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Fall; or, Dodge in Hell: A Novel

by Neal Stephenson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
7823720,874 (3.47)1 / 20
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 Philip 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 multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia. One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge's family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived. In the coming years, technology allows Dodge's brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife--the Bitworld--is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls. But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . . Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.… (more)
Recently added byprivate library, Reynik, vanderwal, iangreenleaf, JulietAndrien, clundquist
  1. 10
    Reamde by Neal Stephenson (Mind_Booster_Noori)
  2. 00
    The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (g33kgrrl)
    g33kgrrl: Normally I find it silly to recommend books by the same author, but The Diamond Age is a deep cut by now. While completely different stories, I find the parallel of the virtual quest/actual reality intriguing.
  3. 00
    Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks (Mind_Booster_Noori)
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» See also 20 mentions

English (36)  German (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Somewhere between 3 and 4 stars, but from Stephenson you'd wish for better (but wouldn't really expect it.)

Uploading/consciousness adventure sci-fi fantasy. From Neal Stephenson. Should be good, but no.

Major flaws: way too long (25% could have been shortened just through better editing, and maybe could have been 50% by being more judicious about stupid alternate-world side plots); horrible pacing. Generally inane story outside the top-level mostly-already-well-trod plot.

Pros: a couple of iconic settings/descriptions, on par with the Deliverator. The best part of the book was probably the completely-irrelevant-to-main-plot journey to the midwest. (Literally all it did was introduce a character with irrelevant backstory and transport that character from East to West coast, with none of that ~50 page journey having any part in the later story, but the story was the best part of the entire book...).

Enh: A couple explicit references to Cryptonomicon characters and events, etc.

I'd consider skipping this book except that it will likely become part of nerd culture and having a passing familiarity with it could be worthwhile. Still. not a book anyone would read without the author's name on the cover. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
If you've read Stephenson you're maybe used to this by now - endless detail which can bore or compel; richly detailed worlds with focused technical efforts where money is no object to address intractable problems, and sometimes a complete shift in narrative tone.

The book spans time and crafts a number of super engaging episodes but there isn't enough continuity between the episodes to hold together 880 pages, and the narrative shifts from "Meatspace" into a hard-to-read faux-medieval fantasy that I honestly skipped because I just couldn't. First 1/4 of the book amazing, but by the last quarter I was hardly reading anything. ( )
  steveportigal | Dec 31, 2020 |
Neal Stephenson has some of the most interesting novels I've read and some of the best novels I've read but if there is one comment I have about his work is that he keeps mixing in too many stories in each novel and this is not an exception.

The background idea is that humans have their brains scanned and uploaded into a computer where they start a second life. It's a fascinating idea. We get to follow people in "our" world and in the computer world and we get to see glimpses of the novel's vision about how society collapses and reinvents itself. Many of those stories could be novels in themselves with a bit more flesh. Instead they become threads in a garbled weave.

I think Stephenson still has very interesting ideas about where the world is going, and opens up a lot of interesting philosophical questions and for that he should have a lot of credit and hopefully a lot of success, but this book becomes a little bit too all-over-the-place. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
>Fall; or Dodge in Hell is, first and foremost, absolutely nothing like its prequel. Fall is technically a sequel to the 2011 novel Reamde [sic], which is in many ways the least ‘Stephenson’ of any recent Neal Stephenson book. I personally enjoyed it – it’s a swashbuckling adventure of Russian mobsters, Welsh Islamic terrorists, Chinese MMORPG hackers, and British Columbian drug smugglers – but it is at its core a family-sized edition of those thriller novels you buy in an airport and then never think about again. It was not exactly crying out for a sequel. And yet a sequel has emerged, though so dissimilar to Reamde in genre and style that this reader genuinely wonders why Stephenson bothered.

Reamde is basically a globe-trotting adventure fic vaguely notorious for concluding with a hundred-plus-page firefight on the B.C.-Idaho border. Fall, by contrast, harkens back to Stephenson’s older science fiction works, above all Snow Crash, and with minimal action in the conventional sense of the term. The book begins with the death of Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, the co-protagonist of Reamde, and the creator of a WoW-like MMORPG which made him stupendously wealthy. Dodge, un/fortunately, hadn’t updated his will in a decade or so, and it turns out that the last time he did, he’d been talked into mandating that his brain be scanned and uploaded to the cloud in the hopes of being reborn as a true digital native. His family reluctantly complies, and so our story begins.

