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

Dodo Book Cover Dodo
Neal Stephenson, Nicole Galland,
Borough Press
June 1, 2017

Such a fun read! The gist (from the book): some manner of cause-and-effect relationship existed between the rise of scientific knowledge and the decline of magic.

It brings together some of my favorite things: Boston, and more specifically, Belmont, MA (where I once attended high school); Constantinople in the 1200's; and more specifically again, the Fourth Crusade.


In the time in which I write this, 1851, magic is waning. The research that DODO paid me to perform indicates that magic will cease to exist at the end of this month (July 28). When that happens, I will be trapped here in a post-magic world for the rest of my days

In short, each of these documents referred to magic—yes, magic—as casually as a court document refers to the law, or a doctor’s report refers to medical tests. Not magician-trick magic, but magic as we know it from myths and fairy tales: an inexplicable and supernatural force employed by witches—for they were, per these documents, all women. I don’t mean the belief in magic, or a mere weakness for magical thinking. I mean the writer of each document was discussing a situation in which magic was a fact of life.

at the start of the Scientific Revolution (Copernicus in the 1540s, etc.), magic was a ubiquitous and powerful force in human affairs, and witches were both revered and feared members of most societies every bit as much as military leaders or priest-mystics (although they were rarely written about, their work being so often the equivalent of “classified”). However, once the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment, magic became less omnipresent and less powerful, especially in institutions of learning and government. Judging by the hundreds of references in the texts, it paled increasingly through the Industrial Revolution—remaining most potent in artistic circles and least potent in philosophical ones (these two populations diverging after many generations of entwining), more potent in societies not blessed with booming industrialization, and slightly more potent too in Islamic cultures—and then it vanished altogether in the nineteenth century.

the gist: some manner of cause-and-effect relationship existed between the rise of scientific knowledge and the decline of magic

As it turns out, in 1851—the year in which I find myself as I scribble these words—all of the world’s technologies were brought together for the Great Exhibition at the newly constructed, magnificent Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Tristan’s hypothesis therefore held that this coming together, this conscious concentration of technological advancement all in one point of space-time, had dampened magic to the point where it fizzled out for good. Like a doused fire, it had no power to re-kindle itself once extinguished

I encountered a passage in an obscure booklet entitled Arresting and Alluring Astronomical Anecdotes, published in 1897. Here I learned that while the Great Exhibition of 1851 was in process (it lasted for several months), an event of relative interest occurred elsewhere in Europe, to be precise, in Königsberg, Prussia: for the first time in history, a solar eclipse was successfully photographed.

He had already suspected that photography in particular, of all technological developments, was the likeliest to have somehow impeded magic.

But in a quantum physics way of thinking, the cat really is both alive and dead. It exists in two mutually incompatible states at the same time

But now we’ve circled back to my theory!” I complained. He looked mildly confused. “Which theory is that?” “The one that belongs more to children’s literature than to reality—remember?” “Oh, yeah. People have to believe in magic.” “Yes!” “That’s not exactly what I’m saying,” he said. “Yes, human consciousness is in the loop. But hear me out. If you buy the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, it means that all possible outcomes are really happening somewhere

A witch may summon the desired effect from a parallel-slash-simultaneous reality. Thus the historical references of witches’ magic as ‘summoning’—that is quite literally what they were doing.”

Photography disables this summoning, as you called it. Photography breaks magic by embalming a specific moment—one version of reality—into a recorded image. Once that moment is so recorded, then all other possible versions of that moment are excluded from the world that contains that photograph.

But the total eclipse of the sun on July 28, 1851, was probably witnessed by more human beings than any other event in the history of the world up to that point.”

When the shutter opened to capture that first perfect image of the eclipse, magic ceased to function across all human societies.”

Where there is no photography, there could still be magic.”

We cannot ‘get rid of photography.’

Okay, that’s part of it. A controlled environment. If we can create an environment in which photography not only does not happen, but could not happen, then perhaps magic could exist within that space.”

Something he calls a cavity, intended to quote ‘jam enemy nations’ surveillance systems by maintaining a feline test subject in an indeterminate state of existence.’ Unquote.”

It’s called the Ontic Decoherence Cavity. ODEC. Proposed by Professor Frank Oda. Kind of a narcissist, I guess.

Professor Frank Oda, a theoretical physicist at MIT, had, three decades ago, gone off the reservation and started attempting to do experimental physics.

You pump in the liquid helium . . .” “Wait, wait!” Tristan protested. “This is the first you’ve mentioned cryogenics.”

Cold enough,” Tristan hazarded, “to form a Bose-Einstein condensate?

We will acquire the building,” he announced. Then he extended his index finger. “Two, design of the human-rated ODEC. Three, its construction. Four, find somebody who can do magic.”

witch’?” “In Japan, still today, there are tsukimono-suji,” said Oda, as casually as if he were discussing lunch. “Witch families. Witchcraft is considered hereditary—matrilineal—and I don’t know what kind of magic they claim to do, but the witch identity remains.” He grinned slightly. “Maybe if you find the descendant of a witch, you’ve found a witch waiting for her broomstick.”

