , when you step back from it, do not seem all that different, as, even if one passes on in Bitworld, one’s

    (map of a brain’s neural connections) can just be uploaded again. So, maybe the two are not so different after all. Just rebooting within one sphere of existence instead of going back and forth between bits and bods.

    It would take a much larger review than even this one to go, in any detail, into what happens in BitWorld. Suffice it to say, and it should be pretty obvious from the title of the book, that the first man in Bitworld, the shaper of things, is cast out of his particular brand of heaven (it looks a lot like

    , no, really).

    In the beginning of the novel much is made of the D’Aulaire books about

    . You would do well to keep both volumes (at least) near to hand for tracking which names have been lifted from which book, and how they relate. And let’s not forget the good old-fashioned Bible (old Testament) in which Lucifer is cast down from heaven (a directional joke is made of this). There will be smiting! Adam and Eve put in an appearance, the firmament comes in for a bit of attention. There is a lot of destruction, rebirth, hubris, people failing to make it to the promised land. And then they get reborn after incurring their personal game-overs, so a single character can have several iterations, and names, as time in Bitworld moves along during their absence. Maybe in a book a third the length I would have been up to making a chart, but other books await. I am sure there is someone out there who has already begun. I did not find such a chart on Stephenson’s media sites, but I suppose it is possible there might be one somewhere in there. Regardless, it can be fun keeping track of who’s who, and who

    who, through their sundry lives.

    . Let’s reiterate that I liked this book quite a bit. That said, is it really necessary for Stephenson books to go on for such duration? Unlike Stephen King, who has produced a considerable number of doorstops, and who will brook no editing, Stephenson allows his work to be edited. I am told this one came in at least a hundred pages heftier, so I take some comfort from the fact that it could have been even longer. Also, one wonders how a process that is, by all indications, extraordinarily expensive, and is able to accommodate enough people to cause, or at least assist in causing, a decline of Meatspace population, might be sustainable. No, this toy would have been reserved for the uber wealthy and the rest of us would have been relegated to our minimal single lives slaving away to produce sufficient profits for the one-percenters to continue exploiting us forever from their digital realm. Turns out, in this look anyway, you

    take it with you. What would happen if, from catastrophes natural or unnatural, the machines were shut down? I could certainly see an angry Meatspace global mob doing all in their reach to cut the power cord to the BitWorld masters. Tough for the post-mortal to feel totally comfy about their eternal prospects if eternity were reliant on such variables. But I guess I shouldn’t be too irked at such things.

    The point of the book is the ideas, and those are explored wonderfully. What might a digital afterlife look like, on an individual basis and a communal one? Any book informed, as this one is, by the author’s conversations with the likes of

    (originator of virtual reality, among other things) and technology historian

    is bound to keep your gray cells whirring. On top of that, Stephenson’s extension of the current madness in media, looking at the impact of our current sociotechnical trends on civility, the organization of our nation, and on sanity itself, is quite wonderful, and hopefully not too prescient. Finally, while his bridge-crossing to fantasy from hard sci-fi seems odd, it is also very daring, and it is clear he had a lot of fun mixing sundry mythologies into a pretty interesting literary brew, regardless of whether you prefer to think it tastes great or is less filling. Dodge may suffer a significant demise in

    , but you are unlikely to join him. I expect most readers will, instead, feel uplifted by the fun of tracking myths, and the intellectual excitement of considering the large ideas Stephenson has brought to bear. In short,

    is, for readers, a bit of heaven.

    Review posted – July 5, 2019

    Publication date – June 4, 2019

    =============================

    -----Book Studio 16 -

    (Well, it was when it was done) – video -27:43

    -----PC Magazine -

    - by Rob Marvin

    -----Nature -

    - pushing the envelope on scanning

    -----Wiki -

    - excellent article, well worth checking out

    -----Wiki -

    - covers a lot of territory- rabbit-hole-worthy

    -----NY Times – July 2, 2019 -

    - by Matthew Shaer

    ----- Enoch Root - It surely is no simple coincidence that The Book of Enoch deals in fallen angels taking on the bodies of men. Root has appeared before, in the Baroque Cyclc and in Cryptonomicon. He may be immortal.

