Multibillionaire Richard "Dodge" Forthrast is pronounced brain dead after a routine medical procedure goes awry. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company and that his brain be 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. But the eternal afterlife of digital souls is not what it first seems...
...a staggering feat of imagination, intelligence and stamina. For long stretches, at least. Between those long stretches, there are sections that, while never uninteresting, are somewhat less successful. To expect any different, especially in a work of this length, would be to hold it to an impossible standard. Somewhere in this 900-page book is a 600-page book. One that has the same story, but weighs less. Without those 300 pages, though, it wouldn’t be Neal Stephenson. It’s not possible to separate the essential from the decorative. Nor would we want that, even if it were were. Not only do his fans not mind the extra — it’s what we came for ... This is a case of author and substance and story and style all lining up; a series of lenses perfectly arranged to focus the power and precision of Stephenson’s laser-beam intellect ... This is hard sci-fi, but it goes so far in its speculative extrapolation toward that end of the spectrum that it hits the end, goes through and comes back around the other side. The result is a story that touches on society, technology, spirituality and even eschatology, a far-reaching attempt at a grand myth that is breathtaking in scope and ambition ... a one-of-a-kind synthesis of daring and originality, unafraid to venture into wild and unmapped conceptual territory.
Fall tricks you into thinking it plans to be this or that sort of fiction (a bitingly plausible near-future dystopia or tale of corporate intriguing, for example), only to heel around and head off in a new direction entirely. It does this more than once, yet remains a coherent whole. The audacity of Stephenson’s intentions is itself part of the entertainment value ... a feat of mind-blowing adventure powered by deep existential questions ... The last section of the novel assumes the form of a rippingly Tolkienesque epic fantasy quest: an eventful journey through a magical landscape, embarked on by characters it’s impossible to think of as mere processes. It’s great fun.
Stephenson has long shown himself able to puncture sci-fi clichés and expose hidden drawbacks ... It seems that each section of Mr. Stephenson’s 11-part, 900-page novel could be read as a work on its own. What holds them together is the deep, challenging, often frightening vision of what the digital world is really going to do to us ... English professors love to tell us that reading James Joyce is difficult but rewarding. Ulysses is a walk in the park for difficulty compared with Fall, but Mr. Stephenson isn’t just playing with words, he’s playing with ideas, and he isn’t joking either. He is sci-fi’s great contrarian, and Fall deserves to be rated as one of the great novels of our time, prophetically and philosophically.