Atmosphaera Incognita
For more than two decades, Neal Stephenson has been the reigning master of the epic fictional narrative. His vast, intellectually rigorous books have ranged in setting from the distant past (The Baroque Cycle) to the modern era (Reamde) to the remote future (Anathem, Seveneves). But when Stephenson turns his attention to shorter forms, the results can be every bit as impressive, as this dazzling novella—itself a kind of tightly compressed epic—clearly indicates. Atmosphæra Incognita is a beautifully detailed, high-tech rendering of a tale as old as the Biblical Tower of Babel. It is an account, scrupulously imagined, of the years-long construction of a twenty-kilometer-high tower that will bring the human enterprise, in all its complexity, to the threshold of outer space. It is a story of persistence, of visionary imaginings, of the ceaseless technological innovation needed to bring these imaginings to life. At the same time, it shows us our familiar planet from an entirely new perspective, and offers vivid snapshots of the unique beauties and unexpected hazards of the “atmosphæra incognita” that lies between this world and “the deep ocean of the cosmos.” The result is pure pleasure, pure excitement, pure Neal Stephenson. No one with an interest in Stephenson's work, or in science fiction at its most thoughtful and ambitious, can afford to miss this latest edition to an extraordinary body of work.

Atmosphaera Incognita Details

TitleAtmosphaera Incognita
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJul 31st, 2019
PublisherSubterranean Press
ISBN-139781596069190
Rating
GenreScience Fiction, Fiction, Novella

Atmosphaera Incognita Review

  • Sarah
    January 1, 1970
    This is my first experience with Neal Stephenson. At a mere 104 pages, it was much less intimidating than some of his other very lengthy novels. The premise is very simple: eccentric billionaire wants to build tower twenty miles high. It moves at a meandering pace, going over everything from the tower proposal to purchasing the real estate to the actual engineering of the tower and the various obstacles they must face.But the science behind building something so completely impossible was fascina This is my first experience with Neal Stephenson. At a mere 104 pages, it was much less intimidating than some of his other very lengthy novels. The premise is very simple: eccentric billionaire wants to build tower twenty miles high. It moves at a meandering pace, going over everything from the tower proposal to purchasing the real estate to the actual engineering of the tower and the various obstacles they must face.But the science behind building something so completely impossible was fascinating, and I didn’t mind the slower pace here. It’s obvious that Stephenson does his research and is very thorough about it. It’s incredibly imaginative and immersive. Little ideas kept popping up here and there like helipads and base jumping and they each put a smile on my face.The characters were great. I adored Carl, which is truly impressive given that we never really meet him, and I liked Emma a lot too. Within the first few pages it occurred to me that she was someone I could have easily been friends with in real life, which I know sounds strange, but it isn’t a thought that occurs to me about fictional characters often.It all culminates in one explosive ending which I won’t spoil. I very much enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick break from their usual fare. Thank you to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for the ARC to review.
