REVIEW: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

1/29/16
It’s FINALLY over.
Pros: great concept, good action sequences (when they happen), incredibly smart scientific development and world building.
Cons: Too f*cking long.

UPDATE 2/1/2016. See this review and others on Around the World in 80 Books!

Contains spoilers!!

I was drawn to this book because it was a sci-fi epic that explored the topic of “what if?” in a way that I thought would be engaging and fascinating. And I wasn’t disappointed at first. An unknown “Agent” strikes the moon, causing it to break into seven large pieces (not the basis for the title), and the pieces eventually spin into one another creating smaller fragments. This continues for two years until the entire atmosphere is covered in moon rock fragments and then begins the 3,000 years of hard rain, where the moon fragments eventually fall to earth, destroying the land and people on it. The world consensus is to build out the international space station (Izzy for short) and have roaming cloud arks that would house a majority of the population who would continue the human race, mostly young children and teenagers. This part of the two years of international panic and acceptance of death seems like the logical thought process that would happen in today’s society. We would want to preserve as much technology, history, culture, and identity of humanity as possible, but would be limited by time, and in many cases experience.

Much of the population on Izzy are scientists, including a character who is clearly based on Neil deGrasse Tyson, and we meet two Izzy scientists in the beginning of the novel who later go on to become “eves,” Dinah and Ivy, and the other “eves” are sent up into space before the hard rain. Dinah and Ivy are orbital mechanical engineers; Tekla is a Russian cosmonaut; Camila is a member of the general population who’s character is modeled after Malala Yousafzai; then there is Aida, a cloud ark child who was sent to breed and continue the human race; Julia, the former president of the United States; and Moria, the geneticist tasked with repopulating the world with the human genetic archive, without whom the decedents of the seven eves would not be possible. The women were the only ones who remained after a massive undertaking to move Izzy into a higher orbit in order to avoid the almost daily occurrence of space rocks hitting the structure. The eves use genetic manipulation to repopulate the space station and beyond. This is where meaning behind the title comes to life, a wonderful and fascinating concept in and of itself. And guess what, some of them are lesbians (Lesbians in Space! coming to a TV near you), and they all are different racial make-up, see, diversity! (All of which is background noise to the technological explanations that take up most of the book.)

The first 2/3 of the book is getting things into space, and getting the space station to a safe orbit. It is full of A LOT of scientific explanation that never seems to end. There’s a formula: the author starts by explaining the origins of the thing and it’s nickname, then how it’s applied to Izzy, then there’s about three seconds of character interaction, then back to more engineering explanation. The problem I have with this is the explanation is “telling rather than showing” and it sacrifices character development for the sake of scientific development that goes over my head. (In comparison, The Martian simplified it and made it easy to digest for the reader). I know the author put a lot of research into the book, almost to the point where it felt like a scientific journal rather than a novel, though there were points where the narrator made a joke to lighten the otherwise dense explanation. I wanted to feel a connection to the characters. When Dinah was messaging her father when he was going underground I wanted to feel sadness or loss. There never was a point where I was connected to her. Similarly, I never felt sad when people began dying on Izzy. There was a point where many people lost their lives, but the characters don’t take a second to absorb the loss (and this is only a comment on the people on Izzy and not the seven billion people who died on earth).

***************************SPOILERS!!!!!***********************************

The last 1/3 is pure world building, but again were bogged down with how the events of the past lead to one specific invention and so on and on and on. The races of the seven eves (and their sub-races) have divided into Red and Blue, and a group of Blues (comprised of all seven races) go down to earth to search for humans who may have survived underground for the past 5,000 years. These humans the Blue are searching for are descendants of Dinah’s father, who was a miner and created an underground ecosystem. What was also especially cool was that there was also a population of humans who lived under water! In the ocean!! The water people were descendants of Ivy’s fiance, who was a submarine captain. The point was proven that 5,000 years of human evolution is a long time and that humans are adaptable to their environments. This was my favorite part and I wished that more time was spent in this side of the narrative rather than the build up.

This time in the future also had it’s fair share of political and cultural nuances. For example, each race had it’s own greeting and each race usually grew up within the same culture, so stereotypes between races always were in the back of the minds of whoever’s perspective readers were in. The narrator was omniscient, but sometimes we would be in the head of one person in the group. (The switching between perspectives was bizarre, like when the author was explaining Kath Two’s relationship with Beled when they were quarantined, within two sentences it switched between both characters.)

In conclusion, the concept for the entire book is great, I loved the world building, the scientific exploration, and the action sequences (when they happened), but it was too damn long! It’s not that it’s difficult to read, it’s just the way it was explained made me want to fall asleep each time I picked it up. Good news is at no point did I get confused about what was happening, but it was just so frustrating to feel like I never moved forward with the narrative. Also, there are some lingering questions: 1) What was the agent? Did anyone in the future bother to study what caused the moon to explode in the first place? 2) Did the people of the cloud ark bound for Mars reach that location? I thought that part of the break away was bound for Mars, but we didn’t hear anything about them (I want to assume that the cloud ark failed and therefore the mission to Mars probably also failed.) When I’m explaining this book to other people they are on board with the concept, so I do recommend this with a grain of salt, and that is, make sure you have time to dedicate to reading this large, large novel.

View all my reviews

Around the World in 80 Books

0172c06cae96d48d774426e3135c348f742dc71468
By Heather A.

3 out of 5  stars   ★★★☆☆

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson William Morrow
Published May 19, 2015
Sci-fi

Synopsis:

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.


I was drawn to this book because it was a sci-fi epic that explored the topic of “what if?” in a way that I thought would be engaging and…

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