Erica’s Pick of the Week: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

Sometimes, you just want to read a big book. Maybe you’re going into a weekend-long sports tournament; maybe it’s too hot and humid to step outside. Maybe you’re facing a mountain of laundry with nothing to keep you occupied during the spin cycle, or you’re flying cross-country.

Maybe you just want to be transported. (This, frankly, is the best reason, and the only one you need.)

big books

When the mood for a big read strikes, it’s best not to fight it. Instead, give in. Hunker down with a book the size of a housecat and let the rest of the world drop away for as long as possible.

If you’re looking for your next big book, I heartily recommend Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland’s THE RISE AND FALL OF D.O.D.O. (Stephenson, author of SNOW CRASH, SEVENEVES, and CRYPTONOMICON, among others, is not an author known for his brevity. Galland, a historical novelist, typically keeps to the 400-page range.)

dodoWhen Melisandre Stokes, a brilliant young linguist, is asked to translate ancient documents for a shadowy government organization, she discovers magic used to exist, but mysteriously stopped working in 1851. Mel teams up with Tristan Lyons, her contact from D.O.D.O. (The Department of Diachronic Operatives) to set about restoring it.

What follows is a tightly plotted, often hilarious mashup of genres: science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, and satire, among others, as we watch Mel and Tristan navigate the perils of time travel and government bureaucracy.

While there’s plenty of science fiction in this sprawling 750-page story, there’s also a tremendous deal of heart. The good guys (and even some of the bad guys) are distinctive and appealing, particularly Mel and Erzebet, a sly, stubborn witch who assists the team. The novel is told through letters, emails, online chats and transcripts. This format allows for multiple perspectives, letting the reader in on secrets and double-crosses. In lesser authorial hands, this would ruin the suspense, but Stephenson and Galland make sure we’re truly invested in Mel and Tristan’s quest. Giving us glimpses of the nefarious forces aligning against Team D.O.D.O. actually ratchets up the tension.

If you’re a fan of Neal Stephenson, you’ll find all the things that make his books so great — the wide-ranging references and digressions, the double-entendres, the meticulously detailed worldbuilding and the breakneck pacing of the climax. Nicole Galland’s influence makes the book feel more accessible, more grounded. It’s an utterly winning combination.

galland stephenson

Sometimes you want a big read, but even if doorstoppers are not your usual summertime treat, don’t let the length of D.O.D.O. scare you off. It’s fast-moving and immersive, and if you’ll pardon the pun…well worth your time.

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