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  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    Unlike most of Stephenson's wonderfully expansive works of technical imagination, this is a novella. It mines an interesting story of a billionaire named Carl working to fulfill his idiosyncratic dream of building a 20-kilometer tall tower. Holy moly! For perspective, Mt. Everest is 8.8 km tall, or 5.5. miles.The narrator Emma was Carl’s friend at age 12 and is picked by him to manage the project based on her track record in property management for him in recent years. Her girlfriend gets the co Unlike most of Stephenson's wonderfully expansive works of technical imagination, this is a novella. It mines an interesting story of a billionaire named Carl working to fulfill his idiosyncratic dream of building a 20-kilometer tall tower. Holy moly! For perspective, Mt. Everest is 8.8 km tall, or 5.5. miles.The narrator Emma was Carl’s friend at age 12 and is picked by him to manage the project based on her track record in property management for him in recent years. Her girlfriend gets the commission to run the restaurant/bar that rises over the decades it takes to extrude the steel beams of the tower from below. As you can imagine, sealing it like a spacecraft is necessary after you get to Everest heights. Most of the story dwells on various engineering challenges that must be solved, including foundation work on the scale of the Pyramids, rebooting the steel industry, and computer-assisted strategies to counter the impact of wind and the expansions and contractions due to extreme temperatures. The only real “action” sequence comes from the heroic human teamwork that takes place when Mother Nature makes an assault in the form of the strange powerful lightning recently observed from satellites to shoot upward toward space from the stratosphere (and believed to involve huge gamma ray bursts and likely antimatter production). In sum, if you like the wonders of human engineering and appreciate a playful imagination on plausible problem solving in the face of challenges, this short read could provide you some satisfaction. For me, I would appreciate more on the personalities involved in an amazing endeavor, such as in McCullough’s account of the Wright brother’s development of the first airplane (The Wright Brothers). Greg Egan's Phoresis, which features an alien race trying to build a space elevator, also suffers from the same limited level of character development (it also misses the plausible engineering in favor of exploring the cultural factors that might drive such a project over many decades). The reason I loved Stephenson’s nerdy Seveneves was the addition of diverse, fulsome characters to another engineering-focused story, in that case the building of a self-sufficient space station and riding out for many years a world-ending meteor strike of Earth. This book was provided for review by the publisher through the Netgalley program.
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  • wishforagiraffe
    January 1, 1970
    Stephenson does surprisingly well in this short form. Fewer long digressions, but still a lot of great technical ideas and solid conceptual science. It has a conversational tone and covers a lot of ground, in several senses of the word. I would have likely been just as happy with a full accounting of the tower's building, rather than the breezy overview we get, but it works well in this form. Unfortunately, even with room to expand a bit (the print version has several blank end pages), Stephenso Stephenson does surprisingly well in this short form. Fewer long digressions, but still a lot of great technical ideas and solid conceptual science. It has a conversational tone and covers a lot of ground, in several senses of the word. I would have likely been just as happy with a full accounting of the tower's building, rather than the breezy overview we get, but it works well in this form. Unfortunately, even with room to expand a bit (the print version has several blank end pages), Stephenson gives us yet another abrupt ending. Not really even a conclusion. Still, worth reading if you're a fan of Stephenson, if you enjoy "hard" SF that still has well written characters and solid prose, or if you're looking for a nearer future SF that isn't entirely bleak.
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  • Liviu
    January 1, 1970
    another disappointing work from the author, this time a novella that has a great premise but mostly fails to deliver with wooden prose and uninteresting characters
  • Val Timke
    January 1, 1970
    This was truly a dense text, and if you're not up for reading pages upon pages of structural design descriptions, this may not be for you.My experience with this tottered somewhere between enjoyable and relieved it was short. It wasn't that there was too much description but I didn't really connect to the description until the latter parts about the weather and "sprites."I see some people saying they were glad it was short and in some way, I am glad it was too. It worked as a novella. There was This was truly a dense text, and if you're not up for reading pages upon pages of structural design descriptions, this may not be for you.My experience with this tottered somewhere between enjoyable and relieved it was short. It wasn't that there was too much description but I didn't really connect to the description until the latter parts about the weather and "sprites."I see some people saying they were glad it was short and in some way, I am glad it was too. It worked as a novella. There was just enough character and dialogue in it to make it work. However, I do think there could have been more scenes demonstrating how the tower affected the lives of those who had built it. We didn't really get a whole lot between the lengthy structural descriptions.I loved the "into the unknown" aspect to this. It was really well done (and also my first Stephenson though I do own Seveneves.) In the end, for the length it was, I think it was worth the time.**I did receive this as a Netgalley ARC from the publisher. This is my honest review.
