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Fall; or, Dodge in Hell


Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

Neal Stephenson releasing a new book is a quiet but momentous event. His cred has been built on the sensational works SNOW CRASH and CRYPTONOMICON, and (at least for me) culminated in the stunning SEVENEVES. Now he has returned, and a swath of former characters reappear in FALL; OR, DODGE IN HELL.

Richard “Dodge” Forthrast (last seen in REAMDE) is the incredibly successful CEO of a video game company, and while undergoing a very simple medical procedure, he dies. Things become chaotic in the aftermath as his family tries to follow the details of his will, and ultimately he has his brain uploaded to the internet. There, Dodge becomes a god, creating Bitworld as he begins to reform himself, leading the newest wave of uploaded deceased.

"Stephenson weaves an engaging fable of neuroscience fiction and remains one of the quiet masters of the genre."

One of these new residents of Bitworld is the extraordinarily wealthy Elmo Shepherd. El, as he is known, despises the world Dodge has created, so he rises up and casts Dodge out of his own creation. He believes that the errors of the human past can be erased, and a vibrant digital realm free from those failures can take shape.

Not all takes place within the digital world, per se. One aspect of the book that Stephenson explores is the chaos of our present internet world and the ease with which misinformation is traded as fact, and the ease with which people readily accept those lies without proof.

In FALL, the U.S. is divided, with the wealthy walled off on the coasts, bookending a sort of apocalyptic wild land known as Ameristan in between them. The internet as we know it has, well, fallen. It was El Shepherd who concocted a hoax, convincing the media that the city of Moab, Utah, had been obliterated by a nuclear strike. His goal was to prove that the internet could not be trusted, but his efforts backfired as more and more people believed the story.

FALL starts off slowly. It builds, though, and by the halfway point you are hooked. The novel splinters into reality and digital world stories, each incorporating religion, mythology, philosophy and science fiction that ultimately spreads across a hundred years or so. It is a sprawling epic, an exploration of the ever-failing call for Utopia. All the promises of cybernetic perfection, past and future, fail to materialize, even as mankind seeks to extend their lives inside a digital space, taking all of their pain and failures with them.

I highly recommend FALL; OR, DODGE IN HELL. Stephenson weaves an engaging fable of neuroscience fiction and remains one of the quiet masters of the genre.

Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on July 3, 2019

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell
by Neal Stephenson