60 points, 3 ¼ stars.
Melisande Stokes is an expert in linguistics and languages, and she meets Tristan Lyons who is part of a government entity trying to alter history itself. Through government bloat and incompetence, things have gone wrong and Melisande is stuck in the 1850s, just at the point before magic is snuffed out of the world entirely, with no way back. This is the tale of the Department of Diachronic Operations and how it all went wrong.
“I repeated the experiment a few times, and the cat never seemed to remember what he was about to be subjected to. But then Rebecca saw and made me stop.”
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. is a really weird book. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think it was really worth the read for me personally. I’m never keen on time travel, but something about this made me want to read it. If it had a better end, I would definitely say it was worth the slog of the middle and the boringness of the beginning. It just didn’t have that amazing end I was looking for.
This is the first book by Neal Stephenson I have ever read, so I didn’t know what I was getting into before I started it. I found the writing style odd and not exactly enjoyable to read. It is told partially in a journal entry style, partially in a diary entry style, with a bunch of letters, memos, notes, senatorial committee transcripts, character write-ups, lists, and more. It takes the meaning info-dump turns it into information overload. And so much of it I didn’t even care about at all. It made the book easily twice as long as it should have, just to overwhelm the reader with useless stuff.
If I wasn’t so curious about the story itself, I definitely would have quit reading this book in the middle when it became less like a story and more like a never-ending series of info dumps. But I was curious. I wanted to know how they bring magic back through time travel. I wanted to know how they thought it could ever work within the confines they had set up. I wanted to know how everything goes wrong, which is clearly noted from the very first of the book. I wanted to know if Melisande got back to the present.
The beginning was almost fun to read. I loved seeing them figure things out piece by piece. Small strides were made for long periods of time. Even when they finally managed to set it up in a way so they could travel back in time, it was still very slow. They had to use trial and error to do a single thing. It took them days and multiple tries. And things kept going wrong. It wasn’t fun, it was far too repetitive for that, but it was nearly there. Most importantly, though, it was a cohesive narrative.
The beginning also sets up some interesting characters. And by interesting I mean kind of really bland.
The lead female, Melisande Stokes, is… the best way I can describe Melisande is that she isn’t very bright despite being super smart. She has the book smarts down, but she is in way over her head. She allows anyone and everyone talk her into anything, even if she really doesn’t want to do it. The magic words are “for the project”, and she’ll do it. Even if she doesn’t believe it is a good idea. She should learn to follow her instincts, because the project is a series of bad mistakes.
The lead male, Tristan Lyons, is kind of disconnected from everything except his job. He is super focused. The only things we know about him are those that are connected to his job. No past, no hobbies, no nothing. He doesn’t have any personality at all except a drive to see his goal accomplished. I’m not even certain why he wants to get it done so bad other than it’s kind of really cool. But, he is willing to step up and be absolutely anything in order to get his job done.
And these two idiots have the oddest relationship ever. Tristan ignores Melisande as a person and just uses her as a chess piece. And then she falls under his spell. For no reason I can see. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The side characters are mostly better. Erszebet is their witch, and she is pure sass. She is willing to be used by the D.O.D.O. in order to gain access to magic again, but she doesn’t have to like it, or respect them. Which is just as well because they treat her barely better than a slave. There is also Frank Oda, who is the scientist who has helped them develop the technology and his wife, who are good people. There is a large cast of characters that are smaller than those mentioned that are interesting, too.
However, there is a whole line of characters I despise. I’m meant to despise them. Knowing this didn’t mean it made it easier to tolerate dealing with them. The entire Department of Diachronic Operations made me hate them at one point or another, really. Especially the people in charge. I know I’m supposed to hate them. But raging at books is never a good look.
Things change in the second half of the book. Most importantly, it isn’t a cohesive narrative anymore. It is little bits and little pieces here and there. It is no longer focused on the goal of the book. And it is horribly inefficient. The book itself even says that the department bloated up to manageable levels. They’re so focused on what they are doing, they never stop to think about what they are doing and how they are doing it. It isn’t a good combination. It leads to problems.
Honestly, in the second half, the main characters are barely even in the story anymore. That midway point becomes an excuse to add about 50 new characters on top of the six-ish characters we had in the first half. And most of them aren’t even proper characters, just people to remember because they’re the ones sending out the memos and debriefing others and such. The new characters aren’t introduced, they just kind of expect you to know who they are – except when they are introduced in some kind of useless interdepartmental memo. It just made me disconnect from the story further.
Then there was the end. I was still in the story until the end, simply because I wanted to find out how they saved Melisande and brought back magic. It was also interesting to see how the more they messed with time, the more they had to mess with time to get what they wanted out of it. But the end was completely unsatisfactory. I’m annoyed. I wouldn’t be half as annoyed if this book was half the length. Just felt like it wasted my time to tell an incomplete story.
Historic Vikings raiding a Walmart was entertaining, though.