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  • August Is Azathoth The Haunted Reading Room
    January 1, 1970
    The geniuses of our era, in my opinion, are the late Stephen Hawking, John Connolly, and Neal Stephenson. I never miss anything Mr. Stephenson pens, even though sometimes I have to really stretch my brain to comprehend, because isn't that the point of science fiction? Of any literature? To stretch us, mold us, trigger us to evolve into our better selves?In his very new novella Atmosphæra Incognita, a self-made, crusty, often irritable, and very bullishly determined billionaire decides to build a The geniuses of our era, in my opinion, are the late Stephen Hawking, John Connolly, and Neal Stephenson. I never miss anything Mr. Stephenson pens, even though sometimes I have to really stretch my brain to comprehend, because isn't that the point of science fiction? Of any literature? To stretch us, mold us, trigger us to evolve into our better selves?In his very new novella Atmosphæra Incognita, a self-made, crusty, often irritable, and very bullishly determined billionaire decides to build a Tower: twenty kilometers in height, it will reach into that elusive junction of Earth's atmosphere with outer space. Why? Why do modern humans construct skyscrapers? Why the Tower of Babel? Why the Hanging Gardens of Bablyon? Perhaps here it is that unconscious desire of humankind to "knock on heaven's door," to "reach the stars," "ad astra per aspera." Mankind always reaching above himself: Icarus, Prometheus, billionaire Carl.
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  • Nicole
    January 1, 1970
    Enjoyable novella about some people who build a space tower. For such a short piece, I got more character development from Stephenson than I had expected. Granted, we're told rather than shown a lot of the character development, but the story was not quite 100 pages long. (The book's official total is 104 pages, but include some reference material at the end.) It was an enjoyable read, but more than anything it makes me think of the science behind the story and the currently unknown difficulties Enjoyable novella about some people who build a space tower. For such a short piece, I got more character development from Stephenson than I had expected. Granted, we're told rather than shown a lot of the character development, but the story was not quite 100 pages long. (The book's official total is 104 pages, but include some reference material at the end.) It was an enjoyable read, but more than anything it makes me think of the science behind the story and the currently unknown difficulties we'd have if we really tried something like this.
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  • Nichole
    January 1, 1970
    This one really didn't do it for me. It was a quick read, but it was pretty much just about building a tower, and engineering. This may appeal to some people, but it wasn't for me.I received a copy from Net Galley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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  • Michael Frasca
    January 1, 1970
    A tale for engineers and those who like engineering. There is barely a story in this novelet, but that's OK because the wonder of the concept carries the reader along.Pairs well with Kij Johnson's The Man Who Bridged the Mist.
  • Brennan (read.review.repeat)
    January 1, 1970
    This was another kind of strange book. Overall, there was really no point in it other than to take this reader along as the tower is built and show how it affected certain peoples lives as they became involved with the project. As the story was quite short, there was not a whole lot of character development, but I did enjoy our main character Emma and getting to see how her stakes in the project allowed her to meet some new people and how it changed her pre existing relationships. I know this re This was another kind of strange book. Overall, there was really no point in it other than to take this reader along as the tower is built and show how it affected certain peoples lives as they became involved with the project. As the story was quite short, there was not a whole lot of character development, but I did enjoy our main character Emma and getting to see how her stakes in the project allowed her to meet some new people and how it changed her pre existing relationships. I know this review may seem a little lacking in the form of content, but I really do not know what to say. The book had a calm tone to it and I enjoyed getting to read about the twenty years in which the building of this tower was taking place and getting to see how it affected some peoples lives in such a small book. And that’s about it, other than the fact that I learned some neat stuff regarding to aerodynamics, architecture, and industry. This being said, I’m giving this book a four stars because I found that I enjoyed the book enough to think it warrants over a three, but it just did not have enough of a wow factor for me to give it a five. The thing I perhaps liked most about this novel though was the writing style. I own a couple of Neal Stephenson’s other books and this short tale definitely has intrigued me enough to where I want to get to his other novels before too long. Overall, even though I had some trouble articulating what I liked about this book, I believe that it told a good concise story and one that would be worth your time to read if you are interested.
