- Hardcover: 768 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow (June 13, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062409166
- ISBN-13: 978-0062409164
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (179 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,128 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: A Novel Hardcover – June 13, 2017
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About the Author
Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
Nicole Galland's five previous novels are The Fool's Tale; Revenge of the Rose; Crossed; I, Iago, and Godiva. She writes a cheeky etiquette column for the Martha's Vineyard Times. She is married to actor Billy Meleady and owns Leuco, a dog of splendid qualities.
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Top customer reviews
Dr Melisande Stokes, Harvard lecturer in ancient language, is writing a record for the future (dear reader) in London in 1851, where she is stuck, having been sent there from the twentieth-first-century. Stephenson/Galland's quantum theory explanation for what magic was and why it ceased to exist in 1850 is ingenious and quite charming. Intriguingly, it has a connection to an incident of importance in Brian Catling's The Vorrh. Melisande has been recruited by US Army officer, Tristan Lyons, to start-up the ancient languages department of an organisation that ultimately becomes "D.O.D.O", a 'shadowy government entity', whose purpose is to revitalise magic, to be practised by witches.
The full name for which "D.O.D.O' is an acronym is not explained for some time, and is just one of many such names which are thought-up to provide amusing or appropriate nicknames. The ridiculousness of bureaucracy is well-captured in the increasingly hysterical emails from D.O.D.O.'s HR department: "As you choose your costumes, please try to keep in mind everything our Diversity Policy has to say about stereotypes surrounding witches. Most of you who work here don't need to be told this, but every year it seems we have some children who show up in costumes that are offensive to certain members of our staff. Remember, the following costume elements are expressly forbidden:
Warts on nose
(Shades of a Yale 'witch hunt').
The D.O.D.O. boffins (your standard Japanese genius and a bunch of nerds) build a machine (an "ODEC") in which witches can practise magic, otherwise impossible in this time. How Melisande has ended-up in Victorian London, and how D.O.D.O. recruits a witch, will all be revealed, although there is no real suspense in either. Melisande's supposed linguistic ability is never properly illustrated - all conversations are given in English. There is the occasional mention of 'declensions', 'conversational Sumerian' or the plastering on of a foreign phrase, but that's it.
There is a theory that everything was different once, but we can't remember that, because our memories changed too. It's the idea behind Crowley's Aegypt cycle and Ursula le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven. [Redolent of lymphocytes also? - Ed.] A sign that there has been such a change is foreshadowed in the book, but disappointingly, that theme is never taken anywhere. The magic which is revitalised by D.O.D.O. is used for time travel which is utilised only to change the world in ways which the US financial-industrial complex would find helpful. The other, surely vast, uses of magic are virtually ignored. The spells are all conducted off-stage (in the sealed ODEC). Were Stephenson and Galland again not interested enough to fully develop this idea, or did they agree that they simply couldn't make magic spells sound convincing? Anyone who goes into an ODEC with a witch comes out the other side with convenient confusion and amnesia. Just how it is done is glossed-over by the witches themselves, who simply can't explain it to muggles when they ask. "'What an idiot question,'" I said. 'How does writing work? Can you tell me now it is I scratch thrice-ten marks on a piece of vellum and you can look at it and learn every piece of knowledge in the world?'"
For a book which needs a tight and complex plot, The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is sloppy, as is D.O.D.O., the top-secret organisation itself. One would expect a 'shadowy government entity' dealing with metaphysical matters of the greatest profundity and importance to mankind, to think a bit about security; D.O.D.O.'s security is the type that a truck can be driven through (like the time travel plot). The officials of D.O.D.O are all astoundingly unobservant and stupid, whereas the visitors from other times and places, who could rightly be expected to be out of their depth, are wily and resourceful to a degree that over-stretches credulity. A family of financiers, the Fuggers, are suspiciously ubiquitous across time, but their involvement is ultimately wishy-washy and underdeveloped. The concept of an implosion of all things physics, occurring when time travellers change history too quickly, is here called 'diachronic shear', 'lomadh' or 'diakrónikus nyírías'. In John Wyndham's time it was called a "chronoclasm". Whatever it is called, it remains a get-out-of-gaol-free card for an embattled author and is used to this end by the authors of D.O.D.O. Sub-plots concerning the involvement of the Irish witch, Graínne, with a 17th century historical figure and her role as a spy for a never-seen correspondent, seem tacked on. The style of diary entries, letters and emails is lazy. Stephenson's readers are entitled to expect a more synthesised and complicated narrative along the lines of The Baroque Cycle.)
The novel is clearly written with screen rights in mind - the plot requires several characters to be nude frequently, although for once, sometimes it is men. While our feisty (but dull) heroine is not a beauty, her cheerful, arm-punching male co-worker is (although also dull), and the main witch, Erszebet (a very annoying character) is as well.
There are amusing moments. Melisande, writing with dip pen and ink, crossing out slang and profanities: [censored by Amazon] The Viking raid is worth its weight in plundered axes. There's a funny, developing google search list and a very funny Norse epic. If you haven't yet given up on Mr S, suspend disbelief, stop asking yourself "why?", "but wouldn't...?" and "that can't be so because....", and D.O.D.O. will entertain well enough.
The book ends on much the same note as does Seveneves - after a lot of confusing wrapping-up action and rushing about, a motley band of questing types from Central Casting sit around a table planning their next move - to be described in the sequel which we at TVC are unlikely to read. We want to go back to the time when Neal Stephenson wrote wittily and with depth and intricacy, for grownups. This'll make a ho-hum Netflix series.
The main turning point in this book is based on the fact that witches can do other things besides Sending, and that witches may actually be intelligent, self-serving, and devious. They're people.
Somehow, every non-witch character in this book, including the ones who are paid to be paranoid and suspicious, forget this. Never even address it until they are taken unawares. Even with the example of the Hungarian witch Erszebet Karpathy, who is manifestly intelligent, vain, and willing to threaten and manipulate to get her way...even with this example they are unbelievably stupid toward the other witches.
Security? What's that? Sure, their emails are secure, but the human side? Not at all. This is a military operation, started by a mid-grade military officer, overseen by the military head of a department who is not prone to ignore these things. It defies belief.
A few simple frank conversations between supposedly intelligent characters would've staved off disaster. "I can't tell you these things and *here's why*." "We have to do this boring work now and *here's why*." "What do YOU think of this, and do you have any ideas?"
It was all very slapdash and glossed over. Didn't work for me.
This is the story of how magic was brought to the modern age and how time travel can or cannot change things. Stephenson and Galland do a pretty good job of telling the story about government and magic gone awry. The story follows the heroine as she is recruited to save magic, then herself and history as she knows it.
It is well written, there were not any moments that were completely out of character for the book. The characters seemed consistent to me and the story line was well placed. The unintended consequences of actions back in time is a fun topic and the book does well at highlighting it. It was definitely worth the cost and time to read the book. And since Neal Stephenson was involved in writing it there isn't a clear closure at the end. Just a completed story with the potential for your imagination to carry you to their further adventures.