Books and Brews: Neal Stephenson on His New Novel and Why He Hates Hops

Neal Stephenson is back with a new book. The best-selling author, who has made a career out of writing epic science fiction novels about topics as diverse as nanotechnology, virtual reality, mathematics, linguistics, philosophy, and future technology, is taking on the ideas of mind uploading and cloud technology and its effects on human nature in Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.

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The new book brings back a character Stephenson has used before: Richard “Dodge” Forthrast, who appeared in his 2011 book Reamde. This time around, Forthrast is thrust into a digital world after a medical procedure goes wrong, and he wakes up within “an eternal afterlife—the Bitworld.”

Stephenson sat down with us for “Books and Brews” at the Porterhouse Brew Co. Bar in New York City to talk about his new book, combining fantasy and sci-fi, why he hates hops, and more. Watch the video for the full conversation with Stephenson; here are some highlights from the chat:

Stephenson on beer: “Personally I’m done with hops. I’ve been through the hop thing and out the other side—I’m finished. Super hoppy beers and high-alcohol beers go together, I don’t want like an 8-percent beer. I can’t handle that anymore [laughs].”

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Stephenson on the character ‘Dodge’: “Dodge is a pretty complicated, well-rounded guy. He grew up on a farm in Iowa, went to Canada, and ended up becoming a guide for hunters there. He thereby opened up a smuggling route to take marijuana over the BC-Idaho border. He makes a bunch of money and ends up chilling out and playing a bunch of video games, and he comes up with some ideas on how to make a better one. What he wants to do it build a fully realized world that people can immerse themselves in. He brings in writers and geeks of geology and designers and architects to make it all realistic. Years go by, and he turns it into a very successful video game company and becomes a tech magnate in Seattle.

Stephenson on Dodge’s journey in ‘Fall’: “So what happens is that he’s having a medical procedure and something goes wrong, and he’s gone. It turns out that he signed a will when he was younger stating that his remains were to be preserved so he could be rebooted or brought back to life later. The twist that we see in this book in Fall, is that after he dies, he has to build a world from scratch. He wakes up, and he’s in a field of chaos, it’s a blank slate.“

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Stephenson on combining sci-fi and fantasy: “This book is more of a fable….it’s not a hard science treatment of brains and neurons. Basically saying let’s assume for the sake of telling a fun story, that all of this could happen, and let’s just go from there. In the case of Fall, it was always the intention that it would taper from the beginning part, which is straight-up near-future, techno-thriller, into something that was more like high-fantasy, crossed with the Bible and Paradise Lost. The jury’s still out on how it will be received. People who like fantasy also frequently like science fiction and vice-versa. So I’m hoping people will enjoy a book that starts as one and tapers into the other.”

Stephenson’s new book, Fall; or, Dodge in Hell, is now available in hardcover and digital form.

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