Thoughts on Books and eBooks and “Fall” by Neal Stephenson

I just finished reading “Fall, Dodge in Hell” by Neal Stephenson. Or rather I read the first bit and finished by skimming to the end.

Let me start with a review, and then go on about Book vs. eBook…Dodge in Hell / Fall by Neal Stephenson

I’ve liked Stephenson’s work since “Snow Crash”, and was on the Overdrive waiting list for this one for a while. According to the Big River Swamp Company in print the volume clocks in at 892 pages, though on my Kindle it didn’t seem that long.

There is much delightful about the book. It dances around the overlap between cyber and “meat” space. It plays with the stories of the Bible, the Greek Gods and Dickens’ “Bleak House”. And it’s very well written.

Until the last third or so. By this point, most of the major characters have died in the real world and been reincarnated into the poetic, mythic landscape inside an energy-hungry computer network. They retain no memory of human life. The story follows Genesis for a while and then turns into a bit of a long-winded D&D adventure. The final “Quest” at the end? Well, I got the sense that Stephenson came up with the idea, not really knowing where it was going, and then didn’t go back and re-edit to make the early breadcrumbs better.

The problem with the ending is this: all of the main characters are dead. They’re only bits and bytes in a computer. And the author can do whatever he wishes. Stephenson spends pages (which I skimmed) describing the end of the cyber-universe in great detail. Who cares? Not me.

That said, the beginning of the book — say the first 400 or so pages, is well worth reading.

Book vs. eBook

There is no way that I would have read the entire book if I’d purchased it in print. First off, the thing would have killed me if I’d done what I like to do — read in bed until I doze off.

Second, by masking the length, the reader gets to experience the now of the book very profoundly. Only when it started to drag did I begin to pay attention to the % left. (eBook pages don’t correlate directly to printed pages because they vary based on the size of the font.)

Finally, let’s talk about the cost. The paperback costs $24.49. The hardcover is running $19.31, and the eBook is $14.99. Crazy, right? I got it for “free” because it’s in my library’s virtual system, which gives me permission to read for three weeks. I got a notice about a week ago that it had expired, and my first thought was, “Brilliant! Write a really long book that you can’t finish in 3 weeks and have to purchase to find out the ending.”

But I know a trick. I quickly turned off my wifi Router, then set my Kindle to airplane mode. The book will remain on my device, readable, until I come off airplane mode and the Internet tells the device the book’s expired.

So. The author gets screwed. Amazon gets screwed (which I’m fine with). And I get to finish a book I was enjoying without having to pay the Big River Book Dump any more than I already do.

And I wonder why no one buys books anymore… Sigh.