    -----

    - BBC Proms 1994

    -----2017 -

    -----2015 -

    -----2011 -

    -----2002 -

  • Heidi The Reader

    pg 50

    I finally finished Neal Stephenson's latest book, an opus about the nature of reality that uses mythology, archetypes and technology as the instruments of that examination. Coming in at a hefty 896 pages, it will most likely be the longest book I read this year.

    "Far

    pg 50

    I finally finished Neal Stephenson's latest book, an opus about the nature of reality that uses mythology, archetypes and technology as the instruments of that examination. Coming in at a hefty 896 pages, it will most likely be the longest book I read this year.

    pg 19

    Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, one of the many protagonists from

    , suffers an unexpected injury and dies — to the horror of his loving family. Immediate complexities reveal themselves in his will, which contains very specific instructions on what is to be done with his corpse and living brain.

    These instructions will lead to a technological coalition of companies and big money in an effort to create another reality for the "recently diseased". And, what happens in that new world is beyond anyone's (among the living) control... isn't it?

    Stephenson, as usual, has created a complex science fiction novel that not only makes you think again about where technology is headed, but also compels you to ask yourself what that exponential development means.

    pg 236

    And lest one think such changes are so far off, you only need to take a look at someone else's Facebook newsfeed. The difference between what I see on that platform and what my husband sees is shocking. Our "own personalized hallucination stream" is already a reality.

    Stephenson is at his best when he's mixing science fiction and fantasy in Bitworld. He's at his worst when he's clocking the changes going on in the real world or "meatworld", as his characters call it. One likes to think that he had reasons for including the myriad of details that he includes, but readers could also suspect that he needed a good editor.

    The first portion of this book moves agonizingly slowly, which prevented it from being a five-star read for me. But that was its only downside in my view.

    pg 482

    I can't say I completely understand the ending of the story, but it is epic. I find myself still thinking about it and taking pieces apart in my mind. And, for me, that's one of the hallmarks of a good read.

    Recommended for science fiction readers who can tolerate a very slow build-up for a potentially puzzling end.

  • Eric

    So I had some issues with this book, overall I liked it, but I found it was easier to separate into the good and the bad:

    The Good:

    - One of his more readable books, so no heavy technical nonsense like in cryptonomicon

    - Features the Waterhouses, the Shaftoes, the Forthrasts and Enoch Root

    - Topic of discussion is really cool as its all about the afterlife

    - Ameristan is the most hilarious thing

    The Bad:

    - As usual, its way too long, just under 900

    So I had some issues with this book, overall I liked it, but I found it was easier to separate into the good and the bad:

    The Good:

    - One of his more readable books, so no heavy technical nonsense like in cryptonomicon

    - Features the Waterhouses, the Shaftoes, the Forthrasts and Enoch Root

    - Topic of discussion is really cool as its all about the afterlife

    - Ameristan is the most hilarious thing

    The Bad:

    - As usual, its way too long, just under 900 pages

    - When the book switches gears at the 3/4 mark and becomes a fantasy book it can be a pain to read (in that, the pace slows down, too many characters in the other world, can be difficult to follow and therefore slow and boring)

    - The Meatspace (human world) parts of the book are the most interesting, so its a disservice when it becomes purely the other world for the half part of the book

    - No ending, again

    Overall, I did like the book, but its got some major strikes against it which keep it from being on the level of Snow Crash and Reamde.

  • Liviu

    After a great start, the book bogs down into gibberish that is neither sf (see P Hamilton Void series for that), not portal fantasy (see M Stover) nor theology (lacks any moral dimension); 5 star for the first third, 1 star for the last two thirds and a huge, huge disappointment after such an awesome start

  • Kemper

    If I wasn’t hoping that death is just an endless, dreamless slumber before then I sure am now.

    Richard ‘Dodge’ Forthrast made billions with the video game company he founded, but money doesn’t help him when a routine medical procedure goes sideways and leaves him braindead. However, Dodge once signed up with a cryonics company to have himself frozen after death, and that old legal agreement becomes the impetus for his friends and family to pour resources into tech that eventually can

    If I wasn’t hoping that death is just an endless, dreamless slumber before then I sure am now.

