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Seveneves Paperback – May 17, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of May 2015: Stephenson is not afraid of writing big books—big in page count, big in concept, and big in their long-lingering effect on the reader’s mind. Newcomers to Stephenson should reject any trepidation. This science-fueled saga spans millennia, but make no mistake: The heart of this story is its all-too-human heroes and how their choices, good and ill, forge the future of our species. Seveneves launches into action with the disintegration of the moon. Initially considered only a cosmetic, not cosmic, change to the skies, the moon’s breakup is soon identified as the spawning ground of a meteor shower dubbed the Hard Rain that will bombard Earth for thousands of years, extinguishing all life from the surface of the planet. Now humanity has only two years to get off-world and into the Cloud Ark, a swarm of small, hastily built spaceships that will house millions of Earth species (recorded as digital DNA) and hundreds of people until they can return home again. But who goes, and who stays? And once the lucky few have joined the Cloud Ark, how will the remaining seeds of humankind survive not only the perils of day-to-day of life in space but also the lethal quicksand of internal politics? Slingshot pacing propels the reader through the intricacies of orbit liberation points, the physics of moving chains, and bot swarms, leaving an intellectual afterglow and a restless need to know more. An epic story of humanity and survival that is ultimately optimistic, Seveneves will keep you thinking long past the final page. --Adrian Liang--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“No slim fables or nerdy novellas for Stephenson: his visions are epic, and he requires whole worlds-and, in this case, solar systems-to accommodate them....Wise, witty, utterly well-crafted science fiction.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Stephenson’s remarkable novel is deceptively complex, a disaster story and transhumanism tale that serves as the delivery mechanism for a series of technical and sociological visions… there’s a ton to digest, but Stephenson’s lucid prose makes it worth the while.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“The huge scope and enormous depth of the latest novel from Stephenson is impressive… a major work of hard sf that all fans of the genre should read.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“Well-paced over three parts covering 5,000 years of humanity’s future, Stephenson’s monster of a book is likely to dominate your 2015 sf-reading experience.” (Booklist)
“[Stephenson] plays with hard ballistics, hard genetics, hard sociology. And what thrills me, is that he makes it interesting. That he makes life and death in space about actual life and death .” (NPR Books)
“Written in a wry, erudite voice...Seveneves will please fans of hard science fiction, but this witty, epic tale is also sure to win over readers new to Stephenson’s work.” (Washington Post)
“Seveneves offers at once [Stephenson’s] most conventional science-fiction scenario and a superb exploration of his abiding fascination with systems, philosophies and the limits of technology.… Stephenson’s central characters, mostly women, serve as a welcome corrective to science-fiction clichés.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Seveneves can be fascinating. . . . Insights into the human character shine like occasional full moons.” (Boston Globe)
“[A] novel of big ideas, but it’s also a novel of personalities, of heart, and of a particular kind of hope that only comes from a Stephenson story. Science fiction fans everywhere will love this book.” (BookPage)
“Stephenson… knows the life-sustaining power of storytelling, since storytelling is what he does…Today’s post-apocalyptic stories routinely aim to convey the loss of the old world through the personal losses of a few characters. Stephenson makes you feel the loss of Earth on the scale it deserves.” (Salon)
“This is hard sci-fi in a real and welcome sense, ruled by unremitting physical laws, unlike the negotiable rules of the action thriller.” (Nature)
“Stephenson’s storytelling style combines the conversational and the panoramic, allowing him to turn his piercing gaze on the familiar aspects of a strange future, encompassing the barely conceivable detail by detail.” (Seattle Times)
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Seveneves is an 880 page novel, ostensibly about a very near-future catastrophe where the world must work together in a short amount of time to build out an orbiting habitat (using the ISS as a core), to save what tiny fraction they can of the human race. As you can imagine, this rush to save the essence of humanity is a perfect stage to explore every near-future space technology and Stephenson takes every opportunity to do so. And then some.
Unlike Cryptonomicon, for example, where the Turing code-break/world net/Axis gold story lines are different enough for the reader to enjoy or slog through, the technology in Sveneves is so dense, so similar in purpose, and so relentless, it’s easy for one’s eyes to glaze over. A six page description of delta-V and how to achieve it might be interesting in and of itself, if it weren’t part of many, many more pages of orbital mechanics and how to use a nuclear reactor to power a space-borne craft. And although the subjects he deeply delves into range from genetics, to asteroid mining, water from comets as propellant, and zero-g sex, these components are all in service to a very specific technology problem the survivors are trying to solve.
The first two-thirds of the book relate the challenges of creating the habitat and stabilizing its existence. Unfortunately, the story is but a mere framework on which to hang gobs of technical dissertation, and the characters are poorly formed, used only as chess pieces around which the technology can orbit. No matter how much you may adore hard SF (and Stephenson admits he did play fast and loose with bits of the tech), Seveneves ends up reading, for the most part, like transcribed lectures.
The last third of the book, when the survivors can finally return to Earth, exalts similarly in forward-derivative tech, although the story itself picks up a little more steam. The ending is meh and satisfactory only in that it is an ending.
The secret to Seveneves, however, is spelled out in the author’s five pages of acknowledgements at the end. He tells how he started developing ideas for the book in 2006, and lists the huge cadre of techies, space scientists and enthusiasts, and geeks that helped him vet any number of ideas in his book. The real telling line, comes at the end when he thanks his editor for her patience with him while he spent seven years deciding what to do with all these ideas. To me, that’s tech in search of a story and that’s exactly what you get in Seveneves.
Many reviewers either loved it because it was NEAL STEPHENSON, while many just stopped reading and tossed it on the floor. When I realized less than half way through that I really fell into the latter camp, I nevertheless struggled through to the end because I adore Stephenson’s snarky prose, which is definitely on point. I gave the book three stars, though it really deserves two and a half stars because you have to admire a writer with his cojones to put this out.
Should you read Seveneves? If you’re a Stephenson nut, you can’t not read it. If you’re new to Stephenson, stay away and try some of his earlier books from the 1990s. He is no doubt a very fine writer and I would hate to have a newbie be influenced by what I hope is a vanity project that has emptied Stephenson’s pent-up rolodex of very near-future space tech, and that his next book is more accessible.
The hard science bits hooked me. The first 2/3 of the book had me turning the pages. But the second part of the book...I never really got in to it. It felt tacked on, and much more hand-wavey with things. I don't want to put spoilers in here but that part I could have done without. It's a monster of a book as it is. Breaking it apart into a series might have worked out better.
And as usual with a Stephenson novel, he doesn't do endings well. It felt supremely abrupt, really right at the point I started to get interested in what came next.
I'll keep buying his books, because they're extremely well written and they're generally in my wheelhouse on type. I don't think this is his best one though.
Seveneves is as well researched as it is imaginative, a trait familiar to readers of hard-science fiction. If you read the acknowledgements you'll get a taste of the collaboration involved between Stephenson and a host of scientists/engineers/etc to ground the book in the laws of our universe. Which is insane considering it features ideas like giant space hammers used to extract individuals from the earth's surface.
The common complaint about Seveneves I've read is readers don't like the exploration and explanation of human society when the story moves 5000 years into the future about half way through the book. If you're an SF fan, it'll likely be your favorite segment of the story. If not, and you've picked up this book because you found it on Barack Obama's summer reading list or something, here's my advice:
Treat it like a restaurant who's cultural cuisine you've never had, but comes highly recommended by its community. It may be unfamiliar, it may confuse your established ideas of what makes a meal, but you might just grow to understand and even crave something completely new. At least in this case, the chef really knows what he's doing.
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