Immense and immensely entertaining genre-hopping yarn from hard-core sci-fi veteran Stephenson (Seveneves, 2015, etc.) and historical novelist Galland (Stepdog, 2015, etc.).
“You have an agreeably uninteresting existence,” says the shadowy government recruiter. “Let’s see if we can change that.” Our heroine, a brilliant specialist in ancient languages, cannot refuse, especially since the pay packet Tristan Lyons is offering is many times more than her adjunct position pays. With that, they’re off—but where? Blend time travel with Bourne-worthy skulduggery, throw in lashings of technology and dashes of steampunk, and you have the makings of this overstuffed, disbelief-begging storyline. That storyline begins and ends with language, but in between there’s a fair amount of outright mad science, courtesy of the inventor of the Ontic Decoherence Cavity (“An MIT physics professor who tried to patent groundbreaking technological innovations is a Luddite?”), and—well, of witchcraft, which seems an uneasy fit at first but soon comes to make as much sense as anything else in this head-spinning tale. And what is D.O.D.O., the place where the ODEC is put into play courtesy of DARPA? Melisande Stokes, said linguist, gamely guesses that it means “Department of Diabolical Obscurantism,” but no, it’s much more than all that. Stephenson and Galland turn ethnic clichés on their heads, introducing Magyar sorceresses and hipper-than-thou Asian baristas into the mix as their yarn careens into Dan Brown land: we know we’re there when we hit on Athanasius Fugger and his penumbral lineage, “completely absent from the historical record,” characters worthy of Umberto Eco and perfectly at home here. Suffice it to say that the story gets weirder and more madcap from there.
A departure for both authors and a pleasing combination of much appeal to fans of speculative fiction.