The Rise and the Fall of D.O.D.O.
by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
Long term friends of the store will know that I’m a fan of Neal Stephenson. With that in mind, the fact that I chose to review his new book should not come as a surprise to anyone. Like most of his books The Rise and the Fall of D.O.D.O. Is a hefty tome, though coming in at about 800 pages it’s hardly his biggest. Unlike most of his other work, this is a collaboration with author and screen writer Nicole Galland. While it reads like a Stephenson book, with all the science and love of detail that is his hallmark, there is a different quality to it as well and I think Galland had a strong influence on style as well as subject matter. This brings me to one of the most interesting things about the book, which is that it mixes quantum physics, witchcraft and time travel. These are not things I’d expect to find together, and certainly not from Neal Stephenson. His and Nicole‘s approach however is a fascinating one, and the three work together surprisingly well.
When Harvard linguistics expert Melisande Stokes is approached by a somewhat clichéd representative of a equally clichéd sounding secret government organisation, she’s pretty sure it’s going to be a waste of time. But since her career has not been panning out quite the way she planned, the chance of a well paid bit of consulting is too good to pass up so she takes said representative, one Tristan Lyons, at his word and begins work the mysterious D.O.D.O. What she discovers is that there appear to be a lot of credible historical records that point to the fact that something that could best be described as ‘magic’ used to work, but then stopped working sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century. How it worked, why it stopped and whether or not it can be made to work again are the questions that have brought Melisande, Tristan, a one hundred plus year old Eastern European ‘Witch’ as well as a disgraced physics professor together. To their surprise, all three of these questions have answers and in the process of finding them, the D.O.D.O. team find that they’re not the only people who want to know. There are hints across history, in Viking towns and Elizabethan London. In Salem Massachusetts and even in modern America that the D.O.D.O. team are not the first to do a bit of magical time travel. These others appear to have been at it for longer and they’re definitely better at it, but what they plan to do about it remains unknown. They’ve also inadvertently motivated someone utterly ruthless to destroy the modern world, which I suppose could be called cultural exchange of a sort.
This is a bit lighter than Stephenson‘s usual work and while there’s still plenty of fine detail, especially in the historical portions, Galland seems to have brought a bit more pace to the book and lots more humour. I guess you could call this urban fantasy, but there is just so much more to this than you usually get in a urban fantasy book that I’m reluctant to apply the label. Not that I have a better one. If pressed I might call it ‘big fat magical science fiction’, which is a bit of a mouthful but oddly apt given that one of the running gags in the book is daft science descriptors and acronyms. After his last book, Seveneves, this is not the sort of book that I was expecting when I heard about a new Stephenson release but it does read like his others, only a bit lighter and funnier and with time travelling witches. I think Stephenson fans will enjoy it as will anyone who wants something a bit urban fantasy-ish but with a lot more of the how’s and why’s of it all. I did.