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Atmosphaera Incognita

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  1,240 ratings  ·  127 reviews
For more than two decades, Neal Stephenson has been the reigning master of the epic fictional narrative. His vast, intellectually rigorous books have ranged in setting from the distant past (The Baroque Cycle) to the modern era (Reamde) to the remote future (Anathem, Seveneves). But when Stephenson turns his attention to shorter forms, the results can be every bit as impre ...more
Hardcover, 104 pages
Published July 31st 2019 by Subterranean Press
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Dana This story was previously published in a collection called "Hieroglyph" that I don't think saw widespread sales. It was touted as a partnership of sci…moreThis story was previously published in a collection called "Hieroglyph" that I don't think saw widespread sales. It was touted as a partnership of science fiction authors and science academics to create stories to inspire future science in the way that classic sci-fi stories inspired current scientists to pursue their fields. Other author contributors were Elizabeth Bear, Cory Doctorow, and David Brin, among others. The editors were Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer.

This was one of the more realistic stories ... some go much further afield, lol.(less)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,240 ratings  ·  127 reviews

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Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: net-galley, sci-fi
This is my first experience with Neal Stephenson. At a mere 104 pages, it was much less intimidating than some of his other very lengthy novels. The premise is very simple: eccentric billionaire wants to build tower twenty miles high. It moves at a meandering pace, going over everything from the tower proposal to purchasing the real estate to the actual engineering of the tower and the various obstacles they must face.

But the science behind building something so completely impossible was fascina
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Stephenson does surprisingly well in this short form. Fewer long digressions, but still a lot of great technical ideas and solid conceptual science. It has a conversational tone and covers a lot of ground, in several senses of the word.

I would have likely been just as happy with a full accounting of the tower's building, rather than the breezy overview we get, but it works well in this form.

Unfortunately, even with room to expand a bit (the print version has several blank end pages), Stephenso
Unlike most of Stephenson's wonderfully expansive works of technical imagination, this is a novella. It mines an interesting story of a billionaire named Carl working to fulfill his idiosyncratic dream of building a 20-kilometer tall tower. Holy moly! For perspective, Mt. Everest is 8.8 km tall, or 5.5. miles.

The narrator Emma was Carl’s friend at age 12 and is picked by him to manage the project based on her track record in property management for him in recent years. Her girlfriend gets the c
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have not read Neal Stephenson in ages. He is one of those SF writers whose books (by default) are long and demanding, though not on the same level as a writer like Kim Stanley Robinson. So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this … novella on Goodreads. Neal Stephenson writing short fiction? There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Indeed.

Imagine also my surprise at discovering that this slim book is quintessential Stephenson, a distilla
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
A brief story about the complexity of building a 20 KM tall tower. As with all of Neal Stephenson’s books he poses & answers questions I would not have even thought about. I’m used to his books being an epic length and this definitely was not that this a lot of details are skipped and the ending was rather abrupt. Overall this was still very interesting & well written but I would’ve preferred a longer & more detailed version.
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
A tower. A tall tall tower. Not a lot f plot but fascinating all the same.
Jul 30, 2019 rated it liked it
another disappointing work from the author, this time a novella that has a great premise but mostly fails to deliver with wooden prose and uninteresting characters
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
3.5 roundup. Fascinating premise and enjoyable writing. But this novelette suffers from underdeveloped characters and underwhelming conclusions...

Peter Tillman
Bite-size Neal Stephenson! Cool. Plus, the ebook's just 3 bucks! Granted, it's more of a fictionalized essay than, you know, actual fiction with actual characters. Hey, his characters are still a lot more lifelike than the stuff I grew up on. In a short afterword (that I wish had been longer) Stephenson credits Geoffrey Landis for working out the Tall Tower idea, ASU's Project Heiroglyph for publishing the story, and Jeff Bezos for the idea of using jet engines[!] for active stabilization in win ...more
Michael Frasca
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A tale for engineers and those who like engineering. There is barely a story in this novelet, but that's OK because the wonder of the concept carries the reader along.

Pairs well with Kij Johnson's The Man Who Bridged the Mist.
Aug 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Yeah, not bad. It feels incomplete, however, a fragment of a larger work.
Val Timke
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was truly a dense text, and if you're not up for reading pages upon pages of structural design descriptions, this may not be for you.

My experience with this tottered somewhere between enjoyable and relieved it was short. It wasn't that there was too much description but I didn't really connect to the description until the latter parts about the weather and "sprites."

I see some people saying they were glad it was short and in some way, I am glad it was too. It worked as a novella. There was
 Reading Reindeer 2021 On Proxima Centauri
The geniuses of our era, in my opinion, are the late Stephen Hawking, John Connolly, and Neal Stephenson. I never miss anything Mr. Stephenson pens, even though sometimes I have to really stretch my brain to comprehend, because isn't that the point of science fiction? Of any literature? To stretch us, mold us, trigger us to evolve into our better selves?

In his very new novella Atmosphæra Incognita, a self-made, crusty, often irritable, and very bullishly determined billionaire decides to build a
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Enjoyable novella about some people who build a space tower. For such a short piece, I got more character development from Stephenson than I had expected. Granted, we're told rather than shown a lot of the character development, but the story was not quite 100 pages long. (The book's official total is 104 pages, but include some reference material at the end.) It was an enjoyable read, but more than anything it makes me think of the science behind the story and the currently unknown difficulties ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fun and brief immersion into the world(s) of Stephenson, yet even here he still manages to have an anticlimactic ending lol. I swear, it's like he gets all the interesting academia out of the way and goes "That's it, let's wrap this sucker up."

