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Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

A Novel
Narrated by: Malcolm Hillgartner
Length: 31 hrs and 48 mins
4 out of 5 stars (85 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves, Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon returns with a wildly inventive and entertaining science fiction thriller - Paradise Lost by way of Phillip K. Dick - that unfolds in the near future, in parallel worlds.

In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.   

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge’s family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived. 

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge’s brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife - the Bitworld - is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls. 

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem... 

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

©2019 Neal Stephenson (P)2019 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved

What members say

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Don't Bother

TL:DR
Neal Stephenson, you've gotten away with a lot of crap writing because there has previously been enough redeeming elements that have made your work worth reading and even elevated you to great heights in the cultural pantheon (*wink*), but I'm calling you out on this novel. It's bad. Do better.

---

Usually I'd say I'm a fan of Neal Stephenson and I'd recommend some of his other works, like Seveneves, as worth reading overall, despite some major flaws. But in this case I feel obliged to warn other people not to waste their time with Fall.

I didn't end up finishing it. I *very* rarely start a book without finishing it and I've never abandoned a book after getting more than half way through it, but I'd been trudging through without joy for hours already and when I saw that I still had over 7hrs left to go I just couldn't go on.

The performance is fine: pretty good in some parts, pretty bad in others (I was personally offended by the "Australian" accent). So I'm focusing my critique on Mr Stephenson (and his editors).

Now, I can't fault Stephenson for writing from a male point-of-view. He is a man and he has the right to write as such. But when he attempts to write from a female perspective I have to give the feedback that he does not do a good job.

Far worse than his lack lustre embodiment of women is his frankly egregious preoccupation with binary gender and heteronormativity. I actually found it sickening how obsessed he seems with the idea that "souls" would not only have a (binary) gender to start with, but that they would express that through appearance and behaviour in "traditional" ways such as females manifesting long hair and doing "crafts" while males have short hair and forge weapons.

When he describes a transgender person's "soul" as constantly switching between male and female at a whim I actually had to pause the book and take my headphones off for a moment.

Now, there's certainly a very interesting philosophical discussion to be had about what gender and sexuality mean to a person if they were boiled right down to their "soul", but Stephenson never explored anything in this space. Binary gender was assumed, heterosexuality was inevitable (to the point where incest is just a normal thing, apparently).

And here we have what my biggest criticism of this book really is: there are so many extremely interesting concepts touched upon in this book but none of them are explored satisfactorily (read: at all).

The first third(ish) of the book is the strongest. There's a pretty rudimentary discussion of the concept of consciousness and you'd think this would be the primary premise of the whole novel, right? What are "you", do you die every night when you fall unconscious during sleep, are you a new person each day, are you the sum of all your memories, are you "you" if you have no memory, and so on. And for a split second it seems like this is going to be the discussion, but then there's a whole lot of something else and then, again, for a moment it seems like that concept is going to be picked up and explored but then it just... isn't.

Also a strong plus at the start(ish) of the book are the ideas about social media, "post-truth", what to believe and so on. But after kicking off the discussion with an interesting scenario he immediately drops the whole thing and jumps ahead in time/

There's a fantastic scene in there about Ameristan and it's probably my favourite part of the book. But it seems completely pointless in the context of this novel.

Stephenson seems to have wanted religion to be the main theme, specifically Judeo-Christian ideology, but apart from the great Ameristan chapter he completely fails to say anything of interest on this topic. At the start of the book the main character, Dodge, is reading books about Norse and Greek mythology and there's a few "cameos" from those throughout but that's about the depth of it. Yeh, I get the whole Greek gods vs Titans scenario he plays out in bitworld but I don't think retelling a story is the same thing as exploring it. I would've been interested if Stephenson had asked questions about what these old stories tell us about the people who told them and believed in them and therefore what they can tell us about humanity that endures through the centuries. But, nah, instead he just spends mind numbing chapters having his numerous and mostly pointless characters roleplay Greek mythology and Judeo-Christian creationist stories WITHOUT insight, fresh perspective or critical examination.