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  • Kend
    January 1, 1970
    Happy book birthday to this little novella!I should preface this review with a disclaimer: This is the first work by Neal Stephenson that I've read. I know, I know, it's criminal. He credits Jeff Bezos in his acknowledgments, which makes a lot more sense when I realized he *works* for Jeff Bezos, sort of. And the character at the center of this narrative is not its narrator, a competent lesbian with a degree in comparative religion and no job prospects, but rather the brilliant tech titan and mo Happy book birthday to this little novella!I should preface this review with a disclaimer: This is the first work by Neal Stephenson that I've read. I know, I know, it's criminal. He credits Jeff Bezos in his acknowledgments, which makes a lot more sense when I realized he *works* for Jeff Bezos, sort of. And the character at the center of this narrative is not its narrator, a competent lesbian with a degree in comparative religion and no job prospects, but rather the brilliant tech titan and moneybags, Carl. It's Carl who gives the narrator a job that she ends up being rather good at, and which ends up involving a bit of real estate, a bit of project oversight, and a great scene involving abseiling down a structure that boggles the mind. Boggles it, but in a pleasurable way. If I had to guess, I'd argue that Stephenson's gift is taking complex structures and breaking them down into bits that make sense to even the most average of science fiction readers. (And that's me. I'm *very* average.) But back to Carl for a second; Carl is not just at the heart of the story, but also at the heart of the book's plot structure. Without his driving vision for a building that extends past the majority of the Earth's atmosphere, there would be no story, and without his death, there would be no reasonable explanation for the book's one extended action sequence. Carl puts all the characters in motion, and then draws them together when the plot requires. He's always present. And that, my friends, is symptomatic of (uh-oh, here comes my least favorite genre term) "hard" science fiction's obsession with the space-obsessed CEOs of Silicon Valley. If you, too, are obsessed ... then this novella will be pure heaven for you.If you're disillusioned? This isn't going to open any new vistas for you.Luckily, this is a novella--and novellas are tiny little self-contained thought experiments. They're perfect for exploring ideas without staying so long that they get on your nerves! I love novellas, and I'm always a fan of being introduced to an author by way of novella. I know enough from this short 100-page novella to know that a) I like Stephenson's style, b) I like big buildings and I cannot lie, and c) I'm still on the fence about characterization. It's a good start.
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  • Jen
    January 1, 1970
    Full disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.An eccentric billionaire decides that his legacy will be to build a 20-kilometer-tall steel tower. As nothing like this has ever been attempted before, the project poses massive engineering and supply problems, not to mention the political challenges of convincing local government and the local community at the proposed site to allow the project to move forward. The novella follows t Full disclosure: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.An eccentric billionaire decides that his legacy will be to build a 20-kilometer-tall steel tower. As nothing like this has ever been attempted before, the project poses massive engineering and supply problems, not to mention the political challenges of convincing local government and the local community at the proposed site to allow the project to move forward. The novella follows the construction of the tower over decades, offering a vision of how engineers might resolve some of the challenges of designing and constructing such an ambitious project.While the story is told from the perspective of the billionaire’s friend and employee who is involved in the project from the beginning, offering glimpses of her life over time, it is focused on exploring the ways the engineers resolve the unique design problems posed by extremely high winds, extreme temperature fluctuations, etc. that would come with building a structure that high into the atmosphere. It also offers glimpses of the uses to which such a structure could be put, such as an airport in the sky.I thought it ended in an odd spot, with the story not quite resolved and the tower still incomplete (although nearing completion). It works as a fascinating thought experiment, more than anything else. Indeed, that seems to have been its purpose. This novella was originally published in Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer’s Hieroglyph, an anthology of near-future, optimistic sci-fi stories of how technology and science can change the world.In short, Atmosphaera Incognita offers a tantalizing tale of what human engineering might be able to accomplish, given the resources to do so.
