Bentgaidin's Reviews > The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson
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it was ok

I read an ARC of this with some bit of hope; Seveneves had fallen kind of flat for me, but I was hoping that a coauthor would help shore up some of Stephenson's weak points, and the idea of a time-travel story with witches was a good start. I do feel like Nicole Galland helped, but unfortunately, not enough to make up for some disappointing flaws.

Let's start with the characters -- this was where Seveneves lost me, with the first two-thirds feeling like I was reading about cardboard cutouts moving towards their marked places in the plot. DODO was a marked improvement there, with several different characters fleshed out throughout the book. Unfortunately, a lot of their interaction had to do with a romance that never felt believable to me; despite how often other characters remarked that the main pair seemed like a couple, or how much the female protagonist wrote about the chemistry she felt with the male lead, it never seemed to show up during their interactions on the page. This wasn't helped by the creepy sexualization of all the women in the story; from the description of (always female) witches as 'independent, therefore likely prostitutes or mistresses' (there is an actual conversation about this, including one of the witches who agrees that it's a reasonable expectation) to the recruitment of time-travel operatives as 'Lovers,' to persuade people by means of sex... followed by the next line recruiting 'Closers,' described as 'what Lovers do, but without the sex.' There are also a number of scenes where (because time-travel renders people naked, for "reasons") men are admired for their physical attributes by the women, but none that I recall of the reverse; oddly, this does not feel like it's to avoid objectifying the women, but more because their status is 'people who would like to have sex with men' and so their objectification is already taken for granted. All told, even the characters who weren't _supposed_ to be buffoons or unlikable never rose to the level of 'people I'd like to chat with at a party.'

So, setting aside the characters, how about the science? Stephenson always likes diving into the minutia of how the world works in his books, and this is often an enjoyable rabbit-hole to follow him down -- I just wish he'd done a bit less of it here. The basic premise is that magic works, because of hand-waving about collapsing quantum states. Unfortunately for witches, scientific developments in the late 1800s... I don't know, permanently collapsed some wave-states or something? Anyway, magic doesn't work anymore, except! Possibly our heroes can build a chamber where magic _will_ work, if it's sufficiently cut off from the rest of the world. The details that we're given are enough to make me (admittedly, not a physicist of any stripe) start to pick at things; I'm pretty sure the science doesn't, and can't, work like that. And worst of all, this is completely irrelevant to the story. After the first few info-dumpy chapters, we're at a generic state of 'magic used to work, it stopped, and now we can with special effort do it again.' The details of how that's supposed to happen, and the specific scientific developments that cause it, are never important, either to the characters or the plot. I feel like less would have been more, here -- it would strain my suspension of disbelief less to simply say 'somehow science suppressed magic, and now we've got a science that might bring it back.'

So setting aside the characters and the science, how's the rest of the book? Well, not much better. The individual scenes are good, and it's easy to keep reading to see what comes next. The overall effect, however, ends up landing like a lead balloon, and going nowhere. This is doubly unfortunate because it started out so strong -- the book starts with the female protagonist stranded in the past, with disaster looming in her now-unreachable present, as she writes this chronicle to explain how things came out the way they did. So we start out with the idea that time travel is just a bad, doomed plan to begin with. We see the characters build their first 'time machine' and recruit the first witch to operate it, and every complication and failure is resolved by something that turns out to lead to an even larger failure, or a greater complication. And always, we're reminded that even when they seem to be succeeding, that there's a grand doom waiting ahead of them. And so I read the book, as the stakes kept being raised, expecting a disastrous climax, a cataclysm of such magnitude that it could wipe the slate clean. Instead, it just fizzled -- the last chapters solved the one immediate problem, but then pointed out that this did nothing about all the larger issues they were worried about, and left a number of other mysteries in the air. I almost wish it had ended perhaps two chapters sooner, after the return of the heroine and her night of passion with the male protagonist, and no acknowledgement of their future difficulties at all. Then, it could at least be a book about how time travel brought these two together, instead of a book about time-travel without a real end, that happened to include a romance I didn't care about.

Meh, I say.
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Reading Progress

April 23, 2017 – Started Reading
April 28, 2017 – Shelved
April 29, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Tony (new)

Tony da Napoli Neal gets 4-stars too easily nowadays. I abandoned Seveneves at 70% - this after having read and enjoyed almost everything he has written. Even Crypto--


message 2: by Eric (new) - rated it 1 star

Eric Green DODO accomplished something that even many unedited authors on Amazon Unlimited haven't managed: being so boring that I couldn't finish the book. Your comment about characters is spot on. There were characters at the start of the book who, if they'd been developed, could have been compelling enough to keep me reading. But by the middle of the book any attempt at developing them as characters was long gone. BORE-ing!


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