Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
HarperCollins: 6/4/19
eBook review copy; 896 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062458711 

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

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.

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