Fall; or, Dodge in Hell
July 13, 2019 7:41 PM - by Neal Stephenson - Subscribe

It's a big ol' Neal Stephenson book, relating the further life and times of REAMDE's virtual world tycoon Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, among others. It tells a story about the transhumanist destiny unfolding in the nearish future. Engineers have always had God complexes, but never so literally.

I could not complete this joke: "It asks the question, does ______-ology recapitulate mythology?"
posted by fleacircus (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
It’s a Neal Stephenson book. At this point you should know what you’re getting. 900 pages, acronym puns, funny character names, crazy huge scope, persistent background flavour of white dude author, cool adventures, overwritten combat scenes, alternating sections of thrill ride eyeball kicks with deep geeky infodumps, all accelerating and simplifying towards not so much an ending as a stopping point.

I mean, this one has a denouement! That’s new.

And some fabulous near-future red/blue America worldbuilding. (A heartland Levitican cult that believes Jesus was never actually crucified — Jesus wasn’t a beta cuck, he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be killed like that, the church faked it and then invented the Resurrection to explain why he was still around.)

It was a cottage weekend minus the cottage.
posted by sixswitch at 10:10 PM on July 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


I thought the mythology of the simulated world was interesting, but the portions taking place in the "real" world were lacking. The connections to the Barque Cycle/Cryptonomicon felt forced and served little purpose. The red state stuff was indeed fascinating, though it never really went anywhere. Interesting things happened but then were just dropped. Overall, I wish it cut back to the real world more often, especially in the last third of the book. There could have been much more tension if more of the action took place in a world with stronger rules and consequences.

And the ways that the real-world foundations chose to manage the simulated souls just seemed dumb, and designed only to further the plot. Why run the simulation hundreds of times faster than realtime just because you have extra capacity – wouldn't it save a ton of resources to keep it slower, as well as making it more relatable to the people left behind? Why is anyone still volunteering to be uploaded at a point where most Spawned souls are turned into Beedles and enslaved by Autochthons? If El has the power to build the necessary quantum computing clusters, and doesn't like the world that Dodge built, why not upload himself (and his allies/customers/whatever) to a totally isolated network where he can build his own world?
posted by mbrubeck at 10:34 PM on July 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


So is there going to be a "Reader' Digest Condensed" version, AKA "Back when Neil had an editor"?

I mean yes he's a good writer, but damn. I miss the days when he could do a short snappy book.
posted by happyroach at 10:29 AM on July 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


(A heartland Levitican cult that believes Jesus was never actually crucified — Jesus wasn’t a beta cuck, he wouldn’t have allowed himself to be killed like that, the church faked it and then invented the Resurrection to explain why he was still around.)

That sounds disturbingly plausible; kind of like the Rob Liefeld Jesus.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:56 AM on July 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah a lot of the real world stuff does fizzle out.

Some of it left me wondering what the point of it was. That's just how Stephenson books go a lot of the time, though. I guess the point of a lot of it was, instead of exploring the problem of "what is identity" Stephenson is just presenting an answer, a very modern answer -- it's whatever this wibbly wobbly ML algorithm/heuristic says it is.

So it's not really an exploration of that.. TBH there's a lot of conversations that would be going on in those conventions that should be important but I guess they aren't because they have no power to influence what the foundations were going to do anyway? I guess we're supposed to guess based on what happens in the sim world, blergh.

And I have no idea what I'm supposed to think about the idea that we're already in an afterlife sim and that it's dyson-sphere-supported sims all the way down, or at least large but finite M of the way down.

Why run the simulation hundreds of times faster than realtime just because you have extra capacity ... Why is anyone still volunteering to be uploaded at a point where most Spawned souls are turned into Beedles and enslaved by Autochthons?

These might have the same answer? El's group is the one who really has the power over the servers, and I thought maybe the implication was they were running the simulation faster sometimes as cover for what El was doing, and also maybe they are selling a lot of misinformation.
posted by fleacircus at 3:15 PM on July 14, 2019


I also wished that there was more dwell on the formation of ameristan. Even better, or perhaps more helpfully, if it ever recondensed with the rest of the country, perhaps after bitworld and the LVU launched and the whole world was again all watching the same channel. The Moab stunt itself is so possible seeming to me it was a little scary to contemplate. Even scarier, it's obviously a dire projection by stephenson of where our society is headed, soon, if it continues on the current fracturing trajectory as it is simply impossible to govern without a shared, consensus reality. However, I'd rather read his speculation of any means to resolve or reverse the bifurcating realities and return to some coherence. Otherwise, it's just a more detailed, most lavishly on firearms, vision of the dystopia i can already foresee.

