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Neal Stephenson Writes Great Science Fiction

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Human nature rules, even in the well traveled worlds of science fiction and alternative reality. Neal Stephenson writes some of these best stories.

Neal Stephenson writes great science fiction. I just finished listening to his two most recent books. The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O, written collaboratively with Nicole Garland, is full of magic and time travel. Fall, or Dodge in Hell explores the evolution of virtual civilizations when human minds are uploaded into digital simulations. Good stuff.

Most of Neal’s books are a well-balanced combination of alternative reality, technology and human nature. His stories are epics both broad and deep. Reviewers have criticized his work as too long and detailed. Personally, I love the detail, particularly as his hero’s think through their challenges, of which you will find many.

But perhaps what I appreciate most is how human nature continues to get in the way of achieving marvelous futures.

Of course, you know that being able to upload a human brain into a computer is a common theme in many science fiction stories and movies. Neal Stephenson writes Fall, or Dodge in Hell in this theme. One of his recurring characters, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast dies suddenly during a routine medical procedure. His brain is scanned and uploaded into a virtual reality matrix.

What follows is a combination of life in both bitland and meatland. In bitland, we read the story of Dodge (and others) building new digital civilizations. But in meatland (reality), Neal Stephenson writes about the challenges of financing all the technology resources required to maintain “everlasting life” as the matrix fills with millions of simulated humans.

Neal Stephenson Writes Real Challenges

What do you think will happen when the real-world resources needed to maintain simulated civilizations grows exponentially? Who will own the computing infrastructure, and what control should they have over how the matrix evolves?

Interesting questions. His latest book moves into a government agency, the Department of Diachronic Operations, which is attempting to maintain and improve reality through time travel and magic. Naturally, D.O.D.O. morphs into a modern bureaucracy. Human nature again. Many science fiction writers tell stories that avoid organizational conflict, or at least overcome it. Not so here, as Neal Stephenson writes this story in the form of a well documented government review, full of detailed memos, policies and e-mail trails.

In essence, both these stories are human nature first (unfortunately) and science fiction second.

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