    Richard ‘Dodge’ Forthrast made billions with the video game company he founded, but money doesn’t help him when a routine medical procedure goes sideways and leaves him braindead. However, Dodge once signed up with a cryonics company to have himself frozen after death, and that old legal agreement becomes the impetus for his friends and family to pour resources into tech that eventually can digitally map Dodge’s mind as part of an uneasy alliance with an ailing billionaire, El Shepherd, who is desperately trying to find a way to cheat death.

    Years pass, and eventually Dodge’s consciousness is brought back in a digital realm, but he has no real memories of who he was. Operating mainly on instinct, Dodge starts shaping the world he now inhabits into something approximating his old reality, and eventually the living begin adding more dead mapped minds to that space. Slowly, a community that Dodge oversees begins to grow, but Shepherd doesn’t like the world that Dodge and his people have made so he finds a way to make sure that he’ll be in charge once he dies and gets his brain plugged in.

    That’s a lot of plot for one book, but since this is a Neal Stephenson novel there’s all that and more. In addition to the story of Dodge in his digital world there’s the stuff with his friends and family dealing with all the technological and legal issues that arise from starting and maintaining a virtual afterlife. There’s also a long subplot that details how the internet and social media eventually becomes so awash in bullshit that everyone needs a personal editor to weed out the nonsense they don’t want to see, and the trend of people only believing what they choose creates whole reality challenged zones of the United States based on ‘alternative facts’. All of this stuff takes up a good chunk of the first half of the book, and I was enjoying that part quite a bit.

    However, in the second half the focus shifts much more to dead Dodge in his computer world, and that’s where it got incredibly tedious. Stephenson does a lot here that draws on various religious creation myths with Dodge essentially becoming a Zeus like figure before the thing shifts into a more Christian style story with Dodge being cast in the Lucifer part by Shepherd. That’s an interesting idea, but the execution of it goes on for so long that I lost patience with the whole thing because it starts reading like someone tossed a Bible and a copy of

    into a blender.

    Another part of the problem is that Stephenson also baked in some video game influence here, and as a guy who helped create a huge MMORPG type game it makes sense that Dodge’s approach to building and living in a digital world would feel somewhat like that. However, while it can be fun to play a video game like

    yourself, it’s boring to just watch someone else do it, and that’s what reading this book felt like for a good part of it.

    Oddly, Stephenson also never really deals with the big questions that the story brings up. Like, are Dodge and the others in the cyber world falling into the rhythms of Greek mythology and Christianity out of some subconscious instinct that recalls those stories, or is it possible that our reality is also just some kind of artificially created existence that and the creation of these kinds of places just plays out in patterns?

    Another aspect I didn’t care for was using the characters like Dodge and some of his family and friends who were also in Stephenson’s thriller

    . I really enjoyed that book as one of Stephenson’s more straight ahead stories, and I especially liked Dodge in it. So to just essentially kill him off in the early going here is a bummer that puts a retroactive pall over that book.

    Maybe the thing that bugs me most about this is that it’s essentially two rich guys battling to control what happens to people after they die. As the book lays out it would take an enormous amount of resources to develop something like this so it’s just cold hard reality that the first people to be able to live on past death would be wealthy.

    However, it seem incredibly unfair that the privilege they enjoyed in life would then carry over to the point where they literally get to shape reality to their view of how things should be. Even good guy Dodge never questions why he gets to choose how things are going to work once everyone who dies starts getting uploaded. We just know that Shepherd was a jerk in life and in death so we’re supposed to root for Dodge, not ask why he gets all the power.

    We already live in a world where obscenely rich assholes get to make all the rules. I was really hoping that death would be the end of that so I didn’t much enjoy a long story about how these fucks could maintain control after we all croak. Can you imagine what happens if the Koch brothers were essentially gods who could shape reality to what they want it to be?

    If that’s the way it was going to be then I’d take a hard pass on the afterlife and just settle for the comfort of a long dirt nap. Reading about that idea isn’t a lot of fun either even if Stephenson tries mightily to convince us that it’d be cool just so long as the right rich guy is in charge.