Fall takes place primarily in two settings of loosely equal importance: the real-world (“Meatspace”) of Seattle, following the lives of Dodge’s friends and family, and in the virtual world that Dodge’s consciousness is uploaded into. Though to write ‘uploaded into’ is something of a simplification – the virtual world does not exist when Dodge’s mind is turned back “on”. Instead – over the course of countless eons – Dodge comes to literally will it into existence, recreating himself and a universal to provide qualia for his consciousness. This world, later dubbed “Bitworld” and watchable by the denizens of Meatspace, becomes increasingly crowded as more and more people have their brains scanned and uploaded into it.

Fall borrows heavily from Greek and Abrahamic religion, and it does so to great effect. Most central to this is the recurring theme of the thread of life, and the Fates who spin it, while the Grecian conception of Chaos also has a starring role. Genesis, the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, the River Lethe, and Paradise Lost all play their parts in the story of Bitworld, as Dodge – unintentionally reimaging himself as Egdod, his MMORPG avatar – plays the roles of Yahweh and Zeus. These stories in Bitworld are truly some of my favorite parts of the book. It’s mythological fantasy rather than elves and dragons, stories of creation and destruction and law-making. How otherworldly it would be, Fall shows, to live in the world of Old Testament stories or the Theogony, to exist in a place where one could undeniably witness the workings of gods and angels. It is no small feat to tell a creation narrative, and these parts of Fall are worthy of praise.

The rest of the book, though, I found bogged down with weird pacing issues. In the inverse of Anathem (slow to start, easy to continue), I found myself getting more and more exhausted with Fall as I read, until the last hundred-odd pages were a veritable slog. A whole new cast of characters is introduced in the last quarter of the book, and their adventures are reminiscent of the most tedious parts of The Lord of the Rings. Throughout the book I was more interested in what was happening in Meatspace, but we return to Seattle less and less as the story progresses, and the final checkin-in with the real-world feels like the last gasp of air before drowning. The part of Bitworld that the later story takes place in is weirdly empty, hollow. While at least in the slow marches of LOTR one gets a sense of discovering a fully fleshed-out world, late-stage Bitworld feels more like a generic D&D campaign where nobody bothered adding any lore to the realm.

There is also a whole sub-plot that almost feels like it belongs in another book entirely. Several chapters revolve around a staged terrorist attack in Moab, Utah, an event which finally sets the disinformation wars into overdrive. Halfway-ish through the book it is revealed that whole chunks of America have been ‘Facebooked to hell’ – so completely drowned in meme-driven misinformation that they believe Christ was never crucified and that the city of Moab doesn’t exist. It’s actually one of the most haunting sub-plots of the book, basically taking the QAnon phenomenon and cranking it up to eleven, exploring the role that algorithms and social media play in shaping our perception of reality. All proper Stephenson fare, except that the characters basically drive out of QAnon!America and never mention it again. Like the expedition to Mars in Seveneves, the reader is just left wondering when that’s going to become relevant to the story again, only for it… never to.

On the whole, I probably would’ve liked some more exploration of Meatspace (I had a similar gripe with Seveneves – more time on Earth, please!). Bitworld is (reasonably) depicted as one of the most important inventions in humanity’s history – it is a real, tangible afterlife, promising some semblance of immortality to those who can buy their way into it. Fall makes mention in passing of whole lives being spent watching the digital afterlives of one’s loved ones in Bitworld, of people working their whole careers to save enough to be scanned into it. Midway through the book it’s mentioned that the resources required to run Bitworld are using a sizable fraction of the planet’s entire energy consumption; by the finale it’s hinted at being the end state of humanity, with the resources of the solar system being marshalled to run ever-larger servers. But almost all of this happens off-screen.

It remains a proper science fiction epic, perhaps best considered as Stephenson’s take on The Silmarillion. It (somewhat surprisingly) enmeshes with the events of The Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon, and fans of Enoch Root will not go hungry. (Though, seriously, you’re going to make it a sequel to Reamde and give Csongor Takács like one line the entire book? Would a mention of Olivia Halifax-Lin and Sokolov have killed ya?) At almost 900 pages it’s definitely a slow read, but one of the more refreshing visions of our digitized futures. ( )
  pvoberstein | Dec 14, 2020 |
In which a wealthy game designer wills his brain to digital scanning and creates another universe. ( )
  Saraishelafs | Nov 4, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neal Stephensonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Corrigan, OwenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Doré, GustaveIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hillgartner, MalcolmNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Metsch, FritzIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Springer, NickMapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Philip 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 multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia. One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge's family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived. In the coming years, technology allows Dodge's brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife--the Bitworld--is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls. But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . . Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

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