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Literature / The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

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Get that DOer in the ODEC to perform a DEDE in the DTAP, Stokes!

"If anyone from DODO ever reads this, for the love of God please add corset-makers to the list of abettors we need to recruit in any Victorian DTAPs."
Melisande Stokes

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is a novel by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland about a secret government organization investigating time travel. Through letters, chat logs, and the "diachronicle" written by the main protagonist, we chart the organization's discovery of magic, its development of an alphabet soup of acronyms, and its conflicts with stubbornly independent witches, creeping bureaucratic dysfunction, and an ancient banking family concerned about the effects changing history might have on the derivatives market.

Tropes used:

  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: A tradition started early on at D.O.D.O. (the Department of Diachronic Operations), and spun into a Running Gag, despite Beleaguered Bureaucrat Macy Stoll's attempts to institute a Policy On Official Jargon and Acronym Coinage (POOJAC), which is quickly amended to the Jargon and Acronym Policy and then, after a talk with the Japanese Professor Oda, is further amended to Acronym and Jargon Policy..
  • Always Female: Only witches can do magic, though it's vaguely implied that the Fugger clan have some ability to perceive the time-travel shenanigans, and we only see male examples of the family. When asked how they can get information across time and strands, one Fugger only says he can't reveal all his secrets.
  • Author Appeal: There's a significant subplot about learning historical fencing, which is a passion of co-author Neal Stephenson.
  • Badass Bookworm: Mortimer is an MIT student and a tech whiz as well as a historical fencer who trains field agents how to win real sword fights.
  • Bothering by the Book: After a lengthy after-action report about a DOer's mission that included a trade of services, Stokes is told not to write so flowery, to downplay the sex, and just get to the point. The next report is a sarcastically brief recounting of another DOer trekking for months across medieval Europe, which sums up the trip with, "Many adventures. Didn't die."
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Which makes cross-time trade difficult, aside from information and The Oldest Profession.
  • Catchphrase: Tristan will often respond to questions about his work with a terse, "Classified."
  • Doing In the Wizard: Mild example — magic is still, well, magic and only possible to do by Witches, but Dr. Oda is able to replicate or even improve upon certain aspects of the craft with technology, particularly, he replaces the yarn-based witch calculation devices with a massive computer he calls the Chronotron that lets D.O.D.O. plan its missions more accurately.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Tristan arrives in 1602 London naked, and Grainne's narration, framed as letters to Grace O'Malley, make it abundantly clear that she is more than happy to ogle him before she offers him some clothes.
  • Everyone Can See It: Melisande and Tristan, whose coworkers treat them as an inevitable couple (and Erzsébet loves to snark about it) even if they technically aren't one.
  • Famed In-Story: During one trip back to dark ages Normandy, Tristan ends up helping to defend a village from a bandit attack. Shortly afterward, he learns that he became a local legend who was later canonized by the Catholic Church who were trying to bring the Normans into the faith.
  • For Want Of A Nail: The goal of D.O.D.O. is to weaponize this, by going into the past, making small changes, and capitalizing on the result. For instance, one major operation has the end goal of keeping Russia out of Crimea, and it's accomplished in part by going back to 1204 Constantinople and making sure a particular artifact ends up in a different tent than in "normal" history after the city is sacked.
  • Genius Bruiser:
    • Tristan is tall and extremely athletic while also being quite a brilliant military agent.
    • Magnus is a burly medieval Viking who is identified very early on as quite cunning. Even Grainne underestimates his intelligence.
  • The Magic Comes Back: Science Destroys Magic in Victorian times, but Science brings it back (in a more limited, controlled way) in the modern day.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Erzsébet Karpathi — Erzsébet is the real first name of Elizabeth Báthory, while Karpathi — or rather Carpathia — is familiar to anyone who remembers Vigo the Carpathian. So from the second her name appears on the page, it's clear that Erzsébet is going to be a witch.
    • Tristan Lyons' name is a very evocative of a grand hero and knight in shining armor. He shares the first name of an Arthurian knight known for a romance, and his last name Lyons evokes a lion, a noble and majestic animal in mythology.
    • Melisande Stokes' name is apparently a reference to Melisande, a famous painting of a red-headed woman by Victorian artist Marianne Stokes. Melisande is herself a red-head who gets stuck for a while in Victorian times. Like Tristan, Melisande is the name of another character in a tragic romance.
  • The Multiverse: Changing history through time travel is very awkward and repetitive, as there are many alternate pasts that each need to be changed.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: An amusing subversion has Melisande cross out all the curse words from her journal and substitute a euphemism.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: Instantaneous, BTTF-type time travel, where events in the past affect the shape of the future. Much is made of the side-effects, which lessen after you've taken several trips. Made more unusual by the Strands, which are different realities in The Multiverse. You have to repeat actions several times in parallel Strands to get the effect you want.
  • Political Overcorrectness: The documents surrounding the Halloween party include a reminder to stick with guidelines, particularly because many of the attendees are expatriates from other times. It particularly notes that nobody may dress in pointy hats, black garb, green skin or with fake warts, i.e., as stereotypical witches, so as not to offend the witches. The security force is then at a loss for what to do when two of the witches show up dressed in exactly that manner.
  • A Rare Sentence: Twice, both times identified by the POV narrator.
    • Mel: “'Did your friends come through with the liquid helium?' I asked. Certainly the first time in my life I had uttered that sentence."
    • Rebecca: "Hopefully I will be able to update you all soon. If I do not, assume it is because the Walmart Vikings have gotten to me, in which case somebody please remind Frank to water the garden. (If you had told me five years ago, when Mel and Tristan first knocked on our door, that I would find myself writing that sentence I’d have laughed you down the street.)"
  • Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory: Characters who have spent time in the past seem to be at least ripple-effect resistant.
  • San Dimas Time: It's apparently impossible for a traveler to spend a year in the past and return to the moment they left, to the frustration of managers trying to optimize their timelines.
  • Scrapbook Story: The format of the novel. Everything is written down by characters in the story, most of them journal entries, letters, emails and logs, but also some other formats, such as IM chats, SMS messages, wikis, and even an epic poem.
  • Shout-Out: The names and nicknames for Diachronic Operators contain a few. "Fighters" (which may or may not be a Shout-Out to the Dungeons & Dragons class), are nicknamed "Conans", while the official name for survival experts is "Striders" and the unofficial nickname is "Snake Eaters."
  • Show Within a Show: Among others, The Lay of Walmart, a long 14th-century narrative poem about Walmart, is included in full.
  • Stable Time Loop: It's clear from early on that Melisande is destined to travel to the past to recruit the witch who helps bring magic back in the present.
  • Temporal Paradox: Referred to as "Diachronic Shear." Changing the past too dramatically with a single intervention is a very bad idea.
  • Trapped in the Past: The Framing Device. Mel is stuck after her last mission went poorly, and occasionally digresses from her narration to complain.
  • Tyrant Takes the Helm: You know Les Holgate is going to be a disaster when his first act on arriving at D.O.D.O. HQ is to erase a whiteboard without asking. Subsequent bosses are even worse.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Blevins seems to think anyone from the past is a simpleton that he can easily outwit and control. He completely dismisses both Magnus and Grainne as concerns because he thinks he's smarter than them, and a lot of people pay for his mistakes.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Erzsébet is extremely bitter over being forced to slow her own aging process down in order to survive from the death of magic to its rebirth.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Melisande, as the narrator, is frank about her attraction to Tristan, but it takes most of the book for the reader to even be able to tell whether or not the Unresolved Sexual Tension is reciprocated.
  • Write Back to the Future: Used to communicate when Trapped in the Past or not intending to return.