Neal Stephenson - Seveneves


Neal Stephenson has a thing with old-fashioned clocks missing counterweights. To be precise: he provides these clocks with new counterweights in the form of his books (early ones excepted). Here the tally is about 880 pages in the Kindle version.

Not that there's anything wrong with that - in general. But sometimes, I'm not sure. Neil Stephenson likes to tell how things operate. He likes to tell you how they work, every step of the way, all through the book. That often means a page of action, followed by twenty pages of description. No, not description - technical manual. Most of these explanations are fun to read and part of the story, but certainly not all of them. Often I don't feel the need to be convinced that it's all technical sound. I am a believer. If you tell me the invention works, I believe it works. Because you, Neil Stephenson, are the storyteller.

Seveneves is a convincing story. It makes you weep in silence over the fate of humankind. The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. First sentence of the book. Read it. See? You don't need a peer reviewed ArXiv paper to convince us what happens. The Moon split in parts. Why? Nobody knows. How? Ditto.
Result is that everybody looks up.
But then astronomer Dubois ('Doob') realizes something. "Stop asking ourselves what happened, and start talking about what's going to happen", he confides to the president of the United States. The Moon debris will grind into a larger cloud of smaller debris. Then it will start bombarding the Earth. The world will be set on fire, destroying everything. Over 7 billion people are doomed.

In great haste as many people as possible are launched to the ISS ('Izzy'). After two years about 2000 people watch the destruction of Earth's surface from orbit. Their descendants are destined to be the new occupants of Earth in the far future.

Long time ISS-astronauts Dina MacQuarie, is on HAM radio with her miner dad Rufus. Ivy Xiao fiancé is Cal Blankenship, captain of a nuