Fall: or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson [5/10]

The wondrous, hard-sci-fi worlds of Neal Stephenson crown him as the king of futurism. No one can match his entertaining, minutely imagined unravelling of fascinating futures. In “Fall: or, Dodge in Hell,” Dodge Forthrast, the super-smart, super-rich games developer at the heart of near-future techno-thriller “Reamde,” dies and is accorded a second existence in virtual reality. Stephenson, of course, delves into the very notions of cryonics and virtual reality with depth that is in itself fascinating, and he is a brilliant plotter who also gets under the skin of his numerous characters. This is a typical hefty book (nearly 900 pages) that mostly intrigues and entrances. If you love to witness a fantasy world – in this case the virtuality reality Bitworld in which Dodge emerges – unfurl in kaleidoscopic cacophony, this book will delight. And Stephenson loves to puzzle out the thematic possibilities of his futures. But for all the pleasures of “Fall: or, Dodge in Hell,” two aspects detract. Once upon a time, back with “Snowcrash,” Stephenson wrote with exuberant style. No longer: his late-career discursive style, while never shallow, is now almost pedestrian. And Bitworld, I’m sorry to say, quickly becomes numbingly tedious. No one is like Neal Stephenson and for that reason alone, I commend this book to readers, but there’s a world of pity in me that he doesn’t curb his excesses and focus more on the on-page experience.

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