I get the feeling Stephenson THINKS he was saying a lot more than he is. Maybe he believes he did have interesting and valuable contributions to some of the big topics in modern conversation in this novel. But...

Yes, this was a rant. I've certainly read bad books before, and usually I just get to the end, remove it from my library and just forget about it. But in this case I felt compelled to not only leave a negative rating but to also write out some kind of warning to plead with people not to waste their time on this book.

If you made it all the way to the end, thank you so much for your time. I sincerely hope you pick a different novel to enjoy today.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Not great

struggled to finish, good ideas but the main plot stretched out for far too long

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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What happened?

Neil Stephenson is one of my top sci-fi writers, but this book is awful.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

An hour of good story in a few days of book.

Felt like a chore to finish. A few good ideas diluted with a whole lot of blah so that after a while I just didn't care about any of the characters.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Hawk
  • Newcastle
  • 15-06-2019

dull dull dull

dull dull dull dull dull with some big ideas that dont get fully developed. Definately not Stephensons best book.

refund time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Lots of Big Ideas

This a book about big ideas. Life, death, beliefs, religion, mythology, creation and how we blindly shape or lives to unknowable truths.

Its a great listen and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Occasionally the authors voice is a little obvious from with its characters and the internal logic of the novel doesn't hold up to much scrutiny but it's none the worse for that. Highly recommended.

Narrator is great apart from the worst Australian accent imaginable. It's pretty off putting.

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    2 out of 5 stars

disappointing

I have read several of Neal Stephenson's books and have lked all of them...until this one...The beginning of the book is great. But the frst third of the story does not have much relevance for the rest of the storyline. Sofia's travels through Ameristan have no bearing on the remainder of the story. After that "meat space" related things become boring and only relate to what is happening in "bit world". The bit world is unimaginative and frankly, I don't understand why it's possible to just create a house, but not a TV, or tablet, car, etc. Just because I know that someone makes them, I personally just go into a shop and buy these things. It would not upset my worldview if there wasn't a complete chain of supplies for items. It simply doesn't make sense to me that modern day people imagine themselves to be in a medieval type setting...
so...I am sorry to say, that I didn't like this book at all...

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thought-provoking book with a fantasy ending

The Moab section was fascinating and very relevant to today's society. The exploration of Bitworld was a very long fantasy section, but I thought it was an interesting take on the concept of reality, and also what is inevitable in society. The book offers plenty.

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Disappointing

Overall:
A bit of a mess. Interesting idea to start with but by the 20 hr mark couldn’t help but suspect this was not going to resolve in any satisfactory way and is probably a lame attempt to set up the rules for a world Neal will continue to mine as part of a new book series.

Performances:
Ok, but I couldn’t get past the worst attempt at an Australian accent I have ever heard - offensively bad.

Story:
Flips between a vaguely interesting real world and an increasingly annoying cyber-Tolkien-Minecraft world where everyone speaks like they’re in the Old Testament. Nearly gave up at he point where a bard sings trite rhymes about two characters in bit world.

Spoiler:
If I was Enoch Root I would also disappear into the clouds in shame.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Brilliant start, falls over in the middle, and has a mildly interesting finish

The first part of the book is engaging, intelligent, and hilarious. This section is Neal Stephenson at his best.

The fantasy sections are slow and boring. It feels 15 hours too long.

This book was like watching Bladerunner 2059 but if it turned into Spy Kids 3D half way through.

Read if you are a diehard fan with a spare 40 hours.

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  • Barry McWilliams
  • 24-06-2019

Tedious & Mannered 2nd Half

Some great ideas that get buried in overly mannered, stilted language. I found the entire second half of the book to be nearly unbearable, listening to faux “olde tyme” language that stripped every character of personality. I grok that this is a parable, but it’s excruciating.

I remain a huge Stephenson fan, and will surely buy his next book, but this one is a huge disappointment.

