Cover Image: Fall or, Dodge in Hell

Fall or, Dodge in Hell

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I've been a fan of Neal Stephenson's ever since I read Snowcrash, bought every book, loved most, another book in the world of Reamde sounded great on paper. Although I've been given a free review copy in return for an unbiased opinion, I pre-ordered the Kindle edition so own the book.

The book started off as I hoped, another enjoyable tale spun from the wild imagination of a master word weaver: great world-building and plot, a page-turner for me. If the entire book lived up to this potential, I would have given it 4 or 5 stars.

Halfway through the book slows down and became a struggle to read, it was no longer a page-turner. The book lost its soul after the first half, the story changed from fascinating concepts to something I started making excuses not to read. I originally was given the review copy at the end of February, however, I've finally finished now just before October. 

As often in Neal's books, it's easy to relate plot elements to trends and concepts in the real world. In this future, a fabulously wealthy game company founder, Richard from the book Reamde, dies and has his brain scanned. In a potential prophecy of real-world research, the scan ultimately allows his mind to live on digitally. Richards new digital universe called Bitworld grows in breadth and depth, others joining until the "human" reality is split between the real world and the digital world. Those who have, and those who have not. The wealthy can live on, and the real people mainly exist to provide the foundations for the digital world. Fascinating ideas and concepts, a prelude of something I suspect will come to pass to a certain level in our lifetimes. 

If the book stuck to this concept, I would have loved it, however, the second half switches to a fantasy story in Bitworld. It's the artists prerogative to show their own vision, and I loved the first half of Neal's book. The second half of the book just wasn't fun or enjoyable for me. I wish Neal had explored the idea of a digital afterlife, a human-created Heaven in effect, in more detail. It's also a concept explored by many others, through written, heard and watched mediums. I felt Amazons tv-series "upload" explores the idea of digital afterlives more successfully.

Fan's of Neal will probably enjoy this book, I certainly loved the first half and devoured it. The second half was not fun for me, since I've read all of his books I forced myself to finish this.
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So let me preface this review by saying that I've read pretty much everything by this author (except Mongoliad). Some of his books are right at the top of my list Cryptonomicon, Anathem, Diamond Age etc. but unfortunately the level of consistency is not really there in some cases. His more recent work has a tendency to tell a story in several acts, which worked well in Seveneves and really badly in Rise of D.o.d.o.
Fall: is an example of this storytelling style that is almost stitching together several short stories set in the same world(s) with a more vague view of the overall plot.
I really liked the opening couple of acts and would have liked to read more. I didn't much like the middle part and particularly the "Genesis" story, and while I liked the last act a lot better, it set up a load of interesting characters and a whole world, but then failed to explore them properly. This is already a really long book at 900 pages, but it feels like a lot of character development got edited out even so. 
Very frustrating to read, it should have been far better than it was. We should have had twice what we got about Moab, Corvus and Maeve and skipped months of boardroom speculation and legal challenge scenes. This should have been about the singularity and instead we got a rehashed Garden of Eden story with a clumsy fantasy story at the end.
Don't get me wrong, I'll still buy the next one, but my expectations will be another notch lower.
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I've been thinking a lot about authorial voice recently, how an authors style can straddle across very different books, develop and yet feel comfortable. All authors have style, though many try not to show their hand. Neal Stephenson on the whole is not one of those authors, his style has developed with the books he has written - from the early cyberpunk stuff, to the historical with a modern sensibility of the Baroque cycle. Whilst he generally avoids direct author /reader bypassing quips in his narration (and likes to leave info dumps to internal monologues where possible), it is a light readable style which suits the often big concepts he likes to play with. 

All of which is to say he is a terrible fantasy writer. And I am not sure what went wrong with Fall or Dodge In Hell (though I can guess lack of editor with power being the key one), but this was the first time I have ever four Stephenson difficult to read - and that includes swathes of the Baroque cycle which I found both dense and concentrating on characters I detested. Here there is a conceptual narrative building block that never convinced me, leading to a storyline, development and what I guess are characters who I could not be invested in, in a quest which felt empty and meaningless to me.

It starts well. We check in again on Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, protagonist of Reamde (not my favourite, but a solid adventure tale), preparing for a medical procedure which goes horribly wrong. And as a Seattle tech billionaire he is a perfect character to examine the idea of scanning, uploading and running brain simulations. Though the first third of the book meanders to give us a view of its near future dystopia/utopia (religious fundamentalism - there is little more second hand that five years ago's dystopian future), it plays out some plausible scenarios regarding ownership of brain data and how it could be developed. And then they boot the brain simulation.

