Just wow. I loved this book.
Before I go any further, I will say I didn’t think the book was perfect, and I know it’s not for everyone.
That said, the level of detail in this book is astounding. I’ve already said I like depth of information before, but this was unlike anything I’ve ever read (though I recognize there are other books out there like this, even some that will take things further).
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson isn’t the easiest book to explain, and that’s partly due to the description its given. Basically, the moon blows up and the Earth will become uninhabitable, so a mad dash is made to get a bunch of people in space and hope for the best. 5,000 years later, they return to Earth three billion strong.
This description does the book no good.
Seveneves is about how people interact with each other, with a heavy dose of physics along the way (along with other scientific disciplines, but physics is king).
Well, except math, but no one really cares about math.
In close to 900 pages (albeit read on Kindle), Stephenson lays out an epic (which is scarily enough in development to be a movie that will either be terrible or awesome depending on what it distills from the book). His parts and chapters aren’t laid out equally. You’re not dealing with how Tolkien built Lord of the Rings, with relatively equal sections of a six-part story (seriously, LOTR was just one book they couldn’t feasibly publish as one; how scary is that?).
We get three parts. In part one, we’re in preparation mode. This is where you first get to digest Stephenson’s storytelling erratic nature of going small chapter to gigantic chapter. Then you’re in part two, which is the biggest, where we’re completely in space making shit happen. And then you close with part three, which is just one 300-page chapter, where we’re back on Earth after a 5,000-year intermission.
I’ll cover the non-spoilers first, but we’ll have to get into the spoilers eventually.
First, the depth is amazing in this book. Stephenson does his research. I rarely read acknowledgements, but this is a book where you know one person did a lot of work and a lot of people were making sure the bits and pieces were logical. I learned more about surviving in a closed system than I have since Biodome with Pauly Shore and one of the other Baldwins.
Side note, I objectively recognize that Biodome was a terrible movie, but at 10, I thought it was the bomb, and I’m not convinced I wouldn’t like it at 30.
But back on topic.
The sheer amount of information in the book would astound mere mortals. Luckily, I know a physicist, so that made me more knowledgeable by proxy. Or not. Whatever. I wasn’t really paying attention.
This depth comes at a price. You don’t have a clean-cut story. The parts with people get taken up by the in-depth machinations going on to make sure the people don’t die. That said, no one person knows everything about everything. In an environment where everyone is an expert, that means that everyone is uneducated on each others’ disciplines, meaning they ask each other to explain things more simply (meaning the reader gets the simplified explanations as well; not a bad way to run things). It makes for a dense story that could easily be cut in half if you weren’t concerned with explaining the science. But that’s what makes it cool.
The book doesn’t forget about its people. At no point do you have objective decisions being made. Scientists are arguing with other scientists make the point of showing how personal bias clouds all of these situations (at one point a character acting as proxy for Neil deGrasse Tyson basically says all everyone’s arguments for a certain tactic show are the biases they came in with). It’s a refreshing take on not just the ethics of scientific exploration but the personal and sociocultural aspects as well.
The weak point for me is the story’s villains (though I suppose there could be a case made that they aren’t villains) and telegraphing punches. I’ll go in more depth later, but the villains feel shallow. We never get their POV, except one snippet, so we don’t know what makes them tick. As for the plot punches, Stephenson lays enough bread crumbs that sometimes you’ve got a whole loaf of bread telling you where it’s going. It might get scattered in the wind a little, but you can still tell where the trail leads a good ways away. The big reveal near the end felt a little shallow because it seemed to easy based on some of what was being given early on.
All in all, great book. This was my first Stephenson book, so I’ll probably dive into his back catalog at some point if I’m feeling brave and remember it in the midst of the 70-some odd books already in my queue (not to mention unread books I own and books I want to reread).
Ok, I want to talk about those telegraphed punches and the villains.
Near the end, we find out there are people who survived without leaving the planet. Two of the Eves (there are seven of them, hence the title) had loved ones making preparations to survive the ordeal, and we see that early on. They’re as plausible as going out into space, so it was a bit of low-hanging fruit. It’s interesting but wasn’t 100% necessary.
What makes it a little cheaper is that there were at least two sets who survived who just happen to have direct links to the Eves. At this point, random chance means there were probably other surviving civilizations. These weren’t necessarily THE BEST left on Earth. It was telegraphed a little too much, so maybe if I wasn’t already expecting it things would have landed better. But of the seven survivors, two had people making preparations and both sets survived.
Plot points in general were pretty much telegraphed throughout. You knew who was going to be a jerk. You knew who would save the day. And you knew who would get screwed over. Only one death was truly surprising. And it was a doozy.
The villains also pissed me off. At one point, one arrives illegally into space after signing a treaty saying she wouldn’t (throw her into space) with the corpse of a man who had a gun holster but the gun never turns up (search the lady, find the gun, and then throw her into space). She’s also allowed to be in contact with the person you already didn’t trust (keep them apart if you’re not going to throw them into space), and then she gets overrun by a rebellion run by psycho (for Pete’s sake, you don’t need them, let them float out in space forever so they don’t kill any more people). I might just be a cold, analytical person, but once someone makes a major breach in life-or-death events, you can’t trust them ever again. There will literally be 5,000 years of the same line of people starting shit over and over. It just doesn’t make sense. Throw them into space. Or at least tie them down like the did with Steve Buscemi’s character in Armageddon.
Ok, rant over. Like I said, I really did love the book. It got into my head entirely too much. The ideas would stay ruminating. The betrayals would pull be out of my almost-sleep when I was going to bed. And at one point I was picturing a character as a turtle (when the book deals with gene manipulation and you’re watching episodes of Bojack Horseman, you’re going to deal with neurons in your brain sending stray signal).
In short, great book. Worth the read if you can handle the mental and emotional weight of the story.