For me, Atmosphæra Incognita was equal parts architectural fascination and tingling discomfort when imagining that top floor view.
It’s a quick story centering on a billionaire who decides to build an enormous tower tall enough to reach space. We primarily follow the workings and observations of the project lead, a childhood friend who was in the right place at the right time and landed this lifelong gig. I found the specifications and details fascinating, primarily because of my personal interest in architecture and infrastructure. You can imagine how complicated such a megastructure would be, and the many steps to build it are especially interesting from an economic standpoint.
It’s notable that the whole project isn’t approached from a wild science fiction standpoint. Instead, Stephenson treats it like any other building project, imagining the governmental hurdles, the rebuilding of the American steel industry, and the complications of grumpy neighbors who don’t want to look at a huge tower in their backyard. The every day approach makes this impossible project seem possible, especially as the technical details are thrown in. The story ends with a quick conflict that’s horrifying to imagine as the characters cower in fear of a weather phenomenon, afraid they’ll be hurled from a billionth story window.
Overall, Atmosphæra Incognita is a quick, detail-rich read that examines the many hurdles to creating an impossible structure in modern times. Given our society’s obsession with enormous buildings, it doesn’t seem too far fetched to imagine.
By Neal Stephenson
Published by Subterranean Press
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.