Fall

or, Dodge in Hell

[Amazon Link]

A new Neal Stephenson book is a must-buy. And here's how much of a fanboy I am: I pre-ordered the book on Amazon, got it delivered on the publication date. And then I noticed that Stephenson was coming to Portsmouth, just down the road, on his book tour. Tickets to which included a copy of his book.

Yes, so now I own two copies of Fall. But one of them is signed by the author. I'll give the unsigned one to my daughter; she also likes Stephenson, just not as rabidly as I do.

The story begins in the near-future, after the events chronicled in REAMDE. The billionaire capitalist from that book, Richard Forthrast, aka "Dodge", is a little older now. He enjoys hanging out with his grand-niece Sophia, reading her yarns of Greek and Norse mythology. But he's scheduled for a routine medical procedure. And (unfortunately) he ignores the don't-eat-before advice. And he winds up in a vegetative state.

But he, long ago, made it clear in his will that he wanted his brain to be preserved post-mortem. And there's new tech available: a (physically-destructive) brain-scan, uploading the complete "connectome" to storage in the cloud. So, yeah, his heirs say: let's do that.

Years later, little Sophia is all grown up, and she's a computer whiz. Dodge's uploaded connectome is just sitting there in cyberspace. What would happen if it were … started up?

And what would that connectome experience? If given the ability to self-modify? Build a recognizable environment, perhaps, to move around in?

And what would happen if a few other dying people decided to upload their connectomes as well, and interacted with Dodge's (who is now calling himself "Egdod") process and the environment he created?

And what if one of those uploaded souls wasn't satisfied for obtaining immortality in the cloud, but in addition had a plan to wrest control of the new "Bitworld" from Egdod and run things himself?

Well, as you can imagine, things get quite biblical/mythological. And cyber-violent. (So much so that I wondered if they got a suitably portentous narrator for the audio book. Like Alexander Scourby.)

A lot of things happen in the book's 883 pages. There's an interesting dystopic sub-story: the "fake news" problem has (essentially) destroyed America. Everyone lives in their own "bubble" of reality, constructed by the Internet inputs in which their common tribe has bought into. Well-off people hire reliable data concierges for the straight scoop; but in the rural heartland, everyone's fallen for nutty bot-generated conspiracy theories and (um) interesting religion. Sad! Could make a book in itself, but it's dropped after a few hundred pages.

I've often griped that location-intensive books lack maps. Good news: this book has maps.