Early on, i got the impression that elmo was a lightly veiled elon musk stand in. Did anyone else get that sense and or have any gossip about what stephenson seems to loathe him?
or wait, is it peter thiel?
posted by Cold Lurkey at 3:17 PM on July 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


mbrubeck, my theory on el's uploading into the egdod crafted world was that his particular vision of the singularity was such that he needed to have dominion over all things AND souls. Uploading into a private isolated world would not give him the satisfaction of godcomplex, especially when he knew there was a separate, unperfected afterlife that he could not control.

As I don't personally have a god complex, I'm not sure if only being able to lord over those few souls who have previously submitted to your authority is as satisfying as grinding those who would oppose your might into dust, taking control of their children and wielding fascistic rule over a previously unrestrained(ish) populace.

What's more mysterious to me is how, despite the fact that most uploads seemed to retain little of their previous memories, el was able to seed the bitworld with acolytes and poison the well for a decade or so prior to his own uploading. There was allusion to a communication by the ZA faction directly to bitworld, but how, and using what levers of power and persuasion?

Oh, and how did El's handiwork not turn into a PR nightmare for those not yet uploaded. Come to bitworld, be a rudely formed minion of a heartless overlord! FOR ALL ETERNITY!
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:21 PM on July 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


In the back of my mind while reading this I was wondering why Stephenson hasn't gone reactionary like so many tech guys, or caught a fatal case of the PC-is-exactly-the-same-as-theocracy. (**Assuming he hasn't.**) All the elements are there, especially a kind of extremely deep elitism, but IDK, he doesn't seem to fall into ideological sinkholes.
posted by fleacircus at 8:28 PM on July 14, 2019


fleacircus, I always chalked that up to the fact that he’s as much a writer if historical fiction as science fiction. I feel like that long view and pretty deep hands-on research gives him some ballast in a way? Like, there are certainly some regressive attitudes throughout his works, female characters are generally either underwritten or written as men-with-boobs, and Seveneves is several kinds of sketchy, but he hasn’t gotten worse at least.
posted by sixswitch at 9:27 PM on July 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


So, the speed of light thing at the end. Was that a throwaway comment that "our" world was virtual?

The idea of the Moab stunt and how so many people bought into it has really stuck with me. I'd love to read about that in its own book.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:58 PM on July 15, 2019


I was wondering why Stephenson hasn't gone reactionary like so many tech guys
Doesn't REAMDE have that whole evil-muslim-sleeper-agents-infest-America-and-get-stopped-by-good-old-boys-with-guns subplot? Or am I misremembering?
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 7:11 AM on July 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


So, the speed of light thing at the end. Was that a throwaway comment that "our" world was virtual?

I didn't catch the speed of light thing, but Stephenson was pretty direct that Enoch Root is an upload from whoever is running us, doing more or less the same job as... erm... Dodge's friend who ends up executor has in Dodge's upload-world.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:12 AM on July 16, 2019


Doesn't REAMDE have that whole evil-muslim-sleeper-agents-infest-America-and-get-stopped-by-good-old-boys-with-guns subplot? Or am I misremembering?

Not exactly, but I think that's an uncharitable way to describe it, like describing The Wizard of Oz as "An immigrant kills the first person she meets." I mean, as I recall it the book doesn't have any antimuslim hysteria and the terrorists are mostly stopped by an Eritrean math-nerd, a Russian gangster, and an MI6 agent; the good old boys with guns are pretty much just redshirts.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:23 AM on July 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah there was some "terrorists amongst us" Tom Clancy flavor to those thrills; it's a fair point. It was published in 2010 which was a bit late for that? but who knows when Stephenson started writing it out longhand har.
posted by fleacircus at 9:53 PM on July 16, 2019


I knew, way back when I read The Diamond Age and his depiction of the Drummers, that Stephenson's politics were too patriarchal for me.
posted by overglow at 10:49 AM on July 17, 2019 [1 favorite]


fictionally he really reifies the heck outta the patriarchy in this one, too
posted by fleacircus at 12:21 PM on July 17, 2019


Yeah, this was a really frustrating read, for me. So very many interesting little bits that are just.... Skipped over. So many pages spent on things that go no where.

