Kevin Kelly discusses "Fall, or Dodge in Hell" with author Neal Stephenson

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Yep, getting cremated. And salt the bones.


Not my favorite but at least one book I will re-read. I didn’t like Steaphenson’s take on the afterlife initially (I expected something closer to reamde) but it grew on me and is maybe more realistic than other works, by Greg Egan (Zenedgi excepted), and others.

Ths was a terrible book.

It had so much potential but pissed it up against the wall. This is such a shame given Stephenson’s previous works.

I think all of Stephenson’s later work (let’s say, 1999 forward, where he ditched editing of any kind) should be placed on a spectrum, with Cryptonomicon being the obvious and objectively best, and Anathem being the obvious and objectively worst. That way, you’re not comparing apples to oranges by comparing a newer book to Snow Crash.

That said, I genuinely don’t get when people love Reamde and/or Fall.

I enjoy Stephenson’s willingness to experiment and explore, not be producing similar works, predictable outcomes or plots, not giving us what we we expect.

Sometimes I regard his artistic evolution as I do the Talking Heads. Plenty of surprises. Swerves. Drawing from a vast array of influences. Works that, more often than not, grow on me over time.

I appreciate his working on a book of any length. I’ve read nearly everything he has written. I feel as a reader my hard work [reading his writing] is usually rewarded.

Fall is hard going, and I will take another crack at it soon. I’ve done one gallop readthrough and one much-interrupted readthrough.

Thanks @garethb2 for posting. Always love a good deep convo with the maker and his process, his life.


Gosh, I loved loved loved that book. I have the audio book in my car right now.

We even read it to our young son when it first came out. He quoted parts of it for a term paper in high school in his epistemology class.


I have to advise you against listening to that book while driving, due to the uncontrollable eye-rolling and/or jerking-off motions it can cause.

(otoh, people should like what they like, and plenty of people dislike stuff I love dearly, even though I have flawless taste. can you believe it?)

I wonder, did you like Anathem more than, say, the Baroque Cycle?

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When I listen to Anathem in the car, I have only to look out my window and see darkly comic IRL examples of what the book’s narrator describes.

Like them both, for different reasons.

Like them about equally, but these days Anathem seems to have a lot more resonance in my current life.


Putting in my vote for Anathem as well, might start a re-read today.


This is crazy! Am I so out of touch?

No, it is the children who are wrong.

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Reamde wasn’t the best Stephenson book I’ve ever read, but Fall makes it look like a masterpiece.

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The Baroque cycle was in DESPERATE need of editing. It read like he had done a long f-ton of research and worked EVERY interesting bit into the books. It isn’t obvious to me what exactly needed to go, because almost all of it was interesting to some extant, but they still seemed very bloated. That is why editing is a difficult skill. It is hard to figure out what is interesting, but can be dropped because it doesn’t significantly further the central narrative. It is even more difficult to actually cut out a bunch of good stuff.


Anathem is my second favorite Stephenson book, after The Diamond Age. Reading Anathem inspired me to go back to school and study physics.


I loved Cryptonomicon. The rest of the Baroque Cycle? Not so much. I only made it halfway through Quicksilver and gave up.

I also liked Anathem, Reamde and Fall.

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I flip these two, but also place them atop the catalog.

I was also disappointed with Fall. But I think Stephenson’s fiction is especially prone to this sort of subjectiveness. Aside from maybe the Cryptonomicon/Baroque Cycle saga, his works are largely of the form: “What if x were true? What kind of story could we write about that?” The reader’s enjoyment of the resulting book will be strongly affected by their interest in x, and in the way that the resulting story is scoped.

In the case of Fall, x seems to be “What if the singularity were an accident driven by the choices of a few wealthy individuals seeking immortality?” Without a compelling picture of the larger social drama, I found that tedious. Others will not.

On the other hand, Diamond Age asks: “What if nanotech delivered on all of its promises?” and weaves a regional narrative with a rich cast of main and supporting characters. That was catnip to me.

And the monastic academe of Anathem? Hey, I was obsessed with Magister Ludi when I was 16, but didn’t dig the ultimate nihilism of it. I was exactly the target demo here.

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I would encourage all Happy Mutants to join the Long Now organization. They do interesting things all the time.

I sometimes wonder if Stephenson wrote Anathem specifically for bright young people.

The tip-off is the lack of obscenity. (Stephenson, of course, has a certain gift, or at least penchant, for obscenity.)

True, lack of obscenity is appropriate, given the protagonist’s character.

But then, none of the characters use obscenity anywhere in the novel, to speak of, nor does the narrative voice. (Several instances obscenity are handled in mild or clinical terms. These exceptions highlight the general rule.)

Furthermore, Stephenson chose to write in the Erasmasian mode. He could easily have slipped in plenty of funny dirty phrases and still given us Arbre. (The Slines should have belched obscenities non-stop, for starters.) But he didn’t. He scrubbed the dirt for this one.

So I’ll renew my surmise: Anathem was written for gifted young adults.


So much this. Snow Crash turned me on to Stephenson, Diamond Age cemented it but also reinforced the “be ready for an abrupt ending that will leave you slightly let down.” I love his world-building, the detail and imagination… and now I just steel myself going into a new book.

Fall, to me, felt like two different books smooshed together, both of which needed a firm guiding hand and a reduction of about 30%. I’m genuinely curious about the editing process for books of any author of significant success.


Well, ‘Cryptonomicon’ isn’t part of the Baroque Cycle, as far as I’m aware, but it is the middle of a linked trilogy with ‘Reamde’ and ‘Fall…’ being the beginning and end.
I really enjoyed ’Reamde’ when it first came out, and checked out ‘Fall…’, and it dawned on me that it had characters in common with ‘Reamde’, had a look at ‘Cryptonomicon’ and saw a connection, so bought that and ‘Fall…’ as ebooks and read them all in sequence, mostly during my breaks at work and any other bits of spare time, and they made much more sense doing that; the links between various families and characters were more obvious when the storylines were still fresh in my mind.
I found ‘Anathem’ slow going at first, but kept going with it, and it started to make more sense as I got deeper into the story.
I did try the first of the Baroque Cycle, but gave it up after the first few chapters. It might be worth giving it another goat some point, see if it clicks this time.
Currently reading M John Harrison’s ‘Nova Swing’; now that’s an interesting read…