cover image Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell

Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell

Neal Stephenson. HarperCollins, $35 (880p) ISBN 978-0-06-245871-1

This laboriously detailed follow-up to Reamde explores where human imagination ends and artificial intelligence begins, providing some speculative concepts without any real payoff. Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, founder of the gaming company Corporation 9592, is rendered brain-dead when a routine surgery goes horribly wrong. His will stipulates that his brain be scanned and preserved by a tech company run by elusive Elmo Shepherd, in hopes of future regeneration. Decades later, Dodge’s grandniece, Sophia, designs a method for turning on Dodge’s brain, making him a lone god of sorts in a new digital world. Her invention allows people to leave Meatspace, or the terrestrial world, which is reinventing itself after the implosion of the internet, and travel to Bitworld, where Dodge and the now-dead Elmo battle for power. Though Bitworld is liberated from physical constraints and Meatspace is exploring a “post-truth” era, both simplistically replicate present-day societal power structures, showing the limits of Stephenson’s imagination. Fans of Stephenson’s passion for the minutiae of technological innovations will revel in the intricacies of his construction, but unwieldy dialogue, uneven pacing, and a narrow-minded view of the future betray the story’s promise. Agent: Liz Darhansoff, Darhansoff & Verrill. (June)