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Book review

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

by Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson

Another fun romp into a different version of the present day from Neal Stephenson. This one is about exploring different kinds of “present day”, as well as different possible histories! Our hero is Melisande (Mel) Stokes, a linguist of languages both ancient and modern, who is recruited by Tristan Loyd to translate a number of ancient documents. But first she has to sign the NDA, promising not to tell anyone about any of this, ever. Since she hates her current boss and her job as an overworked, underpaid, untenured lecturer at Harvard, she accepts the offer, and finds she has joined the mysteriously named DODO.

In due course, she finds that DODO are trying to build a machine in which people can once again perform magic – even though magic seems to have disappeared from the world in 1851. Magic, we in due course discover, is done by people who can access other “threads” of the present moment – alternative versions of the world that have split off but are still intertwined with ours. It’s all based on the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which holds that such world-splittings happen literally at every moment. People who can do magic – witches – can manipulate these threads in some way.

So Mel’s job evolves into recruiting a witch, keeping the witch on-side with the programme (witches turn out to be incredibly high maintenance), and working with the expanding crew in DODO to achieve their ultimate aim – using magic to “tweak” the past to the geo-political benefit of the current United States.

The characters are well drawn, perhaps with a little too heavy a hand in one or two places but not bad. And the plot is spun with the characteristic humour and wit of Neal Stephenson. I loved in particular the clashing of the two cultures – one represented by Mel and Tristan and their start-up style organisation, the other the full-press acronym-loaded bureaucracy and hierarchy of the US government, who we soon find out are funding the whole DODO thing. Delightful!

Four stars for me.

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