Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

So I don't generally read hard sci fi books written for grown-ups that are 861 pages long, but I'm not opposed to doing so (I enjoyed lots of sci fi for grown-ups back in the 1980s and 90s*), and I was rather pleased to receive a review copy of Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson (William Morrow, May 2015), and plunged right in.

The premise is great--the moon gets shattered into seven chunks, and at first this seems ok--seven bits of moon in a cluster instead of one big moon.  But then it becomes clear that the seven chunks are going to bash into each other in an exponentially shattering rate, and all those bits of moon are going to come crashing down onto earth in a "hard rain" of planetary destruction.   So humanity looks to space to provide a home for future generations, until the hard rain ceases and earth can be re-seeded.  The space station becomes the nucleus for a colony, populated by a mix of scientists and engineers who are there because of their technological know-how, and young people of many lands who are there to make babies.

It is not smooth sailing in space.  Things go wrong both on the technological side of things and the social, and by the end of the first few years, there are only seven "Eves" left to be the mothers of space humanity....And then we jump through the ensuing five millenniums to the point where Earth is ready to be recolonized, and the descendants of those Eves come down to their old homeland...

So a very interesting story.  I regret to say, though, that Stephenson's style does not work for me.  There are pages and pages of scientific exposition.  I don't mind some technical detail to give me a sense of what's happening, but all I need is enough to get a general idea that things make sense.  I don't care How the orbital mechanics of things in space work (and likewise, if there's magic in a book, I can accept "magic" without to much exposition about where it comes from and how it works).  Stephenson really goes overboard on spelling out the hard science.  By around page 400 or so I realized that I would never finish unless I skimmed the pages and pages in which no person talks, and it's all just explanation of what was happening in space, or long long passages about the specifics of how the genetics of the seven Eves played out (in many more words than I thought were needed).   There was a lot of Telling here, and the characters seem more like inserts into the science, than the science providing the stage on which the characters can truly come alive.

So the the part of sci fi epics that I most enjoy--the human and cultural elements playing out (as opposed to being explained by the author) isn't the strong point of this book.  There were some fascinating characters, who I cared about, but I couldn't quite shake the sense that they were pieces being moved on the board of the grand scheme of things by the author.  Of course, they were pieces being moved by fate and the force of circumstance, but still.  This wasn't deeply satisfying social anthropological sci fi, even when they do make it back to Earth  (I was especially unconvinced by the social and cultural changes and (more glaring) lack thereof that happened during 5,000 years, which weren't all that speculative).    So not one for me....and yet I kept reading, fascinated by the epic scope...If you do like the science of a story spelled out in detail, you may well like this one lots!

*just for context--my favorite sci-fi for adult authors off the top of  my head are Ursula Le Guin, Sheri Tepper, and David Brin. 

Disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.


  1. sounds like a mashup of The Passage and The Martian. too sciency for me.

  2. Yeah, I've heard that Neal Stephenson can get heavy on the explaining. XKCD has a cartoon about how many made-up words is too many, and I believe the alt-text on the cartoon specifically calls out Neal Stephenson's Anathem.

    (Just checked. I did remember correctly. https://xkcd.com/483/)


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