HomeAll postsRise and Fall of the D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Rise and Fall of the D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

A review by Nalini Haynes

Melisande Stokes is a linguist at Harvard, enticed away from academic life by Tristan Lyons, a mysterious man claiming to be a government agent with quite a large budget. Translating Tristan’s documents is an eye-opener for Melisande, who learns, first, of magic then of time travel.

Magic used to be a thing but technological development caused magic to wane and then die with the first photo of a solar eclipse, back in 1851. It is in this time that Melisande is writing the history of the D.O.D.O., the government department that trapped her in the past.

Before she writes the history and after she learns the department’s name, Melisande makes haphazard comedic guesses as to what the acronym means.

It began with one man, Tristan, who seconded staff from various locations when necessary, starting with Melisande. They discovered Dr Oda’s work: a prototype box in which magic may still be possible. After wangling their way into the Odas’ home, Melisande convinces Mrs East-Oda to let them talk to Dr Oda, a recluse after being renounced and ridiculed by the scientific community. Meanwhile, a witch, Erszebet, is chasing Melisande via social media because she’s waited over 150 years to perform magic again after Melisande asked her to preserve herself.

Then the department really starts to grow, including acquiring your stereotypical bureaucrats, which lends layers of humour to the story, especially email exchanges and memos circulated to the department. Gradually the department snowballs out of control, ruled by martinets obsessed with power and privilege. And then there are the witches, independent women one and all who do not take fools gladly.

Speaking of the witches: did I mention that this novel passes the Bechdel Test? There are lots of women, in many different roles, many of whom talk to one another about lots of things, including not-men when men are not present.

Despite this, you know the shit has hit the fan when the Trapezoid morphs into the Pentagon. Even then, intra-departmental conflict continues building before the ‘fall’.

My biggest disappointment was that the grandfather paradox is not overtly referenced, not even when historical figures come forward in time, thereby wiping out all their potential progeny. The fall was obvious in both the title and the inevitable outcome of meddling with time.

And yet I enjoyed it.

Especially the bit with Valkyrie-types marauding through Walmart.

What’s not to love?

The different styles of writing — between the narrative ‘written’ by Melisande and the emails, memos etc — were a bit jarring. I’d totally avoid the ebook, FYI, because some of those ‘extras’ were illegible pale grey on pale grey textured background. The last third of the book was a bit long, needing a bit more humour like in the earlier portion of the novel. The romance waned before they got their shit together instead of building anticipation. However, I have a longstanding love affair with time travel stories and some of the spoofiness in the ‘extras’ was priceless, it had me laughing out loud and reading to the minion.

The Rise and Fall of the D.O.D.O. is part time travel story, part spoof of spec fic tropes, part satire, part MIB but, y’know, with time and witches instead of aliens. The end felt like the pilot of a TV series; I’d watch this TV series but I’m not sure if I’d follow this story as a series of novels.

Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 stars
ISBN: 9780008132569
ISBN 10: 0008132569
Format: paper & ebook, 768 pages
Imprint: HarperCollins

The rise and fall of the D.O.D.O.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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