I rather enjoyed the small bit of world building that takes place when the brain with no sense of self slowly rebuilds some kind of reality for itself - though its plausibility was based on authors choice. But as other "souls" get added to the same imagined reality, and massive amounts of computing power are pumped into Bitworld, my suspension on disbelief gave up willing. I could not square the idea of a global population being happy to upload their dead brains into a shitty MMORPG where very few characters have agency. I didn't believe that there was no attempt, or even desire, to have any communication between the world of the living, no experimentation on how the conditions created the disjunctive afterlife created. I almost gave up when the first "offspring" of the land get to name themselves Adam and Eve (the book is surprisingly Judeo-Christian and US-ethnocentric considering the possibilities). The brains are data - why be happy with the first self created world that comes out of it. Who are signing on to be uploaded as the henchmen of the nominal baddie. Why is the actual fantasy tale that comes out of it so unengaging?  Why has Stephenson's style fallen apart in these segments? I came out with too many questions all of which seemed to boil down to he committed to an idea that didn't work early on, and this was his stab at solving it.Considering how well balanced the opening third was with the science, and legal and social implications of the uploads, these vanish when we get to Bitland - where no-one remembers who they used to be (unless it is important as one of the many Deus Ex Machina of the story), and you end up living for eternity eating an apple or two. And this somehow becomes the best selling media product - it just doesn't feel like the same author.

[NetGalley ARC]
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I'm a huge fan of Neal Stephenson's work, and his theme's are always spot on. Fall was a really interesting read, but I found it a little convoluted, so struggled a bit to stay engaged.
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Wow, being a Neal Stephenson fan is a commitment. His books are generally long, technical and philosophical and the subject matter twists and turns so you think you're reading one type of story but you're not. It's another! Then it might change again. You never know...

Fans of Dodge from Reamd might be a little disappointed at how little time we get to spend with him... <spoiler>in a form that we're familiar with at least</spoiler>

I had to really push myself to get through this one. Many abstract moments hurt my brain and the part where it turned into The Two Towers and was just a LOT of trekking and journeying took a lot of grit. There are *so* may characters, waves, nicknames..at least Tolkien had the decency to split his tomes into volumes and appendices.

All of the variations of souls* were annoying in oane way or another and I was really mad that there was never any contact between the souls and planet Earth. I am not sure what the whole point of having an afterlife of that nature is.. but maybe that's the point of the novel. See - you need to think deep thoughts and sometimes my brain just can't handle it!!

Lots of interesting ideas explored as usual, but a labour of love, cos I love the writer - liked this less than Reamde. Don't know if I'd return to the Fall universe again. (WHO AM I KIDDING!? WE ALL KNOW I WILL IF HE WRITES MORE!)

*El was the worst
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Fall or, Dodge in Hell is an alternative take on the (digital) afterlife. Dodge dies, and is uploaded to the cloud. His life, however, is only just beginning. In fact, it may never end
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Fall or, Dodge in Hell is the latest (rather awkwardly titled) novel from Neal Stephenson, who has a reputation for writing novels full of big ideas, laid out in interesting ways. If you’re new to Stephenson’s work, or you’re a long time reader coming in to see if this one’s worth taking a look at, let me see if I can help.

First of all, the answer is yes.

Yes.

This is vintage Stephenson, in several senses.

First: It’s a book so thick you could probably use it to stun livestock. That’s somewhat ameliorated if you’re reading the ebook, but be aware, up front, that this one is a doorstop, and it’s probably going to require some time commitment.

Second: Yes, this involves some of the same characters as one of Stephenson’s previous works, Reamde. Arguably, they’re not the centrepiece of the text, which sprawls across geographies and generations with equal aplomb. But they’re there, and if you’ve read Reamde then there’s some nice callbacks and thematic notes for you. If you haven’t, don’t panic! The story works perfectly well as a standalone. Speaking of which: This is a story with two broad strands. 