I quite disliked the huge theme of the book of "meritocratic Victor gets to be God because he diserve it."

And thr few nods towards lgbtq existence felt so perfunctory. The throw away line that the single named transgender character changed genders daily, as if they were xknfused.... Almost put the book down.

Next Stephenson book, I don't think I will pre order.
posted by rebent at 7:21 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


In the back of my mind while reading this I was wondering why Stephenson hasn't gone reactionary like so many tech guys, or caught a fatal case of the PC-is-exactly-the-same-as-theocracy.

Well he IS only 59. And authors these days tend to abuse alcohol and cigarettes less. Still, he is editor free at this point, so there's plenty of time yet for him to pull a Brin or Silverberg.
posted by happyroach at 3:33 PM on July 29, 2019


I guess MeFi's Own cstross stands as a nice counterexample.

The throw away line that the single named transgender character changed genders daily, as if they were xknfused.... Almost put the book down.

Yeah it's a continual source of sighing from like consciousness-transfer stories; people will regularly become animals and rocks and shit, they will turn into robots, but somehow they'll be boy and girl robots and they'll be that for hundreds of years.

I guess my expectations are so low that bungled good intentions seems better than nothing.
posted by fleacircus at 6:27 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


he really reifies the heck outta the patriarchy

I really enjoy Stephenson books while I'm reading them but when I think about them afterwards they are so fucking problematic.
posted by roolya_boolya at 5:42 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


> Even scarier, it's obviously a dire projection by stephenson of where our society is headed, soon, if it continues on the current fracturing trajectory as it is simply impossible to govern without a shared, consensus reality.

here's an interview speaking to that!
STEPHENSON: I think we’re actually living through the worst-case scenario right now, so look about you, and that’s what we’ve got. Our civil institutions were founded upon an assumption that people would be able to agree on what reality is, agree on facts, and that they would then make rational, good-faith decisions based on that... And that’s now been dissolved out from under us, and we don’t have a mechanism to address that problem...

The problem seems to be the fact that it’s algorithmically driven, and that there are not humans in the loop making decisions, making editorial, sort of curatorial decisions about what is going to be disseminated on those networks.

As such, it’s very easy for people who are acting in bad faith to game that system and produce whatever kind of depiction of reality best suits them. Sometimes that may be something that drives people in a particular direction politically, but there’s also just a completely nihilistic, let-it-all-burn kind of approach that some of these actors are taking, which is just to destroy people’s faith in any kind of information and create a kind of gridlock in which nobody can agree on anything...

I think, at the end of the day, people are not going to agree on facts unless there’s a reason for them to do so. I’ve been talking about a really interesting book called A Culture of Fact by Barbara Shapiro, which is a sort of academic-style book that discusses how the idea of facts entered our minds in the first place because we didn’t always have it. Procedures were developed that would enable people to agree on what was factual, and that had a huge impact on culture and on the economy and everything else.

And now that’s, as I said, going away, and the only way to bring it back is, first, to have a situation where people need and want to agree on facts.
Did anyone else get that sense and or have any gossip about what stephenson seems to loathe him?
Well, it gets to the question of excess wealth in general, and what is it good for? We’re hearing now what we’ve all suspected, which is that wealthy individuals and corporations have amassed just enormous amounts of cash that, in a lot of cases, is just sitting around not doing anything because you can only spend money so fast.

Beyond a certain point, having more of it doesn’t really change your life...

A bunch of these super wealthy people had started thinking about how to make preparations for the fall of civilization. “We can build bunkers. We can stockpile supplies and weapons and kind of set up a survivalist system to live in. But at the end of the day, we have to have people to help. We have to have soldiers. We need manpower.”

