On Fall, Or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson

Overall Impressions

Neal is my favorite contemporary author, and when this came out I added it to my Christmas wishlist as I'm always looking out for things that I can wait to get and then associate with someone as a gift. In this case my sister Bethany bought it for me, and I even used the Amazon gift receipt as my bookmark as I worked through it. I am torn sometimes between getting ebooks or physical copies but I decided that a hard copy was fitting for a book by my favorite author.

It took me just over a month to get through this, which for ~900 pages isn't doing too badly, though I can hardly claim to have devoured it. Some parts went faster than others.

This book takes place mostly in the future and his vision of the future is interesting. I read a few reviews of this book that had some bad things to say about said vision, but it really didn't bother me. I'm hopefully optimistic that things will turn out better than he protrays, but it's fiction. I can tell he lives in the Seattle area (as do I)!

The Good

I enjoyed the basic idea of the book's plot (sorta a spoiler, but it develops quickly enough that it's not really): what if we could capture the structure of people's brains (so, what they know, as well as how they think) and simulate that with a computer - and let these virtual people interact with each other? What sorts of shenanigans would they get up to? Would their virtual reality be just like life on the real earth? Pretty cool stuff in my opinion.

There is a nice mix of new and familiar characters for those who have read his previous books. I don't think you have to have read the older stuff to get this book, but I enjoyed the nostalgia.

The Bad

Although I honestly enjoyed the book, nothing is perfect. A few things that stood out to me...

Near the end, there are some conversations involving Enoch Root that, at least to me, prompted more questions than they answered. I won't give anything away by stating them here, but I was left saying "wait, you can't do that - you can't say stuff like that with 5 pages left and then not tie it up!" - and I don't know if he will in another novel. Maybe. I don't know. But it didn't feel like a teaser for another book - just a big 'ol unaswered question. I hope I'm wrong.

There were some characters in the computer simulation that were pretty important, but it wasn't clear to me whether they represented anyone in the real world. And some people in the real world similarly were not represented in the virtual one.

Final Thoughts

I'm looking forward to re-reading this again in 10 years when I've forgotten the detail and technology has marched forward some more (though I doubt we'll be digitizing brains by then). 4 out of 5 stars.