I'd actually like to see this one turned into a movie as, unlike his usual infodump-filled tomes, this one is capable of being converted into a 120 minute scifi extravaganza ala Contact, without the alien angle.
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
So while an interesting thought experiment, it really seemed half baked. There was no plot, no point, no grand closure. Some people decided to build a high tower. A few people died building it.

It lacked on a myriad of technical and economic details so it wasn't just hardcore science, and yet at the same time, it had no story or point to it all, so I'm not really certain what the purpose was.

And it just ended in the middle of it. Ooookay...
Brennan (
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was another kind of strange book. Overall, there was really no point in it other than to take this reader along as the tower is built and show how it affected certain peoples lives as they became involved with the project. As the story was quite short, there was not a whole lot of character development, but I did enjoy our main character Emma and getting to see how her stakes in the project allowed her to meet some new people and how it changed her pre existing relationships. I know this re ...more
Mike Ellsworth
Aug 12, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, I adore Neal Stephenson. He’s perhaps my favorite author. I did not adore this seemingly dashed off short story, for which I paid way too much on Kindle.

The story seems like a rough draft of what could have been a pretty interesting novel about building a 20 kilometer high tower.

The blurb reads, “Atmosphæra Incognita is a beautifully detailed, high-tech rendering of a tale as old as the Biblical Tower of Babel.” It is not beautifully detailed. There’s hardly any detail to this sc
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This one really didn't do it for me. It was a quick read, but it was pretty much just about building a tower, and engineering. This may appeal to some people, but it wasn't for me.

I received a copy from Net Galley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Nathaniel Spencer
Great concept, and a story with a lot of potential, but it ends in what feels like the middle. Disappointed there wasn't more to it. ...more
Jeffrey P
A quick read and one I picked up because "Neal Stephenson". Basically a (very interesting) science idea turned into a narrative. However don't expect any suspense or complex plot twists. ...more
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Atmosphaera Incognita by Neal Stephenson (Subterranean Press; 2019) is a reprint of an earlier novella (written in 2013), that is a shorter and more accessible introduction to one of the most renowned writers in the world in the field of what he calls "speculative fiction." Although this novella is less than 100 pages (making it about only 1/10 of the length of the majority of Stephenson's novels); still, this is truly a Neal Stephenson book. Though somewhat short on characterizations, the story ...more
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Happy book birthday to this little novella!

I should preface this review with a disclaimer: This is the first work by Neal Stephenson that I've read. I know, I know, it's criminal. He credits Jeff Bezos in his acknowledgments, which makes a lot more sense when I realized he *works* for Jeff Bezos, sort of. And the character at the center of this narrative is not its narrator, a competent lesbian with a degree in comparative religion and no job prospects, but rather the brilliant tech titan and mo
Jul 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: novella, sci-fi, netgalley, arc
Full disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

An eccentric billionaire decides that his legacy will be to build a 20-kilometer-tall steel tower. As nothing like this has ever been attempted before, the project poses massive engineering and supply problems, not to mention the political challenges of convincing local government and the local community at the proposed site to allow the project to move forward. The novella follows t
Realms & Robots
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
For me, Atmosphæra Incognita was equal parts architectural fascination and tingling discomfort when imagining that top floor view. It’s a quick story centering on a billionaire who decides to build an enormous tower tall enough to reach space. We primarily follow the workings and observations of the project lead, a childhood friend who was in the right place at the right time and landed this lifelong gig. I found the specifications and details fascinating, primarily because of my personal intere ...more
Ren HappilyBuriedInBooks
Neal Stephenson’s work isn’t what comes to mind when asked to prove that good things can come in small packages, but Atmosphæra Incognita is proof of exactly that. Rather than a towering novel, this is novella about a tower. In a scant hundred or so pages, Stephenson manages to engineer a steel extrusion process and pinpoint the ideal location for its needs, build a tower twenty kilometers in height, and breathe life into the characters needed to complete the project.

Atmosphæra Incognita takes
Joshua Bradley
Aug 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This review won't age well, but if you want to read about a real estate deal with an overly inflated sense of importance, Atmosphæra Incognita is far more satisfying (but not as comical) as WeWork's recent (August 2019) S-1 filing for their Initial Public Offering. The economics and technical detail (link to engineering plans included, because @nealstephenson) of this thought experiment cum novella provide a far more realistic view of how one would go about building a 20KM high skyscraper than w ...more
Lou Jacobs
Jun 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This short novella appeals to hard SF geeks. Stephenson presents a dazzling narrative exploring the detailed technological innovations entailed in a project to construct a twenty kilometer high tower that reaches to the junction of our atmosphere and outer space. Virtually creating a vertical city that serves as a platform to the stars. The story unfolds in the eyes of real estate developer who is tasked by a self-made, eccentric billionaire to find the most ideal property site to construct thi ...more
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
This novella is a very interesting example of hard science fiction from an unusual viewpoint. It sort of never leaves the ground, in that it's all about the building of a gigantic tower, one whose purpose may just be for the purpose of building a gigantic tower. The developer hopes that it will also be used as everything from an assist to space launches to an amazing tourist attraction, with perhaps a few other purposes, but the fact is that he's gotten people to design a twenty-kilometer-tall t ...more
Ralph Blackburn
May 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Atmosphoera Incognita by Neal Stephenson- Neal Stephenson's latest, a novella rather than the usual exceedingly long works we are accustom to, is the modern day story of a billionaire who wants to erect a twenty-kilometer tower straight up through Earth's atmosphere and into space. The tale is told by of all people the real estate person, who he selects to find him properties, and goes on to become the de facto administrator for the project, because he trusts her. Told as a informational monolog ...more
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Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

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