I’m a bit of a science fiction fan and I tend to enjoy Neil Stephenson’s work. I consider Cryptonomicon to be a truly classic novel. The research that Stephenson ha dot have done is just phenomenal. The writing style is fascinating as well. There are truly laugh-out-loud hilarious passages that go on for pages and yet, others really convey the horrors of World War II.
But to read Stephenson, you have to be in it for the long haul. The paperback of Cryptonomicron is 928 densely-packed pages. A lesser author could have easily cut that down to 500 pages, but the impact wouldn’t have been the same. Needless to say, I really enjoy the book. It’s one of the dozen or so that have a permanent memory block in my Kindle.
Seveneves is of a similar type. You need to be prepared for the long haul, but I didn’t find it as entertaining a book as Cryptonomicron. The problem is that really, this is two completely separate books and neither one is that good.
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD: YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
The Moon blows up. That’s the whole deal. A few of you might remember the class 80s cartoon Thunder the Barbarian. Like that cartoon, the moon is destroyed. No one knows how or why or even has the least idea what happened, but the results will be global devastation.
Humanity must DO SOMETHING. And here’s where it starts to go off the rails for me. There’s some neat ideas in this “saving humanity” section, which is about 2/3rds of the book. But they are… less than optimal. I can think of better systems, using the same basic ideas, as Stephenson did here. There’s some good ideas, but they are purposefully flawed. And it’s painfully obvious that they are.
If you’ve read Stephen Baxter, you know the kind of hard science, but ultimately doomed thing I’m talking about here. The first 2/3rds is almost like reading a technical journal. It’s very dry. Honestly, until the major-plot-point-that-was-so-obvious-I-would-have-been-more-surprised-had-it-not-happened appeared, I couldn’t have cared less about any of the main characters… which, in respect is a good thing. They died. All of them, except for the titular characters. Seven Eves, get it?
Then there’s this sudden shift to 5,000 years in the future. There is a complete ring of multi-million person habitats around the Earth. There are orbital pinwheels, gliders that can fit into a backpack yet get a single passenger into orbit (with the pinwheel), an entire city that can be lowered from orbit to rest on Earth for a short time.
So humans survived…
WARNING MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
And this is where is goes completely off the rails. In space, humanity was literally reduced to 7 women, who ended up repopulating the entire human races several hundred million strong. The Earth was almost completely destroyed…except for a group miners that managed to dig deep enough and figured out a way to survive for 5,000 years… and a group of people who are members of the submarine service of various Earth militaries who put together a deep sea survival plan in the Marianas Trench which never quite totally evaporated (surviving several hundred years of meteorite strikes) the whole time.
Again, it was almost painfully obvious from the first hundred pages of the book that the miners would survive. The submarine thing was mentioned once as well. So, it’s good that all these groups survived, but then, what’t he point of the story? At the end of the first section, we had 7 known survivors of Homo sapiens. At the end of the book, we had 9 sub-species of humans (including the miners which were the most like the root humans).
There’s this whole massive threat and, we realize, at the end, how non-threatening it really was.
I will say that Stephenson emphasizes how it was the actions of a few people that resulted in the seven space-based survivors. That’s almost too realistic for me.
It wasn’t a bad book, but it was extremely predictable almost boring in a way. It’s only that Stephenson is such a talented writer that I kept going. It’s like a romance novel or watching the old A-Team series (or almost any 80s TV series). You know exactly what will happen, there’s just some manner of interest in how it will happen. When you’re 12, it’s pretty awesome. When you’re 42 it’s just stale.