Neal Stephenson. Science Fiction. Palindromes. I’m in!
This was my thought pattern for about a month before this book came out. When it finally came I out, I pretty much devoured it as fast as I could. I’ve been a fan of Stephenson’s work since a friend gave me a copy of Snow Crash about 15 years ago. His works have gone up and down in story quality even if his writing has always been fairly top notch. Seveneves falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. If you like speculative fiction, you should love this book. If however, you’re looking for a plot that wows with its stunning climax drawing all the threads of the book together, keep looking. In fact, read Stephenson’s Anathem.
The main premise of Seveneves begins when the moon explodes for some uncertain reason. Why the moon has exploded doesn’t really matter that much when the protagonists realize that the moon fragments are going to burn up the Earth’s atmosphere in two years’ time. What matters is that most of the population of the Earth is going to die, and that to survive, a lot of people who are prepared to live for 5000 years off-planet need to get into space. Simple enough, right?
The first two-thirds of this book read like Apollo 13 for the whole human race. It’s fast paced, full of lots of really cool science and common sense. It gets the reader thinking about how they are going to survive massive calamities. Should I even take a toothbrush? Will my bad breath kill someone? Maybe the toothbrush can be a multi-purpose tool? Nah, just use your finger. But really, the author develops so many realistic scenarios that one believes that this exodus into space could really be accomplished. (Editor’s note: It can’t. We would all be toast.) The characters that are put in charge of this Herculean feat are alive and vivid – full of all the nuances you would expect out of them. The drama and suspense suck you in to turning page after page. Even when long explanations of things like “Lagrangian points” and “orbital mechanics” go on for way too long, it builds the intensity of what the extraterrestrial refugees have to go through. It becomes, literally, high drama. I found it very enjoyable.
The last third of the book is a denouement that wants to be its own story. It didn’t succeed. Without giving away any spoilers, it would be hard to divulge much, but the author gets involved in true speculation on a possible future. He develops a great world full of wonderful things, yet the storyline put forth here falls flat. It is if the plot is just a vehicle for world-building ideas. This reads more like a travelogue plus – “just a little bit of character interaction as I tour you around what I have thought up.” This is very unfortunate because up to this point the story had been quick and gripping. It becomes almost a quest of loyalty to the characters to finish the book. I would have felt better if the first part was released without the second part, and a follow up novel that was more thought out was written later.
Oh well, maybe Neal is trying to get some acclaim as a futurist like he did post-Snow Crash. He became renowned for his term Avatar and of his vision of an web-linked society presaging the Internet connected present. Maybe Seveneves will get more people to invest in asteroid mining. (I know I am.) However, my finishing thought was that a lot of really good conceptional work was done for a story that ended a little flat. It was solid writing throughout, it just needed a little more payoff to be top notch. A must read if you’re a Stephenson fan; otherwise, it might not check all your boxes.
5 stars out of 10.