Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
eBook review copy; 896 pages
Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson is a
highly recommended science fiction/fantasy thriller. This is a brilliantly
unique novel with great characters and world building established in a cautionary premise.
Richard “Dodge” Forthrast is a multibillionaire from a game company
he founded. Now he can enjoy his life, especially spending time with his
niece Zula and her daughter Sophia. When something goes wrong during a
routine medical procedure, Dodge is pronounce brain dead and put on life
support. This is when his family discovers that the will he made many
years earlier called for his body to be frozen and stored at a cryonics
company. The company is now owned by tech entrepreneur
Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive, Dodge's friend Corvallis Kawasaki, who is also the executor of his
will, acquiesces. Dodge's brain is scanned and its data
structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can
eventually be revived.
Years later Dodge's grandniece, Sophia, is able to download Dodge's
brain into a digital world. Now Dodge (Egdod) is a god in a bitworld he
creates, and other downloaded brains find a place in it. At this point
the story alternates between what is going on in Bitworld and the real
world, or Meatspace. Societal structures and power are explored in both
worlds. Bitworld resembles a fantasy world, with footholds in ancient
mythology and religion, and provides a sort of life after death for those scanned and downloaded into the digital world.
Fall, or Dodge in Hell is absolutely a grand
epic drama, featuring both an entertaining narrative and compelling
reading. It explores
the interfacing of human imagination and artificial intelligence and
begs the question whether technological breakthroughs are helping or
harming humanity. This continues the story in Reamde, with
recurring characters from that novel, but is a standalone novel. The
writing is consummate Stephenson, so it is a detailed, complex story
presented in a massive novel. But the whole story is here, so there is
no waiting for a part two.
This is a well-written imaginative novel that explores life and
eternity, and combines technology, and spirituality in one literary saga
of science fiction and fantasy. The characters in both worlds are well
developed and well imagined. The time line is approximately a human life
span in Meatspace, but eons in Bitworld. I normally don't read much
fantasy, so when the narrative mainly followed Bitworld, it lost a bit
of the fascination for me. 4.5 rounded down
My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.