The B&N Podcast: Neal Stephenson on Fake News and Life (Sort of) After Death

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

When you open up a novel by Neal Stephenson, you know you’re going to get two kinds of experience in one book. Whether it’s in a work like his revolutionary science fiction novel Snow Crash, his era-jumping adventure-slash-code epic Cryptonomicon, his swashbuckling historical trilogy The Baroque Cycle, Stephenson brings high-wire thought experiments about the nature of technology and human society to life via engrossing, turn-off-your-phone-until-it’s over feats of storytelling. Stephenson’s books can look intimidatingly hefty on arrival — and his new novel, Fall: Or, Dodge in Hell — is no exception. But for his legions of fans, a few pages in is all it takes to make the ending of a Stephenson novel come all too soon. Fall is vintage Stephenson, a book stuffed with ideas about death and the afterlife, about real and virtual realities, the way social media as a way of life is fragmenting our society. It’s also a tale of gods and monsters, shape-shifters and heroes, where Dungeons and Dragons and a children’s book of Greek myth come together to make a new world. Which is to say: Fall is about the endless power of stories.  And it left Barnes & Noble’s Bill Tipper with a lot of questions. Fortunately, Neal Stephenson, who joined us in the studio, proved to be a very good sport.


The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Seveneves, Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon returns with a wildly inventive and entertaining science fiction thriller—Paradise Lost by way of Philip K. Dick—that unfolds in the near future, in parallel worlds.

In his youth, Richard “Dodge” Forthrast founded Corporation 9592, a gaming company that made him a multibillionaire. Now in his middle years, Dodge appreciates his comfortable, unencumbered life, managing his myriad business interests, and spending time with his beloved niece Zula and her young daughter, Sophia.

One beautiful autumn day, while he undergoes a routine medical procedure, something goes irrevocably wrong. Dodge is pronounced brain dead and put on life support, leaving his stunned family and close friends with difficult decisions. Long ago, when a much younger Dodge drew up his will, he directed that his body be given to a cryonics company now owned by enigmatic tech entrepreneur Elmo Shepherd. Legally bound to follow the directive despite their misgivings, Dodge’s family has his brain scanned and its data structures uploaded and stored in the cloud, until it can eventually be revived.

In the coming years, technology allows Dodge’s brain to be turned back on. It is an achievement that is nothing less than the disruption of death itself. An eternal afterlife—the Bitworld—is created, in which humans continue to exist as digital souls.

But this brave new immortal world is not the Utopia it might first seem . . .

Fall, or Dodge in Hell is pure, unadulterated fun: a grand drama of analog and digital, man and machine, angels and demons, gods and followers, the finite and the eternal. In this exhilarating epic, Neal Stephenson raises profound existential questions and touches on the revolutionary breakthroughs that are transforming our future. Combining the technological, philosophical, and spiritual in one grand myth, he delivers a mind-blowing speculative literary saga for the modern age.

Explore all of Neal Stephenson’s books.

Like this podcast? Subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher to discover intriguing new conversations every week.

Author photo of Neal Stephenson (c) Brady Hall.