Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland combines historical fiction, science fiction and a touch of magic

Renowned speculative fiction author Neal Stephenson and acclaimed historical fiction author Nicole Galland have collaborated on an intriguing project combining science fiction, historical fiction and a touch of magic. The result is The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., a wickedly funny novel about the endless possibilities of time travel. The achievement is no mean feat when the authors have had to combine not just ideas but genres. However it seems that for them the desire to tell a great story outside of any thought of genre made the collaborative process a great deal easier.
“Happily we were generally always on the same page about what made a good story and how best to tell it,” Stephenson and Galland reported. “We’ve found it to be a pretty natural marriage of minds, since the story itself is a merging of scientific speculation and various historical periods. When we were on a book tour we joked about inventing anecdotes of conflict or tribulation just so we’d have something interesting to say about our process. It was really pretty organic and we both enjoyed it.”
It certainly seems that the authors had a great deal of fun with the book. They have used a variety of narrative techniques in the novel in order to capture the voices of a number of narrators from different time periods and with differing personalities; these include letters, diaries, emails, circulars and even at one point epic poetry. I asked them why they chose this format. “Several reasons. It lets us short-cut through what would feel like a lot of exposition. We’re following the show-don’t-tell rule. Also, the medium is sometimes literally the message. Instead of (for example) lengthy descriptions of the bloated bureaucracy that develops in the contemporary setting, you see examples of that bureaucracy – emails, after-action reports, personnel files, PowerPoint presentation. It’s the equivalent of a film cross-fade. Also, it was fun.”
The central premise of the book is that magic and science are opposing forces and so cannot coexist. The authors chose 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, as the date when magic faded from existence; this is established through the research carried out by the main characters. I asked the authors why they felt this particular date was so significant. “The Great Exhibition of 1851 displayed, in one concentrated bit of space-time, the world’s greatest technological and scientific advancements – and therefore it makes sense that it would have an exponentially dampening (i.e. snuffing) effect on magic.”
This is a big book and the authors have put a lot of effort into creating numerous characters, government departments and the thoroughly realised historical eras that the various time-travelling characters visit. These visits gave the authors ample opportunity for culture clashes leading to misunderstandings, danger and even changing the course of history. Because the possibilities for adventure are really limitless with time travel I was keen to learn of any planned sequels and spin-offs. “If you’re asking about a full-length novel sequel, watch this space.” However if you have already read the book and can’t wait for the sequel you will be happy to learn that the authors have created an online hub. “There are already a few online historical “equels” to D.O.D.O. (not a sequel or a prequel, but stories that take place “off-screen” during the five-year span of D.O.D.O.), and these can be found at the URL They are written by other writers but we’ve vetted them and like them a lot.”

This article originally appeared on The Historical Novel Society Website. You can read the original here.

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