So I read this over the summer as I was excited to read some good science fiction–and I was hoping for some epic, space-opera, big idea, narratives with a lot of character development and nuanced plot-complexity; most of which Stephenson is known for. And with Seveneves (pronounce it however you’d like) Stephenson does most of the above.
The novel uses an apocalyptic device to get the proverbial ball rolling, or in this case breaking: an unknown (and never explained) Agent strikes our moon, fragmenting it and beginning a reaction which puts our extinction on a very short clock. This section of the book was one of the best parts for me–asking how we as a species might deal with our own ends, our own devastation. And Stephenson builds some pretty believable characters–Ivy, Dinah, Moira, Doc Dubois–all of which feel believable and warm and real. My only real complaint here is that Doc Dubois feels as if Neil Degrasse-Tyson
was just copied and pasted into him, which makes me think that Stephenson is looking for a movie deal, but even so, his character made a few decisions which surprised me and had enough depth to maintain interest.
From this difficult beginning, the novel, essentially, follows a human versus nature trajectory with the eventual mass extinction on Earth’s end and the brutal (and I am not kidding here), BRUTAL living conditions of those we frantically try to throw into space. Seriously, some of these ships are like water tanks spinning through space with anything we can stuff in (including people. Imagine if I said, “your house is going to be vaporized in 5 minutes, pack what you can and get it out;” that’s sort of what happens to us on a global scale). Of course politics come into play as does global violence and first-world privilege, and these, while disheartening, feel realistic.
Without giving anything away, the end of the novel fast forwards five thousand years presenting what humanity has become. Stephenson deftly employs flashbacks via video footage and cultural history to explain some of these changes without having to plod through 5,000 years of storytelling. And for the most part it works really well–we learn about the repercussions of one episode of space-madness, the surprise results of one accident, etc. In fact, I am now somewhat reminded of Jenny Holzer’s piece “You Live the Surprise Results of Old Plans;” except now the old plans were extremely vital and ill-considered. The only criticism I have–and it may not be a detriment for all readers–is that the conclusion feels a little rushed. The end of the story takes up the last third of the book, and is exciting as it showcases a new human civilization returning to our healing planet, but I feel as if it should have been a second book in a two volume set.
All in all, if you are a fan of Stephenson’s writing, you’ll already give this a shot, but this is not the Baroque Cycle–this feels much more like a one-off, with a straight-forward linear narrative that really wants to be a movie. Nonetheless, Stephenson is a good writer and I recommend the book for some well-crafted, science-heavy, speculative fiction. It’s available in the library, and I look forward to hearing what you think!