Published May 19 2015
Seveneves. Palindromes are awesome. So is this novel. In Seveneves, the world is ending. Not some vague time in the future, but in two years. And no, there will be no lucky survivors; the atmosphere is going to burn up, the oceans will evaporate and the surface of the planet will be sterilized. And guess what? Everyone knows it’s going to happen; no grand conspiracies… the fact that the moon has exploded and the Earth is doomed cannot be kept secret.
Yes that’s right, the moon blows up. This book gets you straight into the action in the very first sentence. “The moon blew up with no warning and for no apparent reason” is the first line of Seveneves, and damn, what a hook. From there we are drawn into a race against time to remodel the International Space Station into a ‘Cloud Ark’ to save a fraction of the human race. Meeting the characters who work to save the human race, and watching them turn a space station into a place where humanity can live for five thousand years is a lot of fun. Stephenson has done a lot of research into how this could be done, and it really shows.
Maybe it shows too much in some places. Remember that old “Show, don’t tell” advise? Well, Stephenson threw that right out the window. Early on, we meet Dinah, a robotics expert on the ISS, who works for an asteroid mining company. There is also an asteroid attached to the ISS now, and reading through pages and pages of backstory about where Dinah grew up and how the asteroid got captured, I begun to ask just what I had got myself into. There are so many huge info dumps in this book, and normally that is a big no-no for me. But, I stuck with it, and found that I quite enjoyed a lot of the info dumps about the technology and orbital mechanics needed to understand how the cloud ark works. Most of them; some were just way too long and detailed, and I would have preferred not having characters be introduced this way. Also, me liking the info dumps only applies to the first two thirds of the book. As for the rest, well I’ll come back to that later.
For now, let’s make it clear that whilst I found this book to be an eight, a quick browse through Goodreads or Amazon will reveal that some reviewers disagreed totally with me. There are reviews ranging from five stars to one star; you either love this book or you hate it. Or, you love the first two thirds and hate the last part. A lot of this has to do with those big info dumps, and also that the technical details seem to come at the expense of the characters. Also, the info that Stephenson dumps on us isn’t always that clear, or at least wasn’t to a layman like me. A lot of it did go over my head.
I’ve been dancing around that last third of the book, and now I better get to it. Put simply, I didn’t like the third part of this book. I suppose I could look at it as getting two books in one, but I would have rather just had a detailed epilogue to the first book to be honest. It was interesting seeing the world humanity had created in the remains of the moon, but it didn’t really feel convincing. Not from a technical standpoint; there were info dumps everywhere for that. Way too many of them, and while some parts were still interesting (their ‘guns’ were awesome, and hearing about what happened to the characters from the first part of the book was always welcome) most of the technology porn went right over my head. Partly because I just don’t care about every intimate step of a ship docking to a space station.
The worst part about these later info dumps however, was that they were a lot more intrusive here than in the first parts of the book. Conversations get put on hold to explain things, and the action is too slowly paced for this to be overlooked.
The story of the third part of Seveneves is pretty much this: Something strange is happening. One character decides to get together a group of people to do something. He doesn’t tell them what that mission is though, until after pages and pages of travelling to their destination. Once the purpose of the mission is revealed, then things start to get interesting… but by then, we’re 85% of the way through the book. The story ends just as it’s getting interesting, and the ending isn’t satisfactory. All in all, I’m disappointed with that last third of the book.
Despite those problems, Seveneves is still an amazing story. I found the book hard to put down, and the ideas it raised were very interesting. There were a lot of epic plotlines, such as Tekla’s rescue and the Ymir expedition, and the premise is something that I’m still thinking about even after finishing the book. If you like your Science Fiction hard, then you’ll love Seveneves.