And how do you — if you’re that rich person — how do you make sure that they don’t just take all your stuff? There’s not an obvious answer to that.
> In the back of my mind while reading this I was wondering why Stephenson hasn't gone reactionary like so many tech guys, or caught a fatal case of the PC-is-exactly-the-same-as-theocracy.

in the interview, he talks about writers needing a certain level of empathy, and he also talks about being a parent and taking his kid to soccer games :P
posted by kliuless at 3:25 PM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm close to 20% in and both delighted to see my hometown of Adelaide featured, and gleeful with schadenfreude to see Stephenson - of all writers - trip over a shibboleth by clunkily and inellegantly referring to my childhood stomping grounds as "the McLaren Vale".
posted by MarchHare at 6:33 PM on August 10, 2019


I've been thinking a lot this month about the Moab SituationTM and how it relates to current events.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:04 AM on March 18, 2020


I'm about 3/4 of the way in, having binged it over the last couple of days.

Yes, this is a Neal Stephenson novel. But I felt that he likely ceded a lot to a(n) editor(s) and that's why some of the stuff felt incomplete.

Like Ameristan. The concept has been explored by Stephenson before re:

...In twenty years, ten million white people will converge on the north pole and park their bagos there. The low-grade waste heat of their thermodynamically intense lifestyle will turn the crystalline icescape pliable and treacherous. It will melt a hole through the polar icecap, and all that metal will sink to the bottom, sucking the biomass down with it.”

It's an interesting interlude for me strictly because it doesn't get brought up again. Presumably there are Ameristani souls that can afford to be digitized, but those attitudes don't end up mattering - unless they're (supposed to be) the ones that end up being the grist for an insane demogogue.

The conceit mythology is indeed super dumb, but I forgave it because it was a vehicle for Stephenson to tell a story. He has an artistry to creating page turners - which again feels like it has been helped a lot by a strong editor/ he's recognizing his weaknesses.

Again, super duper dumb. Even before getting into "biologically impossible" and deeper philosophy - no way no how any of that even gets past an Institutional/ Ethics Review Board. Project gets shut down after hitting "go" on allowing self-modification and far before anything else gets uploaded into the same sandbox.

It's less bad than the conceits in 'Anathem.' And a lot better characters here, although some were disappointing.

It's a Stephenson novel, of course he's going to bring in his ties to the Waterhouses/ Shaftoes/ etc. Was kind of surprised how restrained he was. Maybe another editorially imposed restraint.

El being a real baddy was telegraphed right from the start - regretful that some of it was attributed to a non-specified neurodegenerative disease.

Dodge, yeah, super duper hokey but... it felt plausible to me. Dodge's id felt reasonably understandable, that he's a superuser because he's the first (out of shear coincidence) and that he basically reverts to making another MMO follows what we know of the character - and templates/ founder effect. It's unrealistic that he "smartens up." I can't put a finger on it, but Dodge felt super trope-y beyond the standard Xtian stuff. Maybe akin to post-death Muad'dib?

It felt like Stephenson did chat/ workshop with some neuroscience types, and there are textual clues that he acknowledges that the conceit is totally screwballs, but ran with it anyways to tell a story.

The sociology is my biggest problem, especially re: people actually being able to kinda-view the living conditions still wants in? Like, naw, no thanks - unless I have super powers/ more resources than other people. The theme so far is kind of grade-school-ey.

Kind of want to discuss the uber wealthy/ tech billionaire/ offspring thing.

Still, really looking forward to polishing off the last 1/4.
posted by porpoise at 11:58 PM on February 24


Oof, that last 1/4 was a slog and a letdown. Much moreso than the last part in 'Seveneves.'

My interpretation of the light speed (constant) being an epiphany that the prime world is a simulation because experiences are capped at experiential speed regardless of simulation speed (re: general relativity). Which is bs a nonsequitur, because of every other physical constant that we currently know about.

If Stephenson keeps writing, I hope that this is a signal that this is the last of the Waterhouse/ Shaftoe/ Root/ Forthrast universe.

The conclusion that humanity will evermore be introspective (the solar system eventually becomes a Dyson sphere to support copies of the dead who lose the ability to interact with the real/ simulated universe, and the living are more likely to be digitized than have offspring and explore the universe) is really depressing.
posted by porpoise at 4:26 PM on February 27


« Older Movie: Stockholm...   |  Book: Godforsaken Grapes... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments

poster