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Old 06-09-2019, 06:03 PM
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New Neal Stephenson book: “Fall, or, Dodge in Hell” [SPOILERS]


This week, Neal Stephenson’s new book Fall, or, Dodge in Hell came out. I’ve just finished it, and I’m here to talk about it!

But first, about those spoilers. There is a certain aspect to this book that, as a longtime Stephenson reader, I totally didn’t expect and was quite tickled to discover. And in my humble opinion, if you too are a longtime Stephenson reader, you might want to put off reading this thread until you have read the book.

As may be obvious from the title, this is a sequel to REAMDE, which is possibly not the first book that Stephenson fans might read and think, “That needs a sequel!” REAMDE is after all primarily a Stephensonian take on a modern techno-thriller. I actually quite like it, but it’s not necessarily what I’m looking for when I want to read him.

Fall, however is a different kind of book; it gets much more speculative, and gradually moves further into the future. Here's the official blurb.

So how was it? I liked it better on first read than Seveneves, which I didn’t have much use for at first (though I’ve since reread it a few times and have learned to forgive its flaws). It has one long section that seems like it could’ve been a novella in its own right, but in the larger context of the book seems to have had its premises annoyingly dropped and not adequately explored. By the end, it’s basically high fantasy in the digital afterlife, with much discussion of Quests (capital Q included) and a sort of D&D vibe (there’s even a bard!). And of course, the whole thing is shot through with imagery from Genesis and Paradise Lost.

As for the aspect that led me to issue a spoiler warning:
SPOILER:
As you start to read, you naturally expect to meet characters from REAMDE. But as you go on, you also start to see other familiar names that you might not have expected. Waterhouse. Shaftoe. Enoch. Yes, in some sense, this also is a sequel to Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle!

Or sort of. These Waterhouses and Shaftoes are strictly behind the scenes, mostly seen in names of foundations and the like. Enoch Root, on the other hand does appear in a more than cameo role, doing pretty much what he did in Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle: nudging characters in certain directions, giving forth monologues that frame the issues at hand philosophically, and dropping coy hints about his age.


Anyway, anyone else read this yet? Looking forward to other opinions!

Last edited by Hoops; 06-09-2019 at 06:06 PM.
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Old 06-09-2019, 06:09 PM
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Skipped the spoilers, but I'm painfully attempting to slog through this thing right now. I'm on chapter 28, but I've skimmed through large chunks of it. I've read most of Stephenson's books, liked some, loathed others. This one could make a turn for the better, but so far it could really, really, really benefit from an aggressive editor. If it goes on like it has so far, I'm ranking it as one of his most tediously-written books yet.
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Old 06-09-2019, 06:12 PM
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Okay, went ahead and read the spoiler. The Baroque Cycle books are among the ones I utterly loathed. Or at least I'm assuming I would have loathed them all--I skipped the other two after holding my nose and powering through the first one.
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Old 06-10-2019, 07:52 AM
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In other Neal Stepenson news, he's the latest candidate to be the real Satoshi Nakamoto. inventor of bitcoin. The "reasoning" is:

1. Cryptonomicon.
2. NS - SN, get it?

I ... don't think so. He had to get outside help just get a basic cipher system (Pontifex) for Cryptonomicon.
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Old 06-10-2019, 08:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoops View Post
REAMDE is after all primarily a Stephensonian take on a modern techno-thriller.
Did we read the same book? It was 1/3 somewhat techno-thriller and 2/3 chasing terrorists around a mountain.

I don't have high hopes for this book if it's a sequel to REAMDE.
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Old 06-13-2019, 06:42 PM
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My biggest problem with Stephenson is that he seems to have trouble with endings. I'll be totally engrossed by the first three-quarters of the book...then the last quarter will make me go "huh?"

I actually quite enjoyed REAMDE, so I'll most likely give this one a shot, but probably not until it comes out in paperback.
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Old 06-13-2019, 06:57 PM
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Did we read the same book? It was 1/3 somewhat techno-thriller and 2/3 chasing terrorists around a mountain.