The first of those is in what we’ll nominally call the real world, a near future not too many steps from our own.  Here, the narrative homes in on the idea of information flow. The United States is defined no longer by its geography, but by the types of information that its citizens imbibe, consuming their media with varying editorial slants, advances in technology allowing them to experience reality as they perceive it, rather than as it may actually be. Urban centres and core agricultural areas seem to be largely members of the “reality based community”; outside of these are lawless wastelands, people poisoned by memes, shaped by the ravings of the internet into warlords or shapeless wrecks of ideological polarisation. Stephenson, always a creator of masterful prose, manages to make this world seem real, its rural areas navigated by gun-laden pickups as plausible as the towering urban enclaves reached by self-driving cars that won’t go off the Interstate system into the potentially dangerous backwoods. It’s still a bit on the nose, honestly. Stephenson has looked at the power of ideas and ideology before, in the seminal Snow Crash, and expands on that here. How people shape themselves around an idea is explored, and the ways in which feedback allows people to change a concept even as it alters them, also.

This is a compelling, believable near-future, filled with plausible characters, whom it is easy to empathise and sympathise with. That includes, to an extent, even the less-than-heroic ones, those whose self interest and selfishness is at odds with the more egalitarian space most of the protagonists inhabit. But even those “baddies” if you will are so because they want to shape the future mindset of humanity, to take it out of the comfortable mould in which it has sat for so long, and give it the freedom to become something new. Of course, they do this, in part, by being terrible people. Both protagonists and their adversaries are vividly detailed, and feel like personalities rather than cutouts.

However, whilst this word is intricate and believable, the text is not satisfied. It shows us a world on the edge of some sort of informational meme-pocalypse, and then throws in something else entirely.

Immortality.

Well, something like it. The idea of scribing the patterns of the brain, and deploying them into a virtual world. In typical Stephenson style, this is lavishly and painstakingly described – both the process by which the events occur, and the world which the bodiless souls begin to inhabit. Parallels with Genesis are both inevitable and seemingly intentional; whether that’s a narrative device, or the subconscious shaping of now-virtual minds is left as an exercise for the reader. Still, as the near-future and the virtual world run in parallel, as each becomes accustomed to or even aware of the other, we find a rich and complex universe, where the big questions are at least being asked, and perhaps answered.

That fantasy world, that virtual space that is as real as the real, is the home for much of the latter half of the text, which feels more fantasy than science-fiction. For all that, it’s a living, breathing world, and one whose characters are firmly seated in their universe, and whole in themselves.

Stephenson has given us a playground here, a wide open world of infinite possibility, stocked with characters whose lives, in and out of the virtual, feel extremely real.

The plot…well, it’s something. It sprawls across the pages of the text, roots drilling down into subtext and metaphor, understanding sometimes easily present, at times obfuscated beyond the ken of the reader. It’s a dense read, and one which requires a bit of thought. At times, it seems too self involved, too far absorbed in its own cleverness. For all that, though, it has a story which grabs hold, which carries you across oceans and continents, and brooks no dismissal. It has a story which gives you people to care about, and I, for one, did so. It’s a story where the stakes are never less than real, never less than personal – and that kept me turning the pages.

On that basis, it’s a deep, complex narrative, one rich in subtext, meaning and metaphor, one which asks the big questions, but also isn’t afraid of kicking arse and taking names when necessary. It’s one to approach when you have time for a tome, and space to absorb some overwrought ideas, but for all that, it’s a fascinating read.
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<blockquote>"“I would say that the ability of people to agree on matters of fact not immediately visible—states of affairs removed from them in space and time—ramped up from a baseline of approximately zero to a pretty high level around the time of the scientific revolution and all that, and stayed there and became more globally distributed up through the Cronkite era, and then dropped to zero incredibly quickly when the Internet came along." [loc. 4027]</blockquote>

The title is a spoiler, really, for values of 'spoiler' including 'this is a theory posited about halfway through the book'. Dodge is Richard Forthrast, protagonist of <a href="http://tamaranth.blogspot.com/2012/01/201163-reamde-neal-stephenson.html"><i>Reamde</i></a>, a novel about (amongst other things) gaming. In <i>Fall, or Dodge in Hell</i>, Richard dies during a routine medical procedure -- the nature of which is never disclosed -- and is immediately cryogenically frozen. The problem with cryogenics, though, is that you only get one chance to defrost: much more sensible just to scan the frozen brain and upload its connectome, its map of neural connections, to the cloud.

Meanwhile in America, digital terrorists fake atrocities, and the internet has become an addictive, fact-free, mind-altering Miasma that effectively turns humans into zombies. Some of these humans are discovered crucifying a hapless stranger, who turns out to be our old friend Enoch Root. (One of the more satisfactory aspects of this novel is that it explains Enoch Root, though I am not especially keen on the explanation.) Enoch, and his old friend 'Solly', join forces with various of Dodge's old colleagues, relatives et cetera, and helps to instigate the Process -- a kind of digital afterlife in which an amnesiac Dodge creates a new world for himself and other uploaded connectomes.  