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  • Ren HappilyBuriedInBooks
    January 1, 1970
    Neal Stephenson’s work isn’t what comes to mind when asked to prove that good things can come in small packages, but Atmosphæra Incognita is proof of exactly that. Rather than a towering novel, this is novella about a tower. In a scant hundred or so pages, Stephenson manages to engineer a steel extrusion process and pinpoint the ideal location for its needs, build a tower twenty kilometers in height, and breathe life into the characters needed to complete the project. Atmosphæra Incognita takes Neal Stephenson’s work isn’t what comes to mind when asked to prove that good things can come in small packages, but Atmosphæra Incognita is proof of exactly that. Rather than a towering novel, this is novella about a tower. In a scant hundred or so pages, Stephenson manages to engineer a steel extrusion process and pinpoint the ideal location for its needs, build a tower twenty kilometers in height, and breathe life into the characters needed to complete the project. Atmosphæra Incognita takes into account a variety of issues that a tower of twenty kilometers might call into question: materials, engineering, structural stability, climate, wind patterns, earthquakes, tourism, economy, use for future endeavors like rocketry, and politics. For fans who crave the richness and obsessive attention to detail that Neal Stephenson delivers, but haven’t had the time to jump into his latest novel entitled Fall, or Dodge in Hell, this is a more bite-sized option.Thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for the provided e-ARC and the opportunity to read this book. My review is honest, unbiased, and voluntary. #NetGalley #AtmosphæraIncognita @SubPress
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  • Lou Jacobs
    January 1, 1970
    This short novella appeals to hard SF geeks. Stephenson presents a dazzling narrative exploring the detailed technological innovations entailed in a project to construct a twenty kilometer high tower that reaches to the junction of our atmosphere and outer space. Virtually creating a vertical city that serves as a platform to the stars. The story unfolds in the eyes of real estate developer who is tasked by a self-made, eccentric billionaire to find the most ideal property site to construct thi This short novella appeals to hard SF geeks. Stephenson presents a dazzling narrative exploring the detailed technological innovations entailed in a project to construct a twenty kilometer high tower that reaches to the junction of our atmosphere and outer space. Virtually creating a vertical city that serves as a platform to the stars. The story unfolds in the eyes of real estate developer who is tasked by a self-made, eccentric billionaire to find the most ideal property site to construct this monolith. The same developer stays on to be the administrator of the project. Presented are the "scientific" solutions and innovations necessary to bring this engineering feat to fruition. Although the science presented is awesome, there is something lacking in human interest. Although some people are trapped near the top of the tower ... there is little in the way of drama and intrigue. This short novella apparently is to be part of a bigger book: Hieroglyph. A series of stories designed to envision new ideas for the future ... hopefully in a more optimistic and realistic approach. Thanks to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for providing an Uncorrected Proof in exchange for an honest review. Once again, Stephenson's amazing skill in Science Fiction is realized.
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  • Ralph Blackburn
    January 1, 1970
    Atmosphoera Incognita by Neal Stephenson- Neal Stephenson's latest, a novella rather than the usual exceedingly long works we are accustom to, is the modern day story of a billionaire who wants to erect a twenty-kilometer tower straight up through Earth's atmosphere and into space. The tale is told by of all people the real estate person, who he selects to find him properties, and goes on to become the de facto administrator for the project, because he trusts her. Told as a informational monolog Atmosphoera Incognita by Neal Stephenson- Neal Stephenson's latest, a novella rather than the usual exceedingly long works we are accustom to, is the modern day story of a billionaire who wants to erect a twenty-kilometer tower straight up through Earth's atmosphere and into space. The tale is told by of all people the real estate person, who he selects to find him properties, and goes on to become the de facto administrator for the project, because he trusts her. Told as a informational monologue with bits of human interaction, the story briefly outlines the major task of building the huge steel tower and the many different combinations or planning and ingenuity involved in attempting this. The last bit of the story becomes more of an adventure as things go wrong and people are trapped near the top. But nothing frantic or nail-biting happens. This is a rather sedate tale where the engineering and construction insight takes precedent over the human side of the story. I found the building awe inspiring, and I never miss anything Stephenson writes, but I was glad he decided to keep this one short.