64 of 67 people found this review helpful

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  • Ron
  • 20-06-2019

This is TERRIBLE

Imagine your friend gets really stupendously high and starts thinking out loud about the potential parallels between the start of a VR world meant for uploaded copies of humans (where conveniently everyone loses their memory during the upload despite having their entire brain scanned and simulated, but overlook that, he's high.) and the creation myths in our own world. Now imagine he talks about it for 31 interminable hours.
Sound awful? Wait, there's more. Characters in the VR world don't remember contractions, or the names of things, so the talk like babies for 20 of those 31 hours about painfully obvious things and to ham-fistedly deliver morality lessons.

This is not just the worst Neil Stephenson book I've listened to, it might be the worst period.
As one of the terrible characters in this book would put it: "The word stories from the talking box brought no pleasure and thus I turned away from them and called them bad."

68 of 72 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Missy Slim
  • 23-06-2019

Least Favorite Audio Book of All Time

Agree with other reviewers, first 3rd was okay. At the point where Dodge is reintroduced, the book hits a brick wall. Then, for many many many hours, it repeatedly hits that brick wall. There are very few audio books I've truly hated as much as this one - now added to the top of my list of Least Favorites.

30 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Bauart
  • 20-06-2019

What Did I Just Listen To?

The premise of "Fall" is great. It's advertised as a fascinating near-future science-fiction novel by an established well-known author (Stephenson) about brain-scanning and life after death... Cool! I was all in! So much potential!

What was NOT mentioned in the book's blurb was that the brain-scanning and rebooting of a human after their death is just a setup for a quasi-religious teen-gamer story about magic fairy-tale creatures akin to trolls, gremlins, angels, and demons. Half or more of the book is just a silly quest to find a giant metal key to open a gateway for the return of "Egdod" (Dodge spelled backwards.... get it?), and a BIG chunk of that is a re-imagined Adam and Eve story (which comes to a clumsy and fuzzy conclusion).

The biggest disappointment of "Fall" is that when you're rebooted up after death, you can no longer recall who you are. Your old "meat-space" identity is (mostly) gone. So as the reader you're left confused as to why Stephenson even bothered with each characters LONG back-story? If I arrive in a new world after death thinking I'm a magical flying demigod, what is the point going into extreme painful detail about who I used to be? The characters didn't even know who they were, so I as a reader really had zero reason to care who they just became.

There are so many dead-ends and pointless side stories in this epic it becomes frustrating trying to keep up, and ultimately meaningless since most of it is needless extrapolation.

140 of 153 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Adam Mince
  • 16-06-2019

Nothing At Stake

This story has no momentum. Heavy on concept, very light on plot, nil on character development. This story's predecessor, Reamde, was a page turning plot-fueled juggernaut full of fun characters, given beautiful voice by the same Malcolm H. Fall's cast is much the same as Reamde's but these once familiar and likeable characters feel more like fence posts than people, now.

If this novel were a photograph its compelling subject would be off-center and partially cropped out of frame. You'll find good ideas and beautiful prose that you want more of, but you'll be left hungry and buried beneath the superfluous stuff that comprises first sixty percent of the book or so. The reason the superfluous stuff feels the way it does is because the story's premise is anchored in a future time, and extends into a much later and more alien future time. It comes across as a huge amount of speculation about the coupling of future tech and future society and, while the speculation is sharply imaginitive and compelling, it just can't drive a novel forward on its own. The pacing of the story is awkward too, shifting from hard exposition into a much more poetic and metaphysical form of telling, roughly halfway through.

Like a plain turkey sandwich with sweet PB&J in the middle instead of more processed meat, this novel could have benefitted greatly from an earlier decision about what kind of book it was really supposed to be.

If you haven't read Reamde yet, maybe you'll like this title? Maybe. It makes me wish that Audible allowed returns or exchanges in warranted cases, though.

56 of 61 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Matthew
  • 21-06-2019

No editor was allowed a say in this....

I do not recommend this book. I’d love to, oh so much how I would love to, but I can’t.

Stephenson is an all-time favorite author of mine, so I give him a lot of leeway, and it’s probably why I got to the halfway point in this book instead of quitting earlier. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t bring myself to finish this book. The reason? I’m fairly sure that no editor got any say in this. First of all there is no cohesive story or plot. Second, the passages just go on and on with no real purpose and without adding anything. Third, there is a time skip that is similar to if in Seveneves it went from the moon exploding on the first page to Part 3 with no explanation of how or why. So out of nowhere there is this whole new scenario that is completely different from the preceding two parts, but then it is dropped and never comes into play! It felt like it existed only so Stephenson could be preachy about his views, and I agree with those views and I thought it was too preachy!

