Fall by Neal Stephenson – Book

When Neal Stephenson takes on a subject he does not fool around, or he does but with purpose. In Fall, Neal Stephenson takes on the small topics of our times like how to fix the internet, immortality, artificial intelligence, and the Singularity. He even gets in a prolonged jab at modern American culture when he takes us with Sophia to Ameristan for a quick and terrifying visit (hint: the border is made up of WalMarts).

Who is Sophia? She’s Dodge’s great niece. Dodge, also known as Richard Forthrast, is the key character in this sprawling novel. One of Dodge’s last acts before entering a clinic for a simple procedure (which proves fatal) is to be distracted by a red leaf that he catches on the palm of his hand before it hits the pavement (Fall). He asks “if we lived on as spirits or were reconstituted as digital simulations” would things still have “quale” (for example) the subjective experience of redness.

Dodge, although his demise is premature, has made legal arrangements to have his brain frozen (a legal dilemma since the cryonics company has folded, but also not a dilemma because Forthrast is a very wealthy man with relatives who love him). So his brain is separated from his body until those at the forefront of using computers to scan brains and preserve them in digital form can progress. Once this is accomplished Dodge awakens in an empty digital simulation, a digital afterlife. But Dodge earned his fortune as the inventor of a popular world-building game called T’Rain. He begins to build a world to give the afterlife form. Back on earth living people can watch Dodge’s simulation unfold (he remembers his name as Egdod)

Dodge’s cohorts and rivals are Corvallis Kawasaki (cohort) and Elmo Shepherd (rival) and, of course his niece Zula, mother of Sophia (loyal family). A fake nuclear incident which leaves many people believing that the town of Moab, Utah was attacked points out some of shortcomings of the internet. “The Internet – what Dodge used to call the Miasma – had just gone completely wrong. Down to the molecular level it was still a hippie grad school project. Like a geodesic dome that a bunch of flower children had assembled from scrap lumber on ground infested with termites and carpenter ants. So rotten that rot was the only thing that was holding it together.”

Our intrepid computer wizards and coders invent a new way to protect an individual’s identity by using their actual “lifeprint”, called a PURDAH (Personal Unseverable Designation for Anonymous Holography). The internet needs to keep expanding to keep Dodge and all the new souls being scanned into the afterlife alive. Then Dodge, creator of the land mass of the afterlife from his Palace to the Knot, decides to see if he can bring forth new souls in the Landform Visualization Utility (LVU). When he is ultimately successful his old rival El (Elmo) Shepherd feels the entire design has been taken in the wrong direction. He decides to end his own life (he has a fatal disease anyway) and get scanned into Dodge’s creation. He ousts Dodge and takes over.

Eventually, of course, all the friends and enemies of Dodge die (or are murdered) (bots are no better than their owners). The population of Earth is declining. Who will be left to make sure the afterlife is supplied with enough energy to continue to exist? How do we get to the Singularity?

It’s a long strange trip (from the Grateful Dead song ‘Truckin’). Neal Stephenson is always amazing and Fall might just be the quintessential gamer fantasy novel/or you might think it is just past weird. As for me, although it lagged in a few parts, it worked. That does seem like one way we could get to the Singularity and leave the Earth to its own devices to recover from humans. On the other hand, I have not signed up for any tech leading to a digital afterlife, and as far as I know, no such tech exists. I don’t think the afterlife looked all that appealing unless you were a member of the ‘Pantheon’. We may find out if books copy life, or if life copies books. Keep your ears open.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – The Verge

A Beauty Break – Good-bye to Fall

It’s time to say good-bye to Fall, at least the Fall when the trees paint our landscapes in glorious colors. I did not take the beautiful photos that are included in this blog post. They appeared in The Post Standard, in Syracuse, NY in the center of New York State, which is a perfect town from which to sally forth to places where Nature puts on a great display, at least in a good year, (and this was a very good year for Fall color). So I will not harangue you with any of my political commentary, I am just going to drown you in the beauty of what really fine photographers can make from the internal chemistry of deciduous trees.

The Park at the Lake in Early Fall

The village where I live is on a lake. Along the shores of the lake is a very user friendly walking trail and a road for skaters, runners, and bikers. Everything in this northern latitude is beautiful in every season, but in fall things do their stuff in colors and crispy, crunchy textures. Sooner than we would wish the tree branches are once more totally empty and all the trees reveal their  lovely bones. It is comforting to realize that they are only storing up energy for the great spring display. There is a small marina in the park which is very pretty even when the boats leave for their winter homes. My beauty offering for this week.

“Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils”

Fall, the lovely traitor,  with its brilliant colors and crisp air, tempting me to shuffle through piles of rustling leaves, always lifts my spirits, only to deposit me in the long, dark winter. I always forgive Fall. My body is programmed to experience Fall as a season of beginnings. This could have to do with the fact that I spent almost my entire life going to school, first as a student, then as a teacher. Since the school year starts in September for me each year begins in September. I get that gut-wrenching mix of excitement and anxious anticipation still, even though, for this part of my life I no longer arrive at a school in September. However, being a devotee of beauty, the excitement does not go to waste because the colors and the freshness of the air seldom disappoint.

This is the tree at the side of my old farmhouse. Its leaves have turned russet earlier than most of the trees in my neighborhood. I recently learned that my beloved tree is a “bad” tree. It is a Norway maple. Norway maples produce a prodigious number of seeds. This maple variety is therefore taking over our forests and choking out other trees including the desireable Sugar maple. In fact my tree has been “banned”, poor thing and can no longer be sold at local nurseries. Still, I love my tree. Even a “bad” tree is better than no tree. On the day I saw my Norway maple I had a terrible feeling that I would somehow lose it. It is an old tree. I thought someone might consider it in danger of being uprooted in a storm. Now that I have been told that it is a “banned” tree I hope they don’t make me take it down. Although it was planted by the village and is on village land, apparently I, as homeowner, would have to pay to have it removed. That would be really rude and quite impossible for my budget at the current moment. Hopefully my tree will be “grandfathered in” and I will get to enjoy my “bad” tree for many years. However, it is ironic that, just as I have come to treasure it, its future is in jeopardy.

                                                  “If you would ever leave me it could not be in Autumn.
                                                   Seeing you in Autumn you never should go.”  (loosely from Camelot)

                                                   (Yikes, pretty corny, huh?  But I would mourn the absence of my tree)