I don't have high hopes for this book if it's a sequel to REAMDE.
I once described REAMDE as a 1200 page chase scene. I’ve read most of his books, but Anathem was the only one I really loved.
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Old 06-13-2019, 07:43 PM
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I'll wait for it on audio. REAMDE, though, was too much like a movie script for my taste. I generally enjoy most of his books, even with the sometimes-poor endings. I'll give this a chance.
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Old 06-13-2019, 11:53 PM
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Originally Posted by ftg View Post
In other Neal Stepenson news, he's the latest candidate to be the real Satoshi Nakamoto. inventor of bitcoin. The "reasoning" is:

1. Cryptonomicon.
2. NS - SN, get it?

I ... don't think so. He had to get outside help just get a basic cipher system (Pontifex) for Cryptonomicon.
You have, I hope, read his 1995 short story The Great Simoleon Caper?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Simoleon_Caper

He was on to crypto-currency way before the general public.
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Old 06-13-2019, 11:55 PM
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I once described REAMDE as a 1200 page chase scene. I’ve read most of his books, but Anathem was the only one I really loved.
Yay! There's never enough love for Anathem. It's monyafeek.
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Old 06-14-2019, 01:32 AM
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I've passed the 50% point (with heavy skimming.) now, I'll acknowledge that maybe this book has some hidden depths that I'm not seeing, but I'm pretty sure that it is just a huge steaming pile of poorly-written crap.
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Old 06-14-2019, 07:05 AM
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I'm enjoying it, just past 50% completed, tho I hope the theme returns more to societal changes due to technology and less on the evolution/politics of the virtual afterlife.

It's nice to bump into Enoch again.

Last edited by Qadgop the Mercotan; 06-14-2019 at 07:07 AM.
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Old 06-15-2019, 02:19 PM
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Just finished it in a marathon of reading...

I enjoy Stephenson not so much for the plot or characters but for his style and for the passages that just jump off the page and sing; sometimes it's his humor, sometimes it's an infodump about something cool; sometimes it's an incredible description that makes the hair on my arms stand up. I got all of those things from this book. I also got them from Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, Snowcrash, and Anathem; not so much from REAMDE or Diamond Age.

Criticism spoiler:
SPOILER:
Having said that, there was a lot of stuff here that didn't get fleshed out. The techno-utopia/Singularity taking place alongside Ameristan? Ameristan as a concept is great, but gets totally dropped. El's motivations are hard to understand; as are the reasons why all the uploaded souls are run on the same 'instance'. Rules get changed without explanation. Nobody rejects the Bitspace as 'fake' or 'immoral' or 'not really you, just a copy'. It didn't really affect my enjoyment of the things that I love Stephenson for, but the baling wire and bandaids holding it together were pretty visible.


Theme spoiler:
SPOILER:
So I take it that the Cryptonomicon/Baroque Cycle/REAMDE meatspace is itself a simulation, and Enoch/Solly are avatars of an upper level universe meant to nudge the Dodgeverse into creating its own 'proper' subuniverse(s). The meatspace folk make a subuniverse to cheat death and keep their minds running in (an eventual) Dyson sphere, but there's no indication that they are going to boot up a second, or third, subuniverse with novel sentiences or different rules, like El might have wanted to do before he went crazy/didn't run two sims in parallel/whatever. Having 'fixed' the El-hijacked Bitspace, Enoch seems to vanish, his mission accomplished. Or maybe his goal was to keep the sim from getting wiped out somehow, and reaching the Singularity before Ameristan doomsday-nuked the world did the trick?

But will meatspace ever send an Enoch of their own into Bitworld, to get Bitworld to simulate a new reality one level down? They don't seem to die permanently (barring Sophia action), so they probably wouldn't be hung up on escaping mortality. Ah! Maybe they would be driven to do it by eventually running out of room on Land... Might Zula step into the Enoch role for Bitspace?
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Old 06-16-2019, 03:44 PM
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Does Stephenson so the same utter disgust with anyone who isn't a techno-billionaire Mary Sue entrepreneur or special forces Ph'd as he does with almost all of his other books?

Disclaimer - I generally enjoy his work...except his character all seem to be the same.

Sent from my SM-G920W8 using Tapatalk

Last edited by tingbudong; 06-16-2019 at 03:46 PM.
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Old 06-16-2019, 03:57 PM
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This one (well, the half I read) is about techno-billionaire Mary Sue entrepreneurs who die, upload their minds, and become gods over the little people in a virtual world.
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Old 06-21-2019, 11:41 PM
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I forgot to mention (until just now) that this book has a candidate passage for the Bad Sex in Fiction award (assuming that you can call this an "otherwise good book"):


Quote:
He pulled her into him and mashed his doodle, bolt upright, against her stomach. She wrapped her arms around his neck for purchase and mashed back. They went on to perform sexual intercourse on the big pile of T-shirts on the rug. These could be grabbed in bunches and wadded up and jammed under body parts to facilitate various positions. She wasn’t talking much, but he got the idea that she wanted to be able to touch herself while also looking him in the face. Fair enough. They found a way to make it happen by what would have been described, in a PowerPoint presentation, as agile deployment to leverage the T-shirts’ structural modularity. He came first, perhaps inevitably given that he hadn’t had sex with anyone in three years. But he stayed in while she finished up, staring at him the whole time through half-closed eyes.

