Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Published: William Morrow & Company (May 19, 2015)
Posted: Goodreads (Jun 3, 2016)
(4 / 5)
Seveneves is split in two parts. One tells the story of the world ending and humanity’s last efforts to preserve the human race. The second is epic story of returning to one’s home thousands of years later.
While I’m a huge fan of Neal Stephenson (Anathem, Reamde, Snow Crash, Diamond Age, Cryptonomicon, to name a few), Seveneves wasn’t easy for me to get through.
The first half of the novel was terrific and I enjoyed the characters and their story. I almost knew I would since I’m a fan of apocalyptic stories. I’m also a huge fan of info dumps and hard science fiction. But the second half of the novel fell flat for me.
If you’re a fan of the same characters I am – Dinah, Doc and Tekla – chances are you’re going going to struggle with the second half’s team at first. They’re cool but their personalities take time to surface. Try to stick with it. Kath’s personality really blossoms during the latter chapters of part two… it just takes way too long to get there.
I really enjoyed the ideas present in the novel. The whole use of social media during an impending disaster shown as well as the follow-up to that in part two. Interesting questions were raised. The world was changed. The denizens of the habitation ring don’t use social media in the same way (for reasons that would constitute a spoiler). Life preserved where it is in part two was smart, well thought out, the follow through made for some good reading. Good ideas but not quite on par with previous works.
A huge weakness in Seveneves is the science. I realize that one of my favorite authors – Neal Stephenson – is into architecture and engineering lately. But the only major science or math worth noting in this novel has to do with the construction of linked chains (and how to effectively use them). Not the bioengineering used to preserve the human race and not the cultivation of plants to use as sources of food. Not even modern drone use, maybe 5% robotics. The novel mentions some cool technologies, it just doesn’t focus on them.
Please don’t misunderstand me: I’m all for light tech dumps as well as hard ones. Reamde didn’t have as many as Stephenson’s other novels, but something more than slingshot whipping drone-linked chains would have been more interesting to me. The future in 4,000 years feels more antiquated than what we’re used to. This technological gap is explained nicely but there’s so much that should have been explored that wasn’t. Instead we get chain links and some small amount of genetic engineering (or the results of genetic engineering after thousands of years).
For all of the negatives I’ve front loaded onto this review, I really liked the novel. While it isn’t his best (far from it), his voice is there. His storyline, word choice, writing style, big issues that only a nerd can solve, are all there!
The technology – while it wasn’t explored as in-depth as in past Stephenson novels – just plain rocked when used to solve problems. There’s a few surprises on earth that has something to do with technologically influenced evolution and those parts are really cool.
Since Dinah first used drones for repairs to the overhauled ISS, they’ve become ubiquitous in 4,000 years later. Besides forming chains, drone-like components can he fired from weapons and used as smart projectiles. There’s also a Stargate style “glowing shaft in air” low orbit elevator system. The eye and the snap-and-live cradle are all neat ideas, too.
In a sense, one of the greatest strengths of Seveneves is the psychology of the characters. Every character from part one to the genetically altered post-humans in part two, raise deep seeded psychological questions. Kath’s – as mentioned before – has the most noticeable changes (essentially paradigm/personality shifts to support new concepts and explore new ways of living). But even the Eves were designed with great skill: their psychological wants, desires, views of society and humanity actually influence the future.
But there are missed opportunities that have little to no rationale. One group of survivors are completely discarded. What could have been an even cooler part two was replaced with some meaningless sexual tension between characters.
A lot of pros and cons center around what occurs on Earth in part two. While I’m not at liberty to say what they are (spoilers), I will say that the conclusion is very Anathem-like. A high note. Does it make up for a lot of goofy and unnecessarily long revelations on Earth? Since Anathem is one of my favorite novels, yes, it did redeem itself.
This novel is not one of Stephenson’s better works but it *is* an enjoyable read most of the time. Good storytelling, fairly good plot development, and the strong use of description saves this from a boring 3 stars. If you’re willing to keep an open mind – and if you liked Anathem – you’ll probably enjoy Seveneves. 4/5