Sunday, May 24, 2015


SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neal Stephenson writes in many different genres - historical fiction (The Baroque Cycle Collection), crime thrillers (Reamde) and cyberpunk (Snow Crash). My favorite of his is Cryptonomicon, which defies classification. Seveneves is pure hard science fiction.


The book begins in the present day, with the destruction of the moon by an unknown "agent" leaving it in large chunks. A scientist (clearly based on Neil deGrasse Tyson) determines that the subsequent creation of rocks caused by repeated collisions of the chunks will cause devastating meteor showers, eventually wiping out the earth. He sets the time frame for this at two years. This announcement sets into motion a desperate attempt to save the genomes of earth and its people. They build on the existing International Space Station, and select certain people to be saved by rocketing them there. Part one of the book deals with this effort.

Part two is what happens after the earth is wiped out, and humanity struggles to survive in space. This is where Stephenson explores a lot about politics and human motivations. It's almost exasperating to see humans perpetuate their little 'empire building' power trips, but it certainly seems realistic.

Part three is 5,000 years later, as humanity has spread out in orbit around Earth, and has started terraforming and colonizing the planet once again. This part was less exciting to me, as it seemed to just be an excuse for Stephenson to show off his 'cool' technology ideas. Don't get me wrong, they were cool ideas, but there was only minimal plot to move this section along.

Stephenson writes with great clarity, and the science used in the story is more than plausible. I was riveted by the first two parts of the book, despite all the technobabble. My only quibble with part one was the lack of societal breakdown caused by the impending doom of the world. He had people going to hotels and eating in restaurants during this time. You mean to tell me that housekeepers, chefs, waiters, and dishwashers would keep on going to work, day after day, knowing they'd all be dead in less than two years? There was a bit of unrest around those who were selected to be saved in space, but there was a real lack of the chaos I would expect under the circumstances. Part of this may have been a plot choice - adding additional chaos on earth would have slowed down the main story - but since all the science and politics seemed so realistic, this lack was pretty glaring for me. However, this is a minor quibble, and I would still recommend this to any science fiction fan, or those who like post-apocalyptic fiction.

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