Mar 31, 2015

SEVENEVES, by Neal Stephenson (May 2015)

Yes, Neal Stephenson's penchant for unpronounceable names once again rears its head. For this one, think "Seven Eves," which also gives you a nice hint about the book's subject matter. So get this: the moon explodes. Don't freak out, this literally happens in the first sentence of this 860-page science fiction epic. Not only does the moon explode, but its untimely demise ushers in a 5,000 year period of an uninhabitable Earth. What ever is the human race to do?? The solutions fall into three categories: deep water, deep underground, and - the option we follow in the book - space. The International Space Station, already home to a few Russian and American astronauts and scientists, becomes the ark upon which the survival of humanity is thrown. With every resource put into getting people and supplies into orbit, a few thousand people are saved along with a vast genetic storehouse.

Most of the book is a painstakingly detailed description of the time from Day Zero, when the moon explodes, to the time several years after that when only eight women remain of the human race, seven of whom are capable of bearing children. Hence the title. The book reminds me of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars series. It's hard sci fi, not for consumption by people who care little for the scientific realities and possibilities inherent in the genre. Though I love hard sci fi for its believability and realism, this was a little too much exposition for my taste. Particularly in the last section, which takes place 5,000 years after Day Zero, there is too much description of the technology and not enough focus on the story. I can see it becoming a slog for many except the most dedicated sci fi readers. That being said, I found Stephenson's ideas of this future space-based technology, as well as the genetic evolution of humanity, totally fascinating, if a bit long-winded in parts.

Again, I come up against the issue of successful authors being given too much leeway, for it seems that editors are loathe to mess with a winning formula. The result is very long books, a la "The Luminaries" and "The Goldfinch," in a culture that increasingly values succinctness. People will buy this book because it's by Neal Stephenson; many will like it, but many will find it too long and slow to bother with, and that's sad. He really is a wonderful writer, and it really is a great book...I just wish there were slightly less of it.

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