  • Jason Pettus

    So to establish my bona fides right away, let me mention that I've read and loved all 16 novels that Neal Stephenson has now written in his life (yes, even his disavowed 1984 debut, the now out-of-print

    ), and consider him one of my top-three all-time favorite writers currently alive and publishing new work. So what a profoundly heartbreaking thing, then, to finish his latest, the 900-page virtual-reality morality tale

    , and have to be forced to admit to myself, "You know

    So to establish my bona fides right away, let me mention that I've read and loved all 16 novels that Neal Stephenson has now written in his life (yes, even his disavowed 1984 debut, the now out-of-print

    ), and consider him one of my top-three all-time favorite writers currently alive and publishing new work. So what a profoundly heartbreaking thing, then, to finish his latest, the 900-page virtual-reality morality tale

    , and have to be forced to admit to myself, "You know, that book was...well, it was kind of crappy, is what that book was."

    During the first half of the manuscript, I became convinced that this was because Stephenson turned in a clunker of an actual storyline here; because, for the first time in his career, Stephenson takes on here the very contemporary real-world issue of the "Red Pill" revolution of the 21st century (which I'm defining here as the interconnected throughline that links together the Bush administration, the rise of Fox News, the Tea Party, Gamergate, Sad Puppies, 4chan, the Meninist movement, incels, the alt-right, and the dark ascendency of "God Emperor" Trump). Seemingly not a single person in the last twenty years that opposes this movement has been able to write critically about the subject without just losing their shit and quickly devolving into lazy, badly written doomsday scenarios about the nightmarish hell our world will become if these people were to ever gain unstoppable power; and Stephenson too succumbs to this hacky temptation, painting an America 30 years from now that has essentially broken down into a civil war between "The Stupids" and "The Smarts*," in which the Stupids have forcefully overtaken large swaths of the Midwest through a Christian version of the Taliban (a brand-new strain of Protestantism which rejects the entire New Testament because it depicts Jesus as a "beta cuck," about the most lazily on-the-nose reference to the alt-right one can even make), who then proceed to literally crucify people from burning crosses for such Old Testament sins as wearing clothes that mix together different strains of animal fibers.

    [*Also, let me confess that I lost my patience quickly with Stephenson's attempts in this section to paint autistic people as superheroes, through his unending self-righteous declarations about how much better he and his little STEM buddies are than the rest of us mouth-breathers.

    ]

    Then in the meanwhile, we also follow the fate of one of the characters from Stephenson's 2011 novel

    , billionaire videogame developer Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, who unexpectedly dies one day at which point it's revealed that, earlier in his life, he got convinced by a startup buddy to have his body frozen, so that maybe one day in the future his brain can be brought back to life if science ever invents a way to do so. And through a convoluted series of events, science does in fact invent a way, and just two decades after his death at that, by essentially scanning a complete digital copy of the trillions of neural pathways in his brain, then letting those digital pathways virtually interact again within a town-sized complex of newly invented "quantum computers." But this being a game developer, the first thing Dodge's digital brain does to make sense of his situation is to start building out a World Of Warcraft-type fantasyland for him to place himself in, with Stephenson burning through literally hundreds of pages in describing in excruciating detail just what it must be like when a brain has its consciousness wiped, then starts filling it in again bit by bit from the retained memories of its subconscious. "What

    these two fleshy appendages underneath my torso? What

    these ten smaller appendages attached to the bottom of these two? What

    these squiggly symbols I keep picturing when attempting to count these appendages? What

    this locomotive motion I seem to be engaging in when placing one appendage in front of the other? What

    this hard gravelly surface these appendages seem to be pushing against during its locomotion?"

    It was at this point, already 400 pages in, that I finally lost my patience for good, and initially decided to abandon the novel altogether; but just out of curiosity I ended up flipping through the rest of it and reading the increasingly smaller non-virtual-world parts, because I was simply too interested in knowing how the story ends up finishing out. And that's when I realized that it's not actually the storyline itself that's the problem here; when you look at the overall plot in quick big-picture form, it's actually quite interesting, an attempt by Stephenson to do no less than retell the religious story of God's creation of the universe, his war with Lucifer, the manipulation of Adam and Eve as pawns of this war, the path towards self-sentiency and human technological progress that was the fallout of this war's manipulation, and the final battle between good and evil that's foretold in the Book of Revelations, but all seen through the filter of the speculative question, "What if our old religious stories actually came about because an alien race figured out a way to digitize themselves, and the first couple dozen people who got imperfectly digitized became the angels and devils of our Bible, and everything we know and experience in our universe is actually just the result of a giant computer running on this alien planet, and the aliens are actually watching and analyzing us in minute detail but have no way of communicating with us about it?"

