Book - Seveneves


Nate McKenzie awaits the annihilation of Earth again as he reads Seveneves by Neal Stephenson...

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

If that opening sentence doesn't grab you, don't bother reading Seveneves (or the rest of this review).

It took me almost three months to read Neal Stephenson's newest epic[1]. Admittedly, I am a slow reader, but the reason it took some time to finish is that this book is incredibly dense.

As an avid fan of End of the World stories in all medium, Seveneves immediately struck me as one of the most original visions of the genre that I have ever encountered. The moon explodes, via an unknown force dubbed The Agent, and humanity is transfixed, gazing in wonderment at the scene floating above them. That is, until experts determine that the fragments of our former moon will eventually begin to fall to Earth, scorching the atmosphere and destroying the surface during an event they dub The Hard Rain. Our home, they conclude, will become uninhabitable for a period of almost 5000 years.

What follows is an expertly detailed speculation on how that situation might play out. Thousands of individuals from Earth are selected for transport to an in-flux space habitat derived from the International Space Station. There, the inhabitants begin preparations for The Big Ride; in which they land the makeshift vessel on one of the moon fragments in order to establish the foundation of (they hope) the future descendants of humanity.

Stephenson, a former advisor for Blue Origin (founded by Jeff Bezos) and current Chief Futurist for Magic Leap (a VR startup), is as brilliant in his vision as he is meticulous with the details. Many times throughout the novel the action and dialogue would be churning along smoothly, engagingly, and then stumble into a five page etymological history relating to a character's use of one particular word. Other times, the breadth of the technological exactness felt like reading the user manual for Star Trek's transporter. One doesn't care how it teleports, only that it does and how it progresses the action further.

I realize that sounds like a neophyte's gripe with Stephenson's far superior knowledge of technology and, truthfully, that's exactly what it is. I appreciated the precision of the descriptions but they were often overwhelming and removed my mindset from the plight of those struggling to survive. At one point, at the end of Part Two and the start of Part Three, I myself struggled to survive through the rest of the book. I found myself skimming through pages searching for dialogue or bits of action to entice me to keep reading. More than once I considered closing the book and giving up. [2]

But the beauty and expanse of the story's reach kept me trudging along. I am supremely glad it did.

The first two parts of Seveneves is a mix of pre-post-apocalyptic preparation and science-fact melding with plausible science-fiction, intertwined with an exploration of humanism and our ideological connections to one another.

Part Three is an entirely different species. [3]

The descendants of those that survived the initial destruction of the Earth still live in space as our home planet is being re-terraformed (by a company cleverly named TerReForm). This is where the story deviates from a reality-based SciFi forecast to a fantasy realm. In truth, Part Three felt like a forced afterthought; a way to wrap up the story with a neat little bow. Yet once I got through the mire of over-explaining that permeated the book, Part Three became my favourite section of the entire novel.

Seveneves has the epic vastness of The Lord of the Rings trilogy surrounded by the high-tech scaffolding of Interstellar. Think, the Total Perspective Vortex in Hitchhiker's Guide: everything that exists is right before your eyes, but only in theory.

The journey in Seveneves begins and ends on Earth but when it is over, you feel as if you've travelled light-years away and back, rather than just a few thousand years forward.

[1] Coincidentally, today (the day I finished the book and the day I am writing this review) is the 47th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon.

[2] I've only failed to finish one book in my life: The Circle. Although, Steve Taylor-Bryant felt quite different about that book than I did.

[3] You'll get this joke if you read the book.


Image - Amazon