Come and get me. Elm House, 420 Common Street, Belmont. Do not make me wait any longer. Do you have any idea how much I have suffered?”

IARPA—the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been running this thing until now—thinks other countries might have, or might soon have, access to . . . others like Erszebe


As my consciousness adjusted to the new environment, I noticed an absence of the constant ambient noise of modern civilization. In its place was tremendous birdsong and the buzz of insects.

Massachusetts Bay Colony. August 1640. The village of Muddy River, someday to be more attractively renamed Brookline

That had been the intention: I was to arrive on the property of someone we believed to be a witch, out of sight of prying eyes. A fine

my errand: that I must obtain a copy of the newly published Bay Psalm Book, coop it safely into a barrel to protect it from the elements, and then bury it in a very precise spot in a field to the northwest of the palisaded village of Cambri

I am called Tristan Lyons, and I am a Manx adventurer, recently returned from Java.” Confusion flashed across Sir Edward’s face. “An adventurer?” he said, and then seemed to choose polite caution by gesturing warmly to the seat across from him.


As to Constantinople. That jewel in the crown of the Byzantine Empire. That continent-straddling stronghold of the Eastern Orthodox Church. That famously inviolable walled city ruled by generations of interbred usurping nut-jobs a pantheon of families so tortuously intertwined as to be the basis of our modern adjective byzantine. This was a fantastically complex city with a wide range of languages and cultures, so it was required to build up a large database including not just linguistics but maps, etiquette, cultural practices, weapons, and other things that our DOers would need to know in order to function in that time and place—the time being circa 1203, the Fourth Crusade (not, for the history buffs among you, the siege a few days later, or the occupation, or the final shitstorm destruction of the city, but Galata Tower). A lot of that research fell into my lap, in my role as head of the amusingly named Diachronic Operative Resource Center.

The DNI (that would be Frink) wished to stabilize certain national and ethnic frontiers in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Turkey that had begun to show considerable GLAAMR—an indication that Someone Else might be conducting diachronic operations in an effort to shift them. Between Erszebet’s iPad Quipu (her IQ, as it were) and Frank Oda tapping into the elemental quipus of the Chronotron, we were able to calculate backwards that our best counter-action was to move a particular Orthodox relic

From one tent to another in the Byzantine Emperor’s army camp when his army fled from the Crusaders after the siege of Galata Tower.

Chira will be DODO’s pathfinder in 1200 Constantinople, which is projected to be the focal point of many diachronic operations in the first year or two of DODO’s operations.


Then perhaps you can tell me what happens to the Jews of Pera, after the Crusaders cross the Bosporus and attack Galata Tower? We live right in the shadow of the tower!

RBA: (agitated) In the Levant, Catholics slaughtered legions of us! Are they going to slaughter my family? I must go back

At the time of our great thriving, there were amongst the powers of the globe multiple entities that caused our government concern. These included China, Russia, and certain nefarious elements in the Middle East. DODO was tasked with discouraging China and Russia from becoming geopolitical BFFs close allies. We were to do this by subtly, retroactively shifting the historical soul of Russia away from the Eastern Orthodox Church and toward the Roman Catholic one, starting just after the Fourth Crusade

The Fourth Crusade was an epic clusterfuck a comic-opera misadventure, a tragic saga with farcical elements. It never even reached its intended target in the Holy Land. Instead the Crusaders—Catholics from Western Europe—invaded the Byzantine Empire, which was a Christian land, and sacked Constantinople.

shifted the quantum tendencies of reality to allow us to form what we ultimately desired: that Catholicism would spread its wings over more of Christendom, and the Orthodox Church over less of it

Catholicism unchecked would mean disaster for both the colonizing of North America and the development of science, and so every bit of strengthening that happened on the church’s eastern flank had to be offset on its northwestern one, to maintain within Europe the tensions and conflicts that would lead to a successful Protestant Reformation.

Because the 1204 fall of Constantinople is what brought Catholicism so far east, most of our DEDEs set off little chain reactions, quiet little tributaries that met up in the central artery of the Fourth Crusade

Furthermore, we could rely on her to Send a DOer to that DTAP with uncanny specificity. It also meant that most of our Fighters had to be trained to have at least a basic grasp of Greek (spoken by the native Orthodox Christians of Constantinople), Latin (spoken by the crusading Catholics who were besieging them), and Anglo-Saxon (the most common tongue of the Varangian Guards). They also learned to fight in both the eastern style employed by the conscripted army and the northern style of the Varangians, as well as the various continental styles employed by the wide variety of soldiers from Flanders down to Sicily. There were few actual battles over the two-year course of the Fourth Crusade


She was generous and earnest. Our one great blindness, our tragic flaw, is that we never questioned that. But again, I am getting far ahead of myself.

