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Book Review

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Fall or, Dodge in Hell (Hardback)


Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: Borough Press
883 pages
RRP: £20.00
ISBN: 978 0 00 816882 7
Publication Date: 11 July 2019

When billionaire, ‘Dodge’ Forthrast dies suddenly, his last will requests that his body be frozen until such time as his consciousness can be revived. Many years later Dodge’s grandniece, Sophia succeeds in bringing him back, but Dodge has no memory of his past...

Fall or, Dodge in Hell (2019. 883 pages) is a new science fiction/fantasy novel from the well-respected author Neal Stephenson.

In truth it’s really two novels which are connected by the death and life of a central character. Stephenson obviously had big plans for the novel. Its part future history where he speculates on where our technology will take us and the possibilities it will bring in offering a virtual afterlife and part fantasy. This former part of the book I found interesting and eminently readable.

The first section, on the surface, deals with the aftermath of Dodge’s death and his desire to find some form of immortality. We are introduced to El, who is rich and powerful enough to impose himself into the disposal of Dodge.

Our POV character here is Corvallis, a retainer to the family, through him we track technical progress in being able to replicate Dodge’s brain as well as exploring a subtext about how the internet is not fit for purpose and the various machinations of groups trying to either discredit it or, preferably bring it down all together.

In the next section we catch up with Sophia, Dodge's granddaughter, seventeen years later. The United States is a transformed Nation and not for the better, but Dodge's wealth has ensured that his brain pattern has been carefully maintained. It is Sophie who cracks the problem of, not only running Dodge as a simulation, but also providing a method of whereby those in the meatworld can monitor and interpret what is going on in the simulation.

Here is where the book is likely to be divisive. Stephenson has said he liked the idea of burying a fantasy story inside a science fiction novel. I have no particular objection to that or the fact that Dodge is awakened with no memory, so goes about constructing a new reality for himself.

This section doesn’t really work well and it is not because it is not well written. I enjoy playing Minecraft and Civilisation, it’s a pleasurable way to spend time planting trees or creating resources, unfortunately, it turns out that watching someone else do this is not very engaging.

It would probably have been better to truncate this and go straight into the re-tread of paradise lost, which makes up the bulk of the latter third of the novel.

Overall, it’s a book which has much to examine and much to say, but a bit of judicious editing could have made it hang together much better.


Charles Packer

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