Friday, July 10, 2015
Seveneves Book Review
So I finished reading Neal Stephenson's Seveneves.
It was weird.
This was a book so radically weird that it contained all the following things: randomly exploding moons, white Neil deGrasse Tyson, stupid politics and politicians, boring "recreational" sex, yoga pants made of nano-bots, butch lesbian ex-Soviet cosmonaut/spies, hockey-stick graphs, dry physics lectures, Bhutanese kidnappings, nuking a third world country for not believing scientific consensus, trans-humanist self-cannibals, regular cannibals who blame their cannibalism on being bipolar, Tumblr In Spaaaaaaace, punitive tongue piercing, in-vitro ethnic cleansing, asexual human reproduction, and a plotline "twist" that conveniently skips 5000 years.
:: SPOILERS ::
And in case that's not confusing enough, the gist is this: the moon explodes for no reason. The moon rocks threaten rain down on earth, eventually. Humanity tries to escape to near earth orbit aboard a hastily expanded ISS held together with duct tape and bailing wire. Literally. Shenanigans and suicidal cosmonauts ensue, Venezuela gets preemptively nuked for no good reason just days ahead of the whole world getting bathed in rocks the size of Virginia. A guy who sounds suspiciously like Elon Musk steals a comet, straps a nuke to it, and rides it around the solar system to deliver water to near earth orbit. Meanwhile the president of the United States tries to take control of the remaining human population in space before being defeated by a psychotic lesbian cannibal who is one of only 8 survivors at the end, all of whom are female and none of whom are pregnant at that point. Obviously, nobody thought of the fact that a human race doomed to extinction should probably ditch the condoms and start making babies pronto. The 8 ladies pilot their space station to relative safety and then start fighting about eugenics until one of their number threatens to end the entire human race with a convenient hunk of C4 if they don't all shut up already. Then it cuts to 5000 years in the future and there's magically 3 billion people living in orbit who finally discover that some of the humans on the planet actually survived 5000 years of falling rocks, lava, and the burning of the planet's entire atmosphere. Then they fight about it. Surprise!
My opinion is that this book has way too much going on. I imagine Neal couldn't get a publisher to agree to a 7 book series, which is what this should have been. He goes heavy on the science, as this is supposed to be a hard science fiction book, but by the third act it's become completely unsustainable and he jettisons the existing characters, plotline, and situation to skip forward thousands of years. I won't spoil too much more, but the foreshadowing leading up the end was remarkably heavy handed.
This book could have been far more interesting if it had the space to spread out, get comfortable, and take its time. I felt like the pacing was great for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of the book, but then the characters seem to get abandoned as the author takes us on a long slog though some physics which are supposed to build the tension. To be fair, the physics lectures are much simpler than they could have been, conveying in as concise a way as possible just exactly how precarious the human race's situation is.
The biggest disappointment in all of this is that he starts to build likable and realistic characters and then abandons them to fantasize about how cool orbital physics, genetic engineering, and 3d printing are and showing how technology will save the human race after literally everything else gets screwed up.Which admittedly is kinda neat to watch... the first couple times.
Sure, it was a page turner. I didn't want to put it down. But mostly because it was like watching Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus. The stakes were so high and the characters so flat that it beggared belief, but I still needed to see what 21st century "disruptive technology" would be next on the list to save humanity's skin.
I wouldn't probably read the book a second time. It might make a fun summer blockbuster, in which critics would complain that the after-credits scene just skips 5000 years ahead and ruins any chance of making a sequel that's any good.