What I found is that on some of these Strands an oral tradition developed in the vicinity of Collinet in which the story of Tristan got inflated into a bigger and bigger yarn and eventually turned into a chanson de geste sung by various troubadours. Apparently it was popular enough that the church decided to capitalize on it by trumping him up enough to canonize him (even though there are no miracles or martyrdom attributed to him)—which is how he found his way into a stained glass windo

We’ve seen it before in creative arts settings, especially storytelling. If you think about what is going on in a storyteller’s mind when he or she spins a fictional yarn, what they are trying to do is to come up with a story that did not actually happen, but that seems as if it might have happened. In other words, it has to make sense and to be plausible. Typically such a story makes use of real places, historical events, characters, etc. but the events of the story itself seem to take place in an alternate version of reality.

however, we can now see an alternate explanation, which is that storytellers are doing a kind of low-level magic. Their “superpower” isn’t imagining counterfactuals, but rather seeing across parallel Strands and perceiving things that actually did (or might) happen in alternate versions of reality.

But here’s the final and most interesting note, and might even be of direct interest to Your Grace: besides their connection to Sir Francis, these weird sisters are the granddaughters of none other than Sir Thomas Gresham, who as you know was an associate of the Fugger banking family . . . who, despite their unholy religion, have long financed your resistance on occasion, for the sheer joy of causing headaches to Queen Bess.

The specific DEDE was to enter the abandoned battlefield tent of the Byzantine Emperor, secure a religious relic of importance to Orthodox Christians, and move it to a different tent so that it would be found by the Bishop of Halberstadt. —MS)

The battle strategy for both sides of this conflict is all over the wiki, so I don’t need to explain that. The Emperor’s so-called navy is in appalling shape, it’s just a handful of ships literally rotting in the harbor, and the Emperor’s army is an embarrassing joke except for the Varangian Guard.

Across the Bosporus from us, so on the Asian side, is where the Crusaders had been camped since they arrived a few weeks earlier. The Emperor had sent emissaries over there to them, with bribes and threats, telling them, “I’m the Emperor, why are you trying to replace me with this punk kid nobody wants?” and the Crusaders’ response had been, “Actually, no, we’ve got the real king right here in our pocket, and we’re putting him on your throne.” They didn’t want to attack the city, they just wanted to get rid of the “tyrant.”

There’s two notable things about the hillside where we are camped with the Emperor. First, there’s Galata Tower, which is a huge stand-alone structure right at the top of the hill. It’s one of the best-sited strategic defenses I’ve ever seen. Archers can shoot at anyone approaching from the Bosporus, or the Golden Horn, or even the Sea of Marmara, or from inland. The single most important thing they’re guarding is the chain that goes across the entrance to the Golden Horn. That inlet is so deep and narrow that it feels like a river mouth, more than a harbor. The chain is enormous, it’s held up by a series of barges, and the only way to undo the chain is through a mechanism at the foot of the hill where Galata is. So the archers in Galata Tower, more than anything else, are there to keep invaders away from the mechanism that releases the chain. That’s the defensive mantra of Constantinople: nobody can scale the walls, nobody can break the chain, so what matters is, don’t let anyone near the mechanism that releases the chain. If you’re invading, if you want to get near the mechanism, you first have to take Galata Tower. Which is pretty much untakeable.

But what they don’t know is that all through the night, what looks like regular ferry traffic across the harbor is actually thousands of armed soldiers, disguised like ragmen and coal sellers and Jews and fishermen, sneaking across from the walled city, up the hillside by Pera and into the tower. By dawn we are all packed in like anchovies. It’s a miracle nobody accidentally castrates anyone else, and the stench of all those bodies is so intense, it’s almost psychotropi

Most of them don’t actually care who wins because they understand it’s just about who sits on the throne, they know the Crusaders aren’t here to try to actually harm the city itself. All the potential emperors are assholes, and they’re all related to each other, it hardly matters which one wins. So the citizens are literally picnicking and placing bets on who wins the da

In the present case, as you know, what we are trying to achieve is to pry Crimea loose from the Russians and get it back into the full and undisputed possession of Ukraine, all without firing a shot or

the world extremely technical in innumerable ways, and it’s not only that science is a new kind of magic that makes ours seem feeble by compare, it’s that their powers’ waxing causes ours to wane. And there is particular a kind of art called photography, which as I guess from the name means “light-writing,” or the setting down of light on paper. The effect is an image like a painting or a drawing, but as real as the real image being copied. It is wondrous—and everywhere. And the cause of magic’s end, so it is.

Erszebet finds opportunities to Send me, I have sought out other Fuggers. In short, haven’t I predisposed the whole clan to be of assistance to me—or to “any comely Irish witch named Gráinne,” as it is likely to be their descendants that I deal with. They have been told now that an immortal witch has pledged herself to aid the family. And whilst I was in the future, with Erszebet’s assistance haven’t I made a study of whole eras of what happens between then and now, and coming back here, haven’t I whispered into the Fuggers’ ears where they should be adjusting their interests to keep the money flowing their way? Is right I have.

From LTC Lyons, 15:32: Constance says he threatened her with a knife and demanded to be Sent to 912 AD Svelvik. It’s a DTAP she knows pretty well. From Dr. Blevins, 15:34: Isn’t that three centuries before his time? From Dr. Melisande Stokes, 15:40: 912 Svelvik is like Grand Central Station for old-school Vikings.