This world, which begins with a leaf falling -- a splendid and evocative piece of writing -- has everything. Leaves! Wings! Feudalism! Capitalism! A class system! (Dodge is of course at the top.) Then it all gets rather Biblical: and, much later, rather Epic Fantasy. 

One of the problems I had with <i>Fall</i> was the unevenness of time. The first chapter spends pages and pages on Richard Forthrast's musings as he wakes, snoozes the alarm, showers, walks to the clinic. At other points, years go past without much indication of relative time. This may well mirror the subjective passage of time in Dodge's afterlife: it's still perplexing to read.

Another problem, and sadly one that's familiar from my previous encounters with Stephenson, is the treatment of female characters. A major female character dies -- well, fair enough, nearly everyone dies in <i>Fall</i>, because death is merely a change of state. But this character is murdered, rather unpleasantly, and as far as I can tell nothing is ever done about it: no justice, no vengeance, no outcry. A relative does suffer PTSD, but that's about it as far as consequences go.

Some of the female characters are outstanding: I especially liked Edda the Giantess, and 'Prim'. And I was charmed, too, by Dodge's old colleague Corvallis -- C-plus -- who has a good, and long, life. But, as in <i>Reamde</i> and other Stephenson novels, I found many of the characters unlikeable.

I would have liked more about the remnants of 'live' humanity, on a world where the population rate is in decline, the living are massively risk-averse, and most of the planet's resources are devoted to maintaining Bitworld, where the dead live (and are watched by the living via VR-style simulations). I would have liked to find out whether there were people who still believed that physical life was better than the alternative -- I mean, they can <u>see</u> some of the terrible abuses to which the newly-deceased are subjected -- and whether the post-truth internet / Miasma evolved or fizzled out. 

There are so many good ideas, glorious images and philosophical debates in <i>Fall</i>: but also so many irritations, missed opportunities, shoehorned Biblical / fantasy tropes, characters whose stories just fade to black, and pontificating one-per-centers.  And, perhaps, too many words: this novel could have been tightened to half its length and been a better read. Yes, Stephenson is inventive and interesting when he gets going, but sometimes he doesn't seem to know when to stop.

<a href="https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/nonexistence-seems-preferable-post-truth-feed-identity-and-the-npc-afterlife-in-neal-stephensons-fall-or-dodge-in-hell/">LARB review which examines the technological and social themes in greater depth</a>

<blockquote>The living stayed home, haunting the world of the dead like ghosts. [loc. 8812]</blockquote>
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Stephenson always crafts incredibly intricate and thought provoking stories, and this book does not disappoint. It tells the story of Dodge, a video game billionaire who goes into hospital for routine surgery and falls into a coma - what follows is a fascinating exploration of what happens to us when we die, whether technological advances will allow us to have any control over that and ultimately, whether it should. Part singularity story, part biblical/mythological re-telling, I found this absolutely fascinating as a thought experiment. The world created in the narrative is so detailed and immersive and the topics discussed are interesting. What I would say is that the characters all feel a little bit flat, although I think they are, by definition, archetypal. It just means that those readers who connect more with the characters in a book may find this one a little bit of a slog. It is definitely an ideas book and those readers who enjoy that kind of narrative should definitely take the plunge with this nearly 900 page tome! 
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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Neal Stephenson is one of the cyberpunk pioneers baked so deep in the modern web that he's the person who first popularised 'avatar', and some say inspired Google Earth. Early in his new novel, the web is described as 'the Miasma' and 'the Din'. Which is chastening, and depressing, but one can hardly blame him, can one? And he has always had an eye for that sort of detail. Fall opens roughly now, though doesn't necessarily feel like a contemporary novel given the way Stephenson describes the present with the same capacious detail as he might use in his historical fiction, or his SF – but then wasn't that anatomisation of the overlooked always a role of art? It's not just the tech stuff (though unlike many literary re-enacters, he knows that the type of someone's headphones, and how they store them, is a perfectly valid indicator of deeper information, just like a classic still life) but the eternal experiences, like gradually waking up, or ageing, or bereavement. Though even those, if the core is eternal, are not quite as they were even a couple of decades ago, and will be different again in the future. And as Bruce Sterling said, the future is already here unevenly, so they're different already for a West Coast tech billionaire such as eponymous protagonist Richard 'Dodge' Forthrast, this being a sequel to Reamde. Something I hadn't initially realised, even though the guy's name is right there in the title, because if you think I can remember the name - as againt the lineaments - of a single, vaguely realistically named person from a single book I read eight years ago, you clearly don't know how my memory works. Furthermore, it soon turns out that this, and Reamde, are also in continuity with Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle, none of which you need to have read to follow this, though it does provide some interesting extra angles if you have. Some problems too, though. Because this is a book about the transhumanist dream of digital immortality, and in those books another, more classic immortality was strongly implied to be possible. Perhaps having spotted that problem himself, Stephenson adds an explanation of sorts here, though one you may choose to disbelieve – I certainly did, which was handy, because another one came along.

