Stephenson’s latest novel is both highly imaginative and somewhat creepy. Lurking somewhere between plausible sci-fi and total fantasy, he posits a world where the human population is slowly diminishing and being replaced by robots, but at the same time cryogenics and quantum computers are giving people the option upon death of having their brains scanned and being uploaded into digiworld to achieve a sort of immortality. The action switches back and forth from the real world (meatspace) to what’s going on in the computing miasma, a world incorporating the Earth’s entire computing power. In turns out there’s quite a lot going on there as two computing giants, i.e. people who in life had been tech billionaires (imagine Gates and Bezos, or Jobs and Musk if you prefer), are fighting it out for dominance. At the same time, their families and loyalists back in meatspace are at odds over computing resources.
Once again the author has needlessly subjected readers to a massive tome (over 800 pages) that could have been better written in 250 pages. It’s very readable and contains some satire worth reading, but it can be a slog. The last third or so of the book focuses too much on the digital world which becomes increasingly like a video game or even the board game Quest, populated by giants and fanciful shape-shifting creatures with lots of world-building and slaying going on. The author rather boldly, or perhaps grossly, goes into how the digital beings discover sex, described clinically always as copulation. This ground has been well-trod already in movies and books (Wall-e, Tron, Wreck-it Ralph, Ready Player One). All in all it filled some hours with entertainment. That’s about the highest praise I can give it, but perhaps that’s all it was shooting for.