New SciFi: Neal Stephenson, Seveneves

Year of Publication: 2015
Subgenres: space, man++, apocalyptic, engineering-fi, long

The premise: The moon explodes. This happens in the first sentence. Things go downhill from there.

My experience: 

This is like 500 pages of unrelenting tension. In writing classes, they talk about the structure of a story as “Present a problem. Now make the problem worse…” The thing STARTS WITH the moon blowing up. And then it just gets worse. And worse. And worse. There’s no relief, just a slow, despairing descent into hell. I found myself yelling at the pages, even tweeting angrily about characters’ decisions. I couldn’t read right before bed or I’d have nightmares. At one point, I actually had to skip ahead and skim the end of a chapter.

But the last third of the book is much lighter. In fact, it undergoes the kind of massive shift in tone that scholars would look at and say “Oh, clearly this section was written later by another author.” It’s like the book ends two thirds of the way through, and the last third is an extended epilogue–or maybe half a sequel. I say half because it ends with the classic Stephenson “eh, you get the idea.”

There is a lot of hard science happening in this book. You will probably learn a lot about orbital mechanics, comets, chains, and so forth. There is also a lot of more fanciful science happening in this book–more toward the end, and definitely concentrated in the epilogue. But maybe that’s just to give us back some hope after the first part took it all away and stomped it into the ground.

I am really intrigued by Stephenson’s view of humanity here–not all the stuff about genetics, though that is interesting, but the picture of human nature being presented here. An extended discussion of this would involve major spoilers, but the summary is that even when faced with catastrophe, even when their lives depend on one another, humans are still divisive, exclusionary, petty, selfish, and violent. We rise to the challenges, oh yes–but we shoot ourselves in the foot several times along the way. I find it both refreshingly and depressingly realistic.

You should definitely read it. But… not right before bed.

BTW: The title won’t make sense for most of the book. But, as the internet says, when you see it…

PS: Someone should write a serious English-scholar paper on Sean Probst as messianic figure.

 

You would like this book if: You like space, but can’t decide if you like people or not

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