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  • Jason Pryde
    January 1, 1970
    Neil Stephenson at his flat out best. I generally believe that authors should stick to their strong suits and not get too ambitious with character types outside of their realm. NS has surprised me before and does it again here with his ability to plausibly replicate a different personality type than his own educated white male. In this case, a middle age lesbian, without a political ax to grind, just a life to live. Most authors would fall back on stereotypes and memes to stand up such a charact Neil Stephenson at his flat out best. I generally believe that authors should stick to their strong suits and not get too ambitious with character types outside of their realm. NS has surprised me before and does it again here with his ability to plausibly replicate a different personality type than his own educated white male. In this case, a middle age lesbian, without a political ax to grind, just a life to live. Most authors would fall back on stereotypes and memes to stand up such a character in a minor role, let alone as the main protagonist. The other redeeming feature is that the entire arc of the plot, with background context and multiple characters is laid out in a couple of hours read. (658 pages in the kindle version but much less in paper I think). Nice fix for your inner engineering geekhood.
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  • Kim
    January 1, 1970
    Great promise but way too short at 104 pgs. Self made billionaire Carl calls upon the help of an old childhood friend Emma, a real estate agent to help his plan to build a 20 kilometer high steel tower. This book takes you from choosing the right location based on weather, substructure and agreement of the area to the building processes and technical aspects needed to complete certain levels. This book was just way too short to feel a real connection to the characters and the whole theme of the Great promise but way too short at 104 pgs. Self made billionaire Carl calls upon the help of an old childhood friend Emma, a real estate agent to help his plan to build a 20 kilometer high steel tower. This book takes you from choosing the right location based on weather, substructure and agreement of the area to the building processes and technical aspects needed to complete certain levels. This book was just way too short to feel a real connection to the characters and the whole theme of the book. The cover art for this book is absolutely fantastic and appropriate for the book theme. This book could have been so good if a couple hundred pages were added. That being said, I loved the concept.
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  • Paula Lyle
    January 1, 1970
    This is an interesting story about the technical challenges in building a structure that is 20 kilometers tall. For me, it would have been a lot more compelling if it had at least suggested a reason why anyone would want to do this. I guess the point is that billionaires don't need a reason to leave a phallic monument to themselves behind.I received an eARC from NetGalley.
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  • Andrea
    January 1, 1970
    A lovely little short story from Neal Stephenson. When man's reach exceeds his grasp, all manner of technical problems ensue. Building a tower reaching 20 kilometers into the heavens is an engineering challenge of epic proportions. Even in the context of using our most advanced technology, Stephenson's characters are incredibly grounded and down to earth, which gives this story its real charm.
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  • Snozzwanger
    January 1, 1970
    Paradigm SlamBaroque Cycle it ain’t, but you know that.Feels like a seed, perhaps, but may be nothing more than what it is- a quick read of a fascinating idea.A brief adventure, a minor tragedy, born of a mini-crisis. Altogether perfect for a near future mass-media news cycle, complete with middle aged lesbians, spacesuits and adventure sports spokes-jock.
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  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    A short story or novella that will only take an hour or a bit more to read; it's definitely N.S. though very compressed, and I'm not used to reading him in this form. But everything you would expect is there, and it's of course worth the time of any N.S. fan.
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  • Paul
    January 1, 1970
    This is an unusually short work by this well-known author, but a good one! The story is concise and interesting, and you'll probably learn a few things along a way. Recommended.I really appreciate the ARC for review!!
  • J.D. DeHart
    January 1, 1970
    Neal Stephenson is a science fiction badass. His work usually spans pages, chapters, and volumes.This book is on the slim side but showcases Stephenson’s talent. In fact, this book could act as a brief introduction for those interested in this author.Short but powerful.
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  • Victoria
    January 1, 1970
    Best 104 pages about a space tower EVER
  • TC
    January 1, 1970
    RecommendedReview posted at Tzer Island book blog:http://www.tzerisland.com/bookblog/20...
  • Kbuxton
    January 1, 1970
    Read as part of Hieroglyphs
  • Timothy Haggerty
    January 1, 1970
    Short and sweet.Great detail packed into an easy hour read. I enjoyed the link to the engineering site for more details. I wish I live long enough to see something like this built.
  • Brian
    January 1, 1970
    A very detailed story on the construction of a space elevator from the eccentric billionaire financier to construction workers, to the property agent. This book has the type of the science that you would come to expect from Neal Stephenson, but an abrupt ending that will leave you disheartened.
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