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Literature / Fall, or Dodge in Hell

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Fall, or Dodge in Hell is a science fiction novel by Neal Stephenson. It largely follows Richard "Dodge" Forthrast and Zula Forthrast from REAMDE, making it Neal Stephenson's first direct sequel. It also expands Stephenson's verse by linking to the continuity of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle.

After the events of Reamde, Dodge is enjoying his comfortable life as a video game magnate and technology pioneer. When an unexpected health disaster lays him low, however, his oddball will leads to the development of Brain Uploading technology, ushering in a new way for humanity to experience life after death. But conflicts, both within and without the virtual afterlife, have serious ramifications for the future of humanity.



  • Action Girl: Fern, a hulking ship captain and competent fighter.
  • Affably Evil: Autochthons are friendly, charming and beautiful, but they're essentially thugs whose job is to enforce El's domination over Bitworld.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Corvallis seems to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. He's a genius who loves data and facts, but he's somewhat socially awkward and he tends to speak in a blunt and stiff manner when trying to relate emotionally to people. Pluto, on the other hand, is very clearly autistic.
  • Artificial Afterlife: Bitworld, a place where the minds of the dead are uploaded.
  • Artificial Intelligence: If you don't consider the brains uploaded into Bitworld to be human, then they're basically AI that resembles the people whose brains they're patterned after. Also, native denizens of Bitworld have no human basis. They're pure AI who live alongside uploaded humans. Those created by Spring are called Sprung and appear to be more or less indistinguishable from other late-arrival souls. Autochthons, created by El, look like beautiful, angelic people and do his bidding without question. There are also a races of artificial subhumans, including Beedles, who are ambiguously sentient.
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  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Dodge rules Bitworld because his ability to change it is greater than anyone else's. Other souls simply have to follow his lead. When El usurps him, it's because El is even stronger in Bitworld than Dodge, having conditioned his mind for years prior to entering.
  • The Beautiful Elite: The Autochthons are beautiful and powerful. As agents of El's will, they hold authority over all in Bitworld.
  • Benevolent Mage Ruler: Dodge rules Bitworld through his ability to alter its reality, and all his efforts are to make the world the best it can be from his perspective. Given the fact that he's a video game developer who is named after his wizard character who rules a fantasy MMO world, Dodge is basically invoking the trope.
  • The Big Guy:
    • Of Dodge's team of early souls, Ward is made his designated enforcer and guard.
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    • Fern serves this role during Corvus's quest, being a burly Action Girl.
  • Brain Uploading: New technology allows brain scanners to create a complete map of a brain's connectome, creating a virtual copy of the brain.
  • Call-Back: Early on, characters make reference to the events of REAMDE. Enoch Root also repeats the "Initiate Nail Removal Immediately" joke from Cryptonomicon.
  • Clever Crows: Corvallis is a genius and is closely associated with crows. It's the origin of his name, and he uses a crow motif throughout his life. In Bitworld, he lives as a giant crow who can turn into a man, but prefers being a crow.
  • Death Is Cheap: For humans in the real world, you can get your brain uploaded to Bitworld and live out a whole second existence. Within Bitworld, anyone who dies can simply be rebooted, though this doesn't always happen. Several characters who die in the real world become major characters in Bitworld, and several characters who die in Bitworld come back later.
  • Demoted to Extra: Csongor, in spite of being a major character in Reamde, appears in only one scene and is only mentioned a few times in total throughout the story, even though his wife Zula and daughter Sophia are major characters.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Dodge dies from eating an apple pastry after being told not to eat anything. Apples are commonly used to illustrate the forbidden "fruit of knowledge" in the Bible.
    • Many events within the virtual afterlife closely mirror the Bible and Paradise Lost, including the Tower of Babel, the Garden of Eden, the corruption of Adam and Eve, and the fall of Satan. Some events are specifically modeled after the Bible.
  • The Dreaded: Denizens of Bitworld are very fearful of "lightning bears," though some claim that they're just a myth. They're real, and pretty fearsome.
  • Either/Or Title: Fall, or Dodge in Hell
  • For Want of a Nail: Richard's death is caused by forgetting to fast before surgery and eating a free apple pastry, then assuming that it's trivial and forgetting to mention it before going under. This sets in motion the rest of the plot.
  • Gender Is No Object: Given that physics and biology are all virtual in Bitworld, gender doesn't mean very much. Women occupy any number of roles that would traditionally be dominated by men, which includes fighting.
  • A God Am I: While Dodge sets himself up as the ruler of Bitworld, it's only El who actually presents himself as a god and demands worship from the residents of Bitworld.
  • High Priest: One Autocthon is highest in El's clergy and enacts his will.
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: Some of the first souls uploaded to Bitworld were not copied over very well and have very alien minds. Some of these become huge rock creatures that rarely ever move, get overgrown with plant life, and are easily mistaken for hills. Prim even lives on a hill that turns out to be alive.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The first souls uploaded into Bitworld are very powerful, and most grow wings to fly around. They are sometimes referred to as angels. The most powerful Autochthons, servants of the godlike El, are also referred to as angels.
  • Our Demons Are Different: The souls who "fell" after El's arrival are just people who were uploaded early in Bitworld's existence and followed Dodge's example. They are more powerful than later inhabitants and can change their shapes more easily, but never choose to look like classic demons.
  • Power Glows:
    • El typically takes the form of a face that glows like the sun.
    • The magic sword wielded by an Autochthon glows with a light so bright that it's difficult to look at.
  • The Quest: Corvallis initiates a quest to save Bitworld in the last act of the story.
  • Really 700 Years Old:
    • Enoch Root is still alive after hundreds of years. He makes occasional oblique reference to his age and the fact that he'll be around until his job is over.
    • Within Bitworld, people don't age, and it's been running long enough that even relatively new residents have lived for hundreds of subjective years.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Dodge doesn't really want to be the ruler of Bitworld, but he's the one who first started to create it, and it quickly gets inhabited by all sorts of new people, so it's up to him to rule them and make sure they don't wreck everything.
  • Silly Will: Richard's will was written during a brief obsession with the concept of Brain Uploading, and a lot of it deals with his desire to have his brain scanned as a means of immortality. The executors have a difficult time establishing what they have to go through to satisfy their legal requirements for this crackpot request.
  • Stealth Pun (multi-lingual): An interesting part of watching Bitworld take form is trying to match its occupants to their original selves (as few have clear memories, and some are assigned names relating to how they appear there). It becomes apparent that the one who takes up residence in the spring, and thus becomes known as Spring, is Verna.
  • Take That!: Dodge has a moment where he thinks about how use of the song "O Fortuna" in media is stale and cliche. He likes a musician who makes new music in the style of that song instead.
  • Transhumanism: Humans become virtual life forms living inside a computer system, Bitworld.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: El casts Dodge and his followers aside after they've become unpopular with the masses and assumes rulership over Bitworld as a divine figure, but it soon becomes clear that he's just a tyrant.
  • Unexpected Successor: Richard hadn't updated his will in decades, and the peculiarities of it lead to his siblings having to bear a lot more responsibility for his financial empire than they expected or wanted.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: El has a whole army of angels called Autocthons who preach his gospel and enforce his rules. He's revered by many denizens of Bitworld, but others recognize him as a tyrant.
  • Winged Humanoid: Many of the first souls take advantage of their ability to change their shape and grow wings to move around easier through Bitworld. As the rules of Bitworld get firmer over time, people get locked into more human-looking shapes, and Corvallis's wife has to run herself through rigorous training before entering Bitworld in the hopes of being able to grow wings.