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Book Details

Title:   Fall; or, Dodge in Hell
Author:   Neal Stephenson
Times Read:   1
Last Read:   10.31.21

Other Books Read By This Author (5)
- Seveneves
- Some Remarks
- The System of the World
- Termination Shock

Notes History
Date Read Note
10.31.21 So many thoughts on this one. Parts of it were quite a slog but then again I found myself quite engaged with parts much more than with books in recent memory. I suppose a huge driving factor is that from chapter to chapter I had no clue where the book would go or choose to focus attention on. Sometimes it was maddening - as I bid adieu to the hundred or so pages dealing with Ameristan with the sneaking suspicion that we'd see no more of it, or when Adam and Eve pop up and start cutting wood - but sometimes it was almost adrenal like seeing new notable souls pop up or getting glimpses of the meatspace as the years stretch out. In the end, I'm not surprised that this is regarded as one of Stephenson's weaker books (especially the last third or so), but it had more than enough to keep me interested and for me to ponder now that I've just finished it.

I remember way back when, when Cryptonomicon came out, hearing that this would be the first of a trilogy of books dealing with cryptography in general. But then Stephenson followed that up with a trilogy of historical novels, the only connection of which was a few familial names, and that plan seemed to be abandoned. Now, I wonder if this is not that originally intended final book of the trilogy that first started with Cryptonomicon but then wound and meandered through The Baroque Cycle and Reamde before winding up here. In that regard, it was very fun to see a reunion of last names get mentioned, and for me the book really picked up when Enoch Root enters the narrative. Viewed through that lens, the end of this book is pretty massive, tying together Enoch's passage through the previous thousands of pages to finally arrive at a coherent narrative. I wonder if that was planned all along, or just a lucky stroke of retconning, or I misunderstood everything!

But for anyone who hated the last third of Seveneves, this book is designed to thwart you. The building back and forth between seeing this new digital landscape be created and the "real life" events that manage it from above give way to passages - hundreds of pages long - that have nothing to do with meatspace and everything to do with the formation of souls in the new digital realm. It's almost like reading biblical passages (I've read the influence of Milton's Paradise Lost is very heavy here) as new characters, whom we know little to nothing about, spend arduous pages doing basic things. I think it's meant to show vast gaps of time and the formation of the new Land's mythology and history through epochs, but that's all stuff you kinda figure out just as it's ending. And that happens over and over again. It's a different feeling than, say, a thriller where you feel the mechanisms of the plot driving the characters toward their resolutions... instead you almost have to give over to the book and just to read until some meaning forms in your head. Stephenson adopts a somewhat formal tone for all of this, perhaps meant to convey the new-ness of the things that are happening but in effect making it sometimes hard to picture and often boring to read, again, until something meaningful happens which informs the whole section of the book and also marks its end.

By the end, it's almost like reading DnD fantasy fiction. These adventurers are on a quest going through fantastical landscapes... except Stephenson's peculiar notion of what's interesting creates some diabolically frustrating aversions of focus. He spends countless words explaining something I cared little about then covers hugely fascinating subjects with just a few terse lines of dialogue. I relate it to how Seveneves doesn't deal at all with what causes the moon to shatter. I liked it in that book because it was clear to me that his focus was on other things, but here it gets pretty old since the things he skips over seem pretty integral to the story.

Like, How was El able to make angels? What was El's deal anyway? What about El's mental illness? And what happens to El in the chaos? Dodge overcame it, why not El? And if El was unhappy with how the Land was developing, why did he not change it?

So that's a bummer since all i can hope for now is an offhanded remark four novels from now that might obtusely refer to something that could be understood to mean something in this context... but like I said I was still riveted for the last hundred or so pages, and I liked most of the ending. It just took an investment heavy enough that I wouldn't recommend it to anyone not already up for the journey.

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