Somewhat later, at her suggestion, he gave her a piggyback ride up the stairs to the bathroom and deposited her in the shower stall, then went back and fetched her legs. While she showered, he attempted to clean up. As if blindly following its sole imperative, his semen had ended up all over the place, distributing itself over the maximum conceivable number of T-shirts as well as locations on the rug. There was a washing machine in the corner of the basement; he stuffed it full.
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Old 06-22-2019, 07:30 AM
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Yeah, I share the disappointments expressed by brossa. The commentary on how the new tech affected society as a whole was completely dropped after one recurring character got rescued from "Ameristan". How did the whole world react to the virtual afterlife? They couldn't all have been committed voyeurs to it. Not with more and more planetary (and orbital) resources being devoted to sustaining it.

Interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. Not for failing to reach conclusions but for abandoning so many interesting points which were raised in the beginning.
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Old 07-11-2019, 11:39 PM
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I wanted to like this book, I really did. I enjoyed REAMDE, especially Egdod riding in on a meteor yelling "ASSHOLES!" as he cleaned up the problems in that virtual world. But that moment was not enough to make a full-length novel out of.

There were a few things in the book that never quite made sense to me. There was the whole idea of the old internet which was filled with trash, fake news, et cetera. This is replaced by a new internet where a person's social standing is determined by external editors. How this was supposed to work was never adequately explained except for the realistic part: the more money you have the better your editors are.

I also did not get why all the new souls couldn't just make their own Firmaments. Maybe "in the beginning" there weren't enough computer resources but by the end everyone should have been able to carve out their own space and do as they wanted to with it.

My biggest criticism of the book was how it would jump from plot to plot and would happily abandon story points. First we're following Dodge and then he dies. Then we're on to Corvallis and Zula for a while. Then cut to several years later with Sophia and this Ameristan plot which seemed very out of place. Then we're in the virtual world with Egdod for a while. Then Egdod gets beaten right out of his own book and we follow Adam and Eve around for a while. Once their story wraps up we end up following some other random characters who have absolutely no connection to what has transpired so far and they only end up linking up with that story right at the end. There were a few parts that I liked but I spent way too much of this book trying to figure out what was going on now and getting no help from the author.
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Old 07-12-2019, 12:16 AM
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I pretty much agree with the consensus here. Too many unaddressed loose ends; too many plot lines that were just dropped. I liked the Ameristan section and the questions it raised, but was never heard from again later in the book. He could have woven that in--things are gonna get dicey when religious nutsos that refuse to upload are the ones with their fingers on the power switch. But it just turned into a high fantasy/Biblical/Greek god adventure by the end, which I didn't much care for--not the kind of thing I read Stephenson for.

I did enjoy it for the most part, but Cryptonomicon or Anathem it wasn't.
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Old 07-13-2019, 12:04 PM
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I pretty much agree with the consensus here. Too many unaddressed loose ends; too many plot lines that were just dropped. I liked the Ameristan section and the questions it raised, but was never heard from again later in the book. He could have woven that in--things are gonna get dicey when religious nutsos that refuse to upload are the ones with their fingers on the power switch. But it just turned into a high fantasy/Biblical/Greek god adventure by the end, which I didn't much care for--not the kind of thing I read Stephenson for.

I did enjoy it for the most part, but Cryptonomicon or Anathem it wasn't.
He could have woven that (Ameristan) in? It should have been the whole book. Or at least an entire separate book.

But, as was pointed out above, Stephenson does not deal well with, or even think about much, characters who are not some kind of super techno-elite demigods.
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Old 07-13-2019, 02:16 PM
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He could have woven that (Ameristan) in? It should have been the whole book. Or at least an entire separate book.
Yeah, but half a Stephenson book is like a full-sized normal book. All I'm saying is that I wasn't too happy about the B plot. The stakes weren't very high--by the end, it was mostly just waiting for everyone to die off and make their big entrance in Bitworld.

Stephenson loves to write quirky scary-smart characters embedded in some oppressive environment, only waiting for their chance to escape and do something. Fall already had one or two of them. Ameristan would be a great fount of these. Not to mention the numerous other breakaway states that might be expected (at least in the Nealverse) in the wake of a collapsing society.
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