So no, once again, I cannot recommend this book. The characters at their best are nothing but one dimensional cutouts, the worlds could be interesting, but they are hardly explored beyond surface level or just retelling 3rd grade history or theology. And everything just drags on and on repetitiously without purpose or pay off like his previous books would have.

I mean dangit, I was REALLY looking forward to this book.

35 of 38 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Corey
  • 20-06-2019

This is the worst book that has ever been written

I never leave reviews but I have seen too many positive ones here and I can not imagine a single person enjoying this novel. I love Stephenson. I loved Seveneves. I loved Snow Crash. This book is no Snow Crash.

The plot, such as it is, involves the creation of simu... you know what? It doesn’t matter. This is the worst book I’ve ever read. Half of it takes place in the near future, half of it takes place in a simulation that attempts to deconstruct the Bible but with less story and the most ham-fisted writing you can imagine. Neither half has any novel ideas or novel takes on existing ideas. Neither half has characters worth caring about. Neither half is particularly well written. Both halves are equally ponderous and pointless.

I am not kidding here, you may find yourself engaged by the first seven hours or so, but rest assured that all of those characters will disappear and most of the action will take place out of the narrative and be recounted later (or not).

Maybe you think you’ll be interested in the fantasy part of the novel? You won’t be. It’s like a knockoff of a knockoff of a Piers Anthony book that got translated from English to Korean to German then back to English. The main characters have names like Egdod (Dodge spelled backwards GET IT?) and Thingor (he makes things GET IT?)

I can’t believe anyone gave this garbage five stars. I’m actually angry at the people who did because they are so comically, objectively wrong. It is not a matter of opinion this book is just bad. At no point during the literal work week that I spent listening to this did it approach anything resembling a coherent story. I award it no points, may the lord have mercy on its soul.

53 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • k teed
  • 04-07-2019

3.80 stars......a bit disappointed

While this novel isn’t marketed as such, it is a sequel to Reamde, which I didn’t love but liked enough to try this one. Twelve hours into this novel, I would have said this was a much better audiobook than Reamde. Then, it started to lose steam and slowly petered out. By the end, I wasn’t interested in the outcome. Some of the interesting storylines were abandoned, and there was a lot of filler. Still, I stuck with it til the bitter end.

Overall rating: 3.80 stars.

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Brenda
  • 16-06-2019

Two many disconnected themes and threads

Problematic all around:

- There was zero need to re-use characters from Reamde into this
- Abandoned early theme of fake news and personalized feeds - no need to even have it
- There was no purpose for the conflict between the D and L given both could have independent worlds
- No real concern that virtually nobody who went into simulation land to live forever had any real connection to their former selves, thus were just as good as dead anyway
- Yeah... it went downhill from there

25 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • mrevolved
  • 16-06-2019

Glad it’s over

First third was interesting and presented some challenging concepts about consciousness. After the first third the storyline got silly and difficult to follow.

32 of 35 people found this review helpful

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  • Toadjuggler
  • 08-06-2019

I'm a big Neal Stephenson fan, but...

"Snow Crash" manages to be both my favourite Cyberpunk novel AND my favourite Cyberpunk parody at the same time. "REAMDE" is the best techno-thriller I've read. "Cryptonomicon" is just a masterpiece of fiction, magnificent beyond my ability to describe it. I have read pretty much everything else he's written and enjoyed it all, so I was really looking forward to this fresh volume. But...

...this book is boring. Don't get me wrong, the first third is classic Stephenson, huge ideas rushing at you faster than you can deal with them and all leavened with Neal's wry wit, but it starts to drift about half way through and then, by the three-quarter mark, I was just bored. I can't actually explain just what was so dull without major spoilers, so I won't, but there are hours of entirely superfluous and entirely tedious writing in the last half of this book. I did something I have never done with a Stephenson novel before; I turned it off and am now listening to something else. I'm not going to return it as I will probably have another crack at it but currently I am so disappointed.

One note on the narration: if you can't do an accent don't even try. One of the main characters is an Australian and the accent Mr Hillgartner does is closer to Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" than it is any Aussie accent that I have ever heard. A shame, the narration is otherwise excellent.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Len
  • 13-06-2019

Toooooooo long by half

An interesting if well trodden theme. The first half of the book was interesting but the second was interminable,a fantasy story (ish) which lacked anything even approaching warmth and interesting characters. I have been a huge fan of Stephenson ever since I read The Cryptonomicon many years ago and loved both ReamDe and Anathem but this is a poor continuation of the former. To be classed alongside Seveneves as his poorest novel to date . Credit to be refunded..

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-09-2019

Words fail me, this book is awful

I used to rave about this author but this is so bad on so many levels, the basic premise of cryogenics is so you can be brought back to life, not “booted up” as a character in “bit world” some sort of “Old Testament 2.0” where people say things like “the room was lit by things that burn...” really...? And to claim that people actively want to die and go there? That people watch what must be the most boring reality tv show ever? And servants? Who wants to spend eternity as a servant?
I thought this would be a thought provoking story about consciousness, memory, the soul, what is life etc could you preserve and restore someone’s essence after death? But the author used lazy shortcuts, everyone is fabulously wealthy, can do anything and buy anything, go anywhere, there is never any tension and as soon as Ye Olde Worlde kicked in I knew where the story was going and lost interest. Another rambling yarn that needed serious editing.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • P Foster
  • 09-07-2019

Complete nonsense

Won't bother with anymore titles from this author. Absolute tosh. Book was about 10 times too long.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Jonathan
  • 05-07-2019

utterly boring

just a mess of a book! its like Stephensen picked up Neuromancer, Lord of the Rings and the Bible and tried to stick them all together! the reader only has 2 voices which is crap considering the book has 50+ named characters and its impossible to tell them apart. gather all copies of this book, burn them, fire the ashes into space and lets all pretend this 30 hour mess never happened

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 23-09-2019

Hellishly Long

I am a fan of Mr Stephenson's other works. I appreciate the complexity of his ideas and the scope of his vision. However, this book would have benefitted from editing. We are frequently led through the same events from multiple perspectives, without any true benefit to the overall narrative. At times I felt like one of the characters watching a slow running simulation of the world.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • teapotpete
  • 30-08-2019

meh?

I think I finished the book, at least the *story* stopped at some random point.
Really not sure what to think about this one. perhaps I'm not clever enough to grasp the narrative thread.
I really can't recomend this which is a pity, I've really loved Stephenson's other works.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephen
  • 02-08-2019

World building fun but don’t look for tidy endings

Stephenson’s style is to introduce an idea and then give it a life of its own. In this way you feel the connections, the effect of chance and realise that when enough simple interactions overlap you cannot predict what will emerge from the chaos. This book is part idea and part journey, a combination, if you like, of his idea books like Anathem and the Baroque Cycle. I enjoyed it immensely but, as usual with NS, you will have to put in the listening work.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • BrianP
  • 22-07-2019

Disappointed Neal Stephenson fan

NB Some spoilers in this review
Neal Stephenson is one of my favourite authors - "Cryptonomicon" is one of my top three books of all time. I also admire the way that he writes in multiple genres. However, this is a genre shift too far for me. The idea is interesting but the execution is very flawed. In particular, the faux-medieval style of the sections that take place in the digital universe is very hackneyed as is the idea of the quest and (spoiler alert) each character being killed off as they accomplish their specific purpose in the quest. The long section at the beginning that goes into great length about the legal issues is also tedious. The book would have been much better compressed into about a third of its length and without the "Lo" and "Behold" stuff.

Sorry, Neal, better luck next time

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrew Flint
  • 06-07-2019

laborious, over-hyped, avoid

Reads at first like some of William Gibson's later works, think of Hubertus Bigend etc. But is stretched out too far, and quite tedious. Perhaps the book would be better abridged.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful