Neal Stephenson Discusses His New 'Paradise Lost'-Influenced Book

Posted by Montse on May 30, 2019


Neal Stephenson is the bestselling author of the novels Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Seveneves, Reamde, Anathem, The System of the World, The Confusion, Quicksilver, The Diamond Age, and Zodiac.

And this summer, he returns to bookshelves with Fall or, Dodge in Hell—a futuristic take on Paradise Lost.

He talked to Goodreads about his new book, which arrives in U.S. stores on June 4, as well as the power of science fiction to communicate complex ideas and his love of history. An edited version of the conversation is below.


Goodreads: What continues to draw you to science fiction?

Neal Stephenson: Well, I guess it's science. That’s sort of a glib answer. But I grew up in a science and engineering family and a science and engineering town. So it's just always been fundamental to how I think about things.

Also, I've always enjoyed it from a fan point of view. Dating back to the original Star Trek in the 1960s, it’s kind of where I feel at home.


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Goodreads: Let’s talk about your latest book. How would you introduce the character Dodge?

NS: He is a guy who accidentally made a great fortune in the video game business after a previous life as a farm boy, a draft dodger, a hunting guide, and a drug runner.

So he's a part of the club of billionaires and tech zillionaires that we read about all the time in places like Seattle and Silicon Valley, but he also stands way outside of it because of his unusual background and how he came into the business.

Goodreads: Tell me about the Bitworld, the “eternal afterlife” Dodge awakes in.

NS: When he was younger, he signed a will that if he passed away, his brain should be preserved and scanned so that he could later be brought back to life.

Through a series of mishaps and complications, he ends up being brought back in a digital form—instead of his body being thawed out and restarted. And then, when he gets up, there is no world yet for him to inhabit, so he has to make one.

Goodreads: What do you hope readers take away from Fall or, Dodge in Hell?

NS: Here’s an interesting thing about people who read fantasy and science fiction: A lot of them read both. People who are fans of fantasy are also fans of science fiction, and vice versa. There might be some people who only read one or only read the other, but it’s very common to read both.

And Fall or, Dodge in Hell, is both. This starts out as science fiction, as a sort of techno thriller for the first part. But then it turns into high fantasy as well.

I’m hoping people will enjoy the experience of being able to jump back and forth between those two styles of fiction within a single novel.

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Goodreads: How do you see science fiction continuing to influence real scientific advances?

NS: Well, when it works, a science fiction story can provide a coherent vision that people get.

Normally, in big organizations, communication is hard. You’re trying to get a whole bunch of engineers, designers, etc. pulled together to do a thing. And trying to describe that thing in enough detail is surprisingly difficult. Huge amounts of effort are going into PowerPoint presentations.

One of the things science fiction has done—in some cases—is solve that problem. People can read a sci-fi story and say, “Ah yes, I get it. I have a whole picture in my head of this thing and how it works."

In some special cases, science fiction has the ability to do that. It doesn’t happen every time, but when that does happen, it can be a valuable thing.

Goodreads: What are some books that inspired Fall or, Dodge in Hell?

NS: One important book for Fall was Paradise Lost by John Milton. So people who have read Paradise Lost, or who know the story, will see some parallels. Not right away, but eventually there are some parallels that emerge there.

Another one that was important in Fall was The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch. It’s a nonfiction book, and it has to do with the idea of simulating the real world digitally and how much computing power it would actually take to pull that off. And that ends up actually becoming a central question that drives some of the plot in this book.

Deutsch also has a book called The Beginning of Infinity, which is less directly related, but still related, to what’s in Fall.

Goodreads: Finally, as a reader, what books have impacted your life?

NS: I am mostly a reader of history. I like writers who have a knack for telling history in a way that is readable and entertaining, but still faithful to the historical record. Charles C. Mann—the author of 1491 , 1493 and many others—is one such writer. And Ron Chernow. I recently read his biography of Grant, which I thought was incredibly epic and a pleasure to read.


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Fall or, Dodge in Hell is available in U.S. stores on June 4th. Be sure to add it to your Want to Read shelf. Plus, discover more of Neal Stephenson's books here.




Comments Showing 1-6 of 6 (6 new)

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message 1: by Kenza (last edited May 30, 2019 07:27AM) (new)

Kenza I read the synopsis of the book a few days ago and I didn't add it to my "June New Releases TBR list" but somehow, hearing -in this case reading- an author talk about their book always makes me want to check it out.
Added to my June TBR List! Can't wait to discover this universe.


message 2: by Eric (new)

Eric Mesa Nice. I'm a big Stephenson fan and this one sounds great. On my TBR


message 3: by Dara (new)

Dara Eric wrote: "Nice. I'm a big Stephenson fan and this one sounds great. On my TBR"

Same. And knowing he's a Chernow fan makes me like him even more.


message 4: by Adalis (new)

Adalis Hard pass. I tried reading System of the World. Never. Again. Really don’t understand the appeal of his work.


message 5: by Darcy (new)

Darcy Each New Years I pick up a book by an author I had not read before. Several years ago that was Cryptonomicon and since then I have read and adored everything Neal has written. I will be in the store on the 4th to purchase his latest book. Thanks for the interview!


message 6: by Michael (new)

Michael Spadaro Adalis wrote: "Hard pass. I tried reading System of the World. Never. Again. Really don’t understand the appeal of his work."

System of the World was the 3rd book in a trilogy, and the trilogy itself is not a great place to start with his work--even hardcore Stephenson fans go 50/50 over those books.

Either Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash or Anathem would've probably been the best first options.


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