Review of Neal Stephenson's "Fall, or Dodge in Hell" (spoilers)

Neal Stephenson - Fall, or Dodge in Hell
Warning Spoilers

I really love some Neal Stephenson books, but some I find unreadable.  I think his book "The Diamond Age" one of the best science fiction books I have ever read.  I loved Anathem, although I had issues with the ending.  His endings are often strange.  I can't actually read his "Baroque Cycle" trilogy - only ever got a couple of pages into it.  I find many of his books just OK, Snow Crash - OK; Cobweb - a good potboiler, Cryptonomicon - ditto; Reamde - meh, OK if you like 'Murrican Ayn Randian libertarian cyber westerns; Seveneves - couldn't read, got about a third of the way through.

I liked Fall but some things just gave me the screaming irrits.

Warning Spoilers ahead:

The book is a continuous story but I'll divide it into 4 different sections, where there are different main characters, and scenarios. 

Fall has like Stephenson's other books, a lot of technical detail.  Interesting if you like that sort of thing, and I usually do.  IT people are often good at technical detail but not so good with biology (non-technical biology), sociology, or economics.  For instance, there are no discussions about different ways of making societies.  Everyone has two options.  An Ayn Randian libertarian feudal structure with Dodge as top alpha male superman and an Ayn Randian libertarian feudal structure with El as top alpha male superman. 

Section 1

In the first section Dodge is still alive and then dies and has his head frozen.  This section ends around when his brain is destructively scanned and uploaded into a computer.

Section 2

Dodge's brain in the computer creates a virtual world.

My first real gripe with the story is that the second section, really doesn't make much sense, here's why:  Dodge's brain has been scanned and uploaded into a computer.  Just his brain.   Actually, just his neurone connecting structure.  There appears to be no communication between the uploaded brain and all the living people around it in the real world.  Putting a living person into complete sensory deprivation for even a short length of time will make them quite insane and surely that's what they did. He is just a brain with no body, no senses and they made him alive in the simulation that way.  Instead of going mad, Dodge, after some time, creates a virtual world in the computer.  A kind of multiplayer online role-playing game all by himself with not even senses, just his brain.  But still no communication with the outside.  They can sort of vaguely see the virtual world that he's created but not communicate with Dodge.  I know it's a story artefact done to divide the current world and the virtual world to keep the story going but it just doesn't really make much sense. All that technology and they can't even make vibrations in his ears or listen to vibrations in the air of the world?  How do the virtual inhabitants communicate with each other?

Section 3

Then more and more people are uploaded into the computer network that grows over time.  No-one apparently thinks of having more than one virtual world.  Virtual inhabitants don't appear to remember their "previous" lives. Dodge's world grows much more complex and Dodge becomes the creator and alpha male king or god of his world with a pantheon of uploaded characters who have special powers and many ordinary uploaded people.  Dodge's world has a very simple societal structure - a feudal hierarchy with an alpha male at the top.  One of his pantheon, a woman, manages to create self-reproducing life and eventually manages to create native self-reproducing humans.  (It had to be a woman to do this?  Like women are better at biology?)  Dodge's nemesis El doesn't like Dodge's world, in part because he has to pay for the computer resources to maintain the self-reproducing native life, but rather than create his own world, he makes plans to take over Dodge's world.  El, dies and gets uploaded with lots of people who have paid him to be uploaded, some of whom become powerful "angels".  El and his angels take over Dodge's world and kick him out, Dodge ends up a prisoner in a distant corner of his world (the "Fall").

Uploaded people appear to be able to die in the virtual world but come back, at least some times, a sort of virtual reincarnation.

Section 4

A complicated quest among friends of Dodge in the El dominated world eventually allows Dodge to come back and fight El and somehow kill him.  Will El reincarnate?  Not known.  So it comes down to a giant shoot out at high noon between the alpha males, which Dodge wins.  Just a change to the alpha-male at the top.  The feudal society with all its faults goes on.


The basis of randomness

I was thinking today about the basis of randomness.

I'm still thinking about how to write this down so bear with me here.

After the invention of calculus, mathematicians saw the world as a sort of giant clockwork machine.  "Give me the initial conditions and the law of motion, and with calculus I can predict the future -- or better yet, reconstruct the past."  Einstein's spacetime implies the same thing, that all of time and space are fixed, that we can move forward or back, given the mathematical ability.  There is no randomness in this view of the universe.

And so we thought until the discovery of quantum theory.  The problem being that the world is not infinitely divisible.  Eventually everything must collapse into particles.  This collapse introduces a rounding or truncation error, that is the basis of randomness.  The universe is really digital not analog.  The present is the moment that the continuous changes into steps, quanta.  It's the present that changes infinitely divisible potential into particular actuality.  The collapse of the present is the reason we can't go forward or backward - forward - we can't know the future before it arrives, backward - we can't tell exactly what happened from what we know about the present.

Update: I have been thinking about this and I think the point of collapse is simply the present.  I am not sure what the present is exactly, when considered in the light of Einstein's general relativity, but then as I said before, spacetime and quantum collapse don't seem compatible anyway.  The idea that the point of collapse is the present does not require an observer or multiple universes, although I do wonder if the collapse releases energy and/or information.