‘Fall, or Dodge in Hell’ by Neal Stephenson [Book Review]

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I’ve always had a brain for numbers.

Yes, I was that kid in school. I was one of those people who could look at equations and just sort of get it. It’s not something I can explain super well.

As a result, I really got into physics and computer programming at a young age–though this might have had something to do with having a bunch of uncles who programmed.

This is all to say that when I hear a novel has a bunch of maths and intense descriptions of theoretical physics paradigms, I get more excited than apprehensive.

You need to understand this because when I say “Neal Stephenson novels make me feel dumb” I want you to know what you’re getting into before you pick up one of these books.

Besides being an excellent doorstop, Fall, or Dodge in Hell is a novel that mixes together… well, apparently whatever Stephenson happened to be into that day. There are a lot of of things to unpack with this novel.

Published: June 4th 2019 by William Morrow

Length: 883 pages

Goodreads Summary

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves, Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon returns with a wildly inventive and entertaining science fiction thriller—Paradise Lost by way of Phillip K. Dick—that unfolds in the near future, in parallel worlds.

In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge’s family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge’s brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife—the Bitworld—is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls.

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . .

Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

A Digital Paradise

So, let’s talk about the obvious connection: Paradise Lost.

If you haven’t read it–which is fair because not everyone is interested in epic biblical poems–then there are a lot of connections here that won’t hit right. I not sure what it was about this poem that made Stephenson go “but what if there were robots?” but here we are.

And quite frankly, it works.

I’m not sure how you would feel about the biblical angle if you’re more religious than I am. For me it was an interesting allegory of a subject I have very little knowledge of being put into a world I found easier to understand. Faith has always seemed more elusive than computers.

The Mind of the Mad (or Overly Interested)

One of the key problems with reading a Stephenson novel is that he appears to be the kind of person who gets really interested on things and disappears into a research black hole only to emerge with vast amounts of knowledge to share with the world!

And then promptly move on to something else.

This is all the say that endings are not his strong point. In fact, I’ve read multiple of his novels at this point in my life and I can tell you that they don’t so much come to a satisfying conclusion so much as burn out. It’s like Stephenson just can’t be bothered once he gets to this point in his novels.

Like, you know when you get to the end of a Pokemon game so you’ve finished the actual story and all that’s left is to finish your pokedex? And that’s fun for a little while–finally get around to using that fishing rod!–but then it gets tedious and you forget about it? That’s what Stephenson’s novels feel like… but with more physics and mathematics.

Sorry to all the people who don’t play Pokemon and therefore cannot relate to my wonderful analogy. Why are you reading this anyway? Go play a Pokemon game! You’ll thank me later.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

I legitimately love Stephenson’s novels because, for one, I also have a mind that bounces around from subject-to-subject and then assumes that everyone will be just as interested in those subjects as I am. Also, I really love physics–’cause I’m cool like that–so mixing in physics and mathematics into an allegory about religion fascinated me.

But it’s not for everyone.

I mean, I was scratching my head during this novel and I was actually interested in the thought experiment taking place. Stephenson’s novels are not for the faint of heart.

But if this sounds like something you’d enjoy and you have the time to make it though this colossal novel then have at ’em!

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