    Seen in this light, then, the real problem of the novel becomes immediately clear; because while Stephenson has claimed in recent interviews that his intent with the virtual-world part of this manuscript was to "bury a fantasy novel within the middle of a science-fiction novel," what he

    did was write a slightly altered 500-page version of the King James Bible. And as anyone who was ever forced to go through this during Bible summer camp as a kid knows, reading big chunks of the King James Bible as if it were a narrative novel

    , which sadly turns out to be the case here too with Stephenson's rewritten version of it. When examined in Wikipedia form,

    actually has a lot of fascinating things to say, not least of which is Stephenson's ultimate conceit at the end, which is that maybe the human race's fate is to live on in body-free, pure-energy form, cruising the universe in a self-perpetuating and self-repairing

    long after the fragile biological version of our species is dead and gone back on Planet Earth.

    If Stephenson had explored these topics through a tight, action-packed 350 pages, it could've been one of the best books of his already excellent career, exploring many of the same issues in his 2008

    but through the prism of our real contemporary society. So what a shame, then, that he instead turned in this profoundly overlong, page-fluffing, endlessly rambling and pretentiously purplish version, a book that will be hard for even his hardcore fans to finish, and that everyone else will give up on long before that point. It pains me to have to admit that, because up to now I had thought of Stephenson as an author who could do no wrong; but alas, it turns out that he's just as capable of clunkers as every other author, his first major miss here in a career that's otherwise been full of hits. As much as I hate to say it, my recommendation here is to skip

    altogether, and wait a few more years for what will hopefully be a return to his normal brilliancy.

  • Bentgaidin

    'Fall, or Dodge in Hell' is a book that's hard to talk about because I find it basically fractally bad -- at any level I look at it, there's an interesting idea shot through with some fatal flaw, and so if I let myself I could go on at far too much length about any one of its problems. At the highest level, it's a story about uploading human consciousness and the creation and organization of virtual realms, told with a tech-bro's certainty in technology and obliviousness to anything else, plus a

    'Fall, or Dodge in Hell' is a book that's hard to talk about because I find it basically fractally bad -- at any level I look at it, there's an interesting idea shot through with some fatal flaw, and so if I let myself I could go on at far too much length about any one of its problems. At the highest level, it's a story about uploading human consciousness and the creation and organization of virtual realms, told with a tech-bro's certainty in technology and obliviousness to anything else, plus also the casual misogyny; then there's the story told about the uploaded, that attempts to be biblical without an understanding of morality, and fantastic without ever surpassing the level of 80s Tolkien imitators. It's too bad the book wants to be Paradise Lost, instead of Frankenstein; there would be a really good metaphor in something like this, pieced together from various half-envisioned ideas, and brought to life as a monstrous whole that its creator cannot control. That's not to say you couldn't enjoy reading this -- the certainty and declarativeness of the writing can carry you through a lot if you don't think too much about it -- but it would be best if you've never read these ideas before, or if you're looking for something to reinforce your particular technological eschatology, or if you're a teenager with time on your hands.

    On the other hand, let me offer some alternatives that have done better service to these ideas. First, Peter Hamilton's 'Void Trilogy': if you want long-spanning future history and an ever-expanding realm of uploaded consciousnesses, this has you covered, in spades. Alternately, Elizabeth Bear's 'Grail': it's much shorter, full of excellently realized characters, and deals thoughfully with the ethics of different ways of being human minds. And finally, Matthew Stover's 'Heroes Die': if you want a fantasy adventure in a world where modern people insert themselves to create epic drama without regard for the other inhabitants; it's only tangentially similar, but even its dystopian capitalist hellscape is more well-realized than the "realistic" political events going on in 'Fall.' So yeah, there's a lot better stuff you could be reading instead -- don't spend your time on this unless you have to.

  • Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this,

    April 1st: "Fall, or Dodge in Hell" by Neal Stephenson

    Is it April 1st already? Or is this one of the worst attempts at writing serious SF!? When I was doing UNIX for a living, I fondly remember a running joke that went like this.

    Unix erotica? Here are some examples of inputs and responses from the Unix C Shell.

  • M.

    Where have I seen this before...

    We

    Where have I seen this before...

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