Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
I think Neil Stephenson is a good writer. I’m not sure if he’s a great writer and Seveneves is a perfect example of why. This isn’t a book I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t read Neil Stephenson before. He simply has better work, but it isn’t something I’d warn anyone away from if they find the idea interesting either. It’s an interesting narrative and a lot of technical information that can sometimes bury the narrative. It’s hard science fiction that from time to time seems to make decisions based on what’s best for the story rather than what is most likely to happen. All that is to say it’s a mixed bag of a book.
The basic premise of Seveneves is one of my favorite parts of the book. At its most basic something has fractured the moon into a number of pieces. At first this is odd but not a major problem, but soon they recognize the true issue. The pieces of the moon are breaking into smaller pieces and each time they break up there are more pieces to collide. Thanks to exponential growth they figure out that in only a few years they will have become a cloud of rocks that will begin to hit the earth at a rate high enough to superheat the atmosphere and kill everyone on the planet.
From there the remainder of the story is simply about humanity trying to survive. There are a couple of possibilities and this focus on sending people into space. And it doesn’t shy away from pointing out how difficult this would be. From the massive engineering project it would be to send any significant about of people and supplies into orbit to the problems of radiation and of course moon rocks.
All of this is interesting, but at points there is simply too much detail. He spends many pages describing different types of spacesuit, the mechanics of links in a chain, orbital mechanics and a lot of other things that while interesting are often in a bit too much detail and if you don’t like detail oriented hard science fiction it’s going to be a problem for you. In addition about two thirds of the way through the story there is a major shift that could bother some people while other people have said that they get a bonus story. I’m about halfway in the middle of that. The last part of the book is important but it has some weaknesses as well.
Overall I enjoyed Seveneves and if you’ve read a lot of Neil Stephenson and enjoyed his other stories you know what you’re getting probably going to enjoy it as well. But if you have read Diamond Age or Snow Crash and didn’t really enjoy those you’re unlikely to like Seveneves because as interesting as it is it isn’t as good as those.