So, anyway, Dodge. Given the title, it's no spoiler to say that we're approximately 5% of the way into the book before our eponymous lead has experienced brain death, likely on account of (depending how you look at it) eating a pastry, ignoring the terms and conditions, or simple reflex and habit – all of them painfully relatable as 21st century downfalls. At which point, the battle over what will become of him, and the far-reaching legacy of those decisions, can really get underway. Now, for long stretches, at least early on, a lot of stuff happens which seems at the time to have little bearing on that main plot. There's a section which, for all that it's belabouring the online 'Crazytown' of conspiracy theorists, itself uses several of their more demented tropes as facts, something that makes me deeply uneasy. And within that section is a romance plot which feels like wish-fulfillment, with a character who feels more like a checklist than an entirely full person. Though granted, she's closer to it than plenty of people one meets from day to day, just not as close as most of the other characters here. And I include the likes of ubergeek Pluto, who may seem a ridiculous and one-dimensional caricature of a geek but seriously, I've met a dozen of this guy, and I'm sure Stephenson has met way more. The problem with The Big Bang Theory was never so much its cruelty to nerds, as that the writers were working with rehashed stereotypes, when someone like Stephenson or Evan Dorkin knows the field intimately, so can come up with stuff that actually lands and is much, much more savage. So yes, it's not a gentle read by a long shot, but Stephenson remains too fundamentally upbeat to pull off a proper dystopia. This was noticeable in his last solo novel, Seveneves, where the Earth was facing imminent doom – but everyone worked sensibly-ish to deal with that, and about the worst interference was a bit of moderate level fuckery from a thinly-veiled Hillary Clinton. Oh, to have those problems. Similarly here, in the near future, the backwoods of the US have become 'Ameristan', and the locals have reworked Christianity into their own weird, triumphalist version...but part of that is that it's at least consistent with the Levitical prohibitions in general, not just obsessed with bum fun as is currently the case. Intellectual coherence! As if! And, they try moderately hard to pretend they're not racist! Chance'd be a fucking fine thing. The climate is still a concern, but not yet a crisis; when some of the characters cross the heartland, there are still bugs on the bumper. Even the energy requirements for running resurrected human minds on vast servers are mostly an opportunity for interesting engineering and a bit of political manoeuvring, rather than terror. Probably the most terrifying detail comes in a lovingly described horrorshow of mismatched fonts and the statement, regarding the rednecks, that "They knew nothing of kerning." And I suspect this is not the sort of horror that afflicts you unless you happen to work in the trade.

But! All of that, while taking place over years or even decades, is in the 'real' world, or at least the novel's approximation of one, and let's face it, even from day to day and outside books, that notion seems somewhat threadbare lately. Once it gets switched on, there's also what happens in the digital afterworld.
(Sometimes I like to picture Aristotle comparing a Stephenson novel to his precious unities, then curling up on the floor and weeping. Although to be fair, I just like to picture Aristotle weeping. And let's not even get into what Plato deserved)
What about that digital afterworld? Well, once Dodge, or what used to be him, finally gets switched on again, it's not just a case of his image smiling out of a computer screen at his loving descendants, because the mind/body problem is based on a fundamental misunderstanding, and suddenly he's operating with entirely different peripherals. The account of him gradually surfacing from chaos, remembering piecemeal, building a world, verges on the interminable – and yet is still a massive cheat and a rush job when compared to how it would feel in reality. But unlike an Altered Carbon, say, it does hint at some small degree of the practical complexities which arise from the notion of minds stored on drives, long before one even gets to the ethical and existential stuff. You might think that once he was properly up and running, the problem would pass – and from other reviews I've read, I get the feeling that this sentiment is widespread among readers. For me, not so much. Others gradually die in our world and join Dodge in his, and the story increasingly recapitulates myth – with, pantheon notwithstanding, a particular initial resemblance to Genesis. And increasingly I was reminded that, whatever the many failings of the Book of Genesis, not least fuckwit fans somehow contriving to take it as literal history despite its opening chapters directly contradicting each other, it is at least fairly short. And then we move on into that very rare thing, a Paradise Lost replay which I don't significantly prefer to the original. Somewhere around here I felt obliged to take a break. Not that unusual in itself; I've often read other stuff around a Stephenson book - days when you're not taking a big bag, or whatever. But this is the first time I took a break of several weeks which incorporated other hefty books, and even another book about a technological(ish) afterlife, which was the point where I realised maybe I had a problem, or else Fall did. Fortunately, it was at around the midway, where there is in any case a natural break point and a recap of sorts.

The second half of the novel begins with that notion of reboots within the story that seems to have got much more mainstream lately, moving from the likes of Supreme and Ultimates into The Good Place and Westworld. It uses the experience of software engineering to derive a very appealing new theodicy. But by this point we're spending far, far more time in the afterworld than not, and dear heavens it drags in places. Even once it takes some kind of flight, it does so only as a pastiche of and gentle interrogation of fantasy standards, which is not without interest, because this is after all a Neal Stephenson book (there's one especially fine section on how someone might plausibly qualify as a giantess without being all that tall – which works all the better for being set up as a joke, only for the reveal to be played utterly straight and indeed utterly revelatory). But for the most part it's still not a patch on the real world stuff. Which, yes, is rife with expositionary dialogue – but Stephenson does exposition so well, even when he's doing something like literally transcribing the PowerPoint presentation at a conference. Whereas off-piste fantasy semi-spoof he does...OK? Better than I could, for sure, but not well enough to make a satisfactory epic novel out of it. Alas, by this point most of the characters in the world of the living are dead and digitised, without much work done on a new generation of replacements - as indeed is the case for the world of the living more generally, where such brief glimpses as we are granted suggest that knowing an afterlife follows has broken things down in interesting ways, even if what those Ameristani fundies are doing about it all is never really addressed, let alone anywhere much outside the US. Yes, a lot of early fantasy was intended on a Platonist-allegorical level, and Stephenson has created an intriguing way of getting us back there. And yes, I loved the ending(s). But dear heavens, the journey there was a trial sometimes.

(Netgalley ARC)
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Fall or, Dodge in Hell is an epic-length speculative fiction novel in which the idea of living forever in the digital world and the concept of religious stories are fused into one as a tech giant's brain is scanned into the cloud. When Richard "Dodge" Forthrast is declared brain dead in a freak occurrence, it turns out his will specifies that his remains are to be given to a company so that his brain can be scanned, turned into data, and stored in the cloud. This is only the start of a grand wave of events, in which the internet falls, America changes, and ultimately, a whole range of 'souls' live out a digital life strangely reminiscent of the battle between Heaven and Hell.

From a basic summary, the book sounds interesting, something which merges speculative fiction focused on tech innovation and the future of both the internet and America with a look at religious stories and who is painted into what role in them. However, in practice, Stephenson has created an incredibly long book that starts a bit slow and, by the second half, is difficult to even get through. The 'Meatspace' (read: real world) parts that make up much of the start of the book can be interesting, though 'Ameristan' (a satire of what would happen to rural America once the internet is changed so people have streams of specifically what they want to see and nothing else) is heavy-handed and never feels like it has a point. 

The biggest problem is that once the narrative moves (at first gradually, then predominantly) into the 'digital' world—the data stored in the cloud—it turns from speculative sci-fi featuring tech into full-blown fantasy with an obvious Genesis retelling aspect. Names suddenly become either references or words pushed together, everything has to be described in endless detail, and there's so many characters thrown into the mix that it becomes difficult to remember if they've turned up before. It was hard to do anything but briefly skim the second half of the novel, hoping for the 'Meatspace' to come back.

Perhaps people expecting the shift in the novel and who get more drawn into the second half would find the novel better overall, but it ended up for me as long, boring, and ultimately its points could've been made in a much smaller space with a more gripping plot. The concept of whether brains could be turned into data and then somehow 'lived out' digitally is interested, but this novel isn't the place to go to explore the concept.
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Phew! This was a long read, started really, slowed down a bit in the middle and sort of stuttered to a finish, for me this book could have been a lot shorter and that may have made the storyline tighter and flow better, i have read many books longer than this but they were effortless to read and sadly this wasn’t
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