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Book Review: Seveneves

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Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

Straight up. This book is for Stephenson fans. It’s wordy. It’s descriptive. It has heroes on the spectrum. Readers will note familiar obsessions and in some cases even scenarios from their favorite books. There’s the same rational handling of science, psychology, craft you’ve come to expect.

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.

For everyone else, there’s your hook. It’s up there with the first sentence of Neuromancer or 1984. If it doesn’t stir something in you, a desire to read on, a curiosity about the context, then chances are you’re not a science fiction fan.

I’ll cop to being a fan of both. Stephenson has some recognizable, reliable signature moves. One of them is a tendency to geek out and lecture the audience. There were instances, like the lengthy explanation of a ship’s name and mission parceled out over sections but somehow nonetheless impatient with the reader to get it. So, he can’t resist explicitly linking the similarities of the mission, its intent, and the parallel tragedies. In that way, it’s a lot like Armada; a book which felt like a step backward by its author.

But, again, this is something Stephenson fans have to be used to, even eager for. The trouble comes, especially for the exoteric audience, with the heavy handedness of that mission or another section that begins, “So now was the time to learn about it.” Sure, the latter is self aware, but it doesn’t stop it being too in your face,

By contrast and example thspace warere’s a deft, clever Space War
reference that goes entirely unexplained and is much more fun. The bits left to the reader to recognize or not are at once better written and more enjoyable for their mystery. There are numerous puns and interior cross references. One of the most interesting involves the anagramming of a catastrophic acronym and the initials of one of the most problematic characters.

The five thousand year leap forward should be abrupt and discombobulating. and it is, for about a page. One of Neal Stephenson’s real skills lies in making the reader care about disparate individuals, groups, and in this case races with only a few paragraphs. And he allows the reader to assume knowledge of these latter characters having set up their ancient epic history.

All in all, I liked it. A lot. But, with the exception of REAMDE, I’ve consistently come away from Stephenson’s books disappointed in the endings. This one is no different. You’re left wanting more and he has no plans to continue the story. Certain political biases also leak into the text. Sociopolitical entities like Greenpeace or nations like Iran and Venezuela come off as little more than unexamined charicatures.

Still, Seveneves is practically a must for readers of hard scifi and space opera. The focus on character amid the specialized jargon is an excellent, tested tactic. You’ll know these people as well as you know the Shaftoes or the Forthrasts. And it’s basically seat of your pants excitement most of the way through.

Recommended for fans of Cosmos (either series), The Martian, and Schismatrix.

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