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Fall; or, Dodge in Hell

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Fall; or, Dodge in Hell
Cover of the hardcover first edition
AuthorNeal Stephenson
Audio read byMalcolm Hillgartner
IllustratorNick Springer / Springer Cartographics LLC
Cover artistFritz Metsch
GenreScience fiction
PublisherWilliam Morrow an imprint of HarperCollins
Publication date
June 4, 2019
Media typePrint (hardcover)
LC ClassPS3569.T3868 F35 2019
Preceded byReamde 

Fall; or, Dodge in Hell is a 2019 speculative fiction novel by American author Neal Stephenson.[1][2][3] The book explores mind-uploading to the Cloud, from the perspective of Richard "Dodge" Forthrast, a character introduced in Stephenson's 2011 Reamde.[4][5]

Plot summary[edit]

Billionaire Richard "Dodge" Forthrast is declared brain-dead after a routine medical procedure. Friends and family find his last will directs that his body be cryonically preserved for the purpose of future brain scanning and eventual revival. His wishes are fulfilled, his frozen brain destructively scanned, and his connectome saved in digital form.

Several years pass in which portable augmented reality viewers become ubiquitous, social media echo chambers cause rural lawlessness, commercial quantum computing is feasible, and anonymous distributed ledger identification becomes popular in business.

Dodge's grandniece Sophia animates Dodge's connectome as an experiment on secure distributed computing, for her senior thesis, at Princeton. The connectome remembers nearly nothing, but names itself "Egdod" after Dodge's character in the video game made by his company. It builds a virtual world, with physical laws similar to what little it does "remember". Wealthy anonymous donors initially fund the support datacenters running this "world". Brain scanning gains general popularity, after traffic analysis shows that virtual minds are achieving an afterlife, in a medieval fantasy setting. All the downloaded minds, however, suffer extreme amnesia.

Egdod is usurped by El—a terminally ill, and mentally ill, billionaire, who is funding the computing process. El believes that Dodge not only lacked imagination when constructing the virtual world, but that he also consumes a disproportionate amount of computing power. El conquers the world, isolates Dodge (with the power of his mind, aided by augmention by his private data centers). El subjugates the (virtual) population with a religion centered upon worship of him. Sophia (after being murdered by El) enters this virtual world, to assist Dodge in disrupting El's power. She—and several other characters—embark on an epic quest. Stephenson, in narrating this, is able to describe many aspects of this medieval fantasy world, and of the beliefs that El has instilled amongst its peoples. In the end Dodge and El have one final confrontation to determine whose vision for this virtual world prevails.

Philosophical and scientific content and influences[edit]

When attempting to explain why the virtual world created by connectomes of brain scans resembles the physical world so much, character Corvallis Kawasaki cites a claim by philosopher Immanuel Kant that the human mind cannot make sense of anything without a space-time lattice.[6]

Stephenson indicates Fall is indebted to David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality,[7] as well as John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Fall and Reamde are set in the same fictional universe as Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle. Fall refers to the historical figures of Lawrence Waterhouse and Rudolf von Hacklheber from Cryptonomicon, and Enoch Root makes an appearance in the story.


Fall was largely well received in the press. Reviewers called it "compelling,"[8] "mind-blowing,",[4] and "the best thing [Stephenson] has written in ages."[9] Some criticized its length and tendency to digress, while often noting that Stephenson's fans expect this from him.[9][2][5] Adam Roberts in The Guardian said the "digital afterlife reminded [him] a little of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books,"[9] and Laura Miller in Slate described the novel's depiction of its Ameristan region as "savage, Swiftian satire."[4]

Publishers Weekly was more critical, saying that the book's "post-truth" physical realm and its digital afterlife each "simplistically replicate present-day societal power structures, showing the limits of Stephenson's imagination," and that the book features "unwieldy dialogue" and "uneven pacing." They did allow that "[f]ans of Stephenson's passion for the minutiae of technological innovations will revel in the intricacies of his construction."[3]


  1. ^ "Fall; or, Dodge in Hell". Kirkus Reviews. March 17, 2019. Archived from the original on July 11, 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  2. ^ a b Sheehan, Jason (June 4, 2019). "Sometimes Fascinating, Sometimes Excruciating, 'Fall' Hums With Energy". NPR. Archived from the original on July 11, 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  3. ^ a b "Fall; Or, Dodge in Hell". Publishers Weekly. Archived from the original on 2019-06-06. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  4. ^ a b c Miller, Laura (2019-06-03). "The Mind-Body Solution – Neal Stephenson's Fall explores higher consciousness, the internet's future, and virtual worldbuilding in one mind-blowing adventure". Slate.com. Archived from the original on 2019-07-12. Retrieved 2019-07-12.
  5. ^ a b McEuen, Paul (2019-06-04). "Frozen heads and virtual heavens: sci-fi legend Neal Stephenson rides again – Heaven is in the Cloud in this new tome". Nature. 570 (7759): 33–34. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-01733-2.
  6. ^ Stephenson, Neal (2019). "33". Fall; or, Dodge in Hell. New York, N.Y.: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-06-245871-1. OCLC 1085577389. Oh, years and years ago I had a conversation with Dodge about Kant. Whom he had never heard of until that point. It was about Kant's idea that space and time were ineluctable to the human mind—that we simply could not think without hanging everything on a space-time lattice. That any attempt to think outside that framework would produce gibberish.
  7. ^ Stephenson, Neal (2019). "Acknowledgements". Fall; or, Dodge in Hell. New York, N.Y.: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-245871-1. OCLC 1085577389. Anyone who has read David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality will notice that Fall owes an intellectual debt to it. Anyone who hasn't but who found Fall interesting, is urged to do so.
  8. ^ Lewis, Jonathan P. (July 7, 2019). "'Nonexistence Seems Preferable': Post-Truth, Feed Identity, and the NPC Afterlife in Neal Stephenson's 'Fall; or, Dodge in Hell'". Los Angeles Review of Books.
  9. ^ a b c Roberts, Adam (August 1, 2019). "Fall or, Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson review – enter a virtual-reality afterlife". The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 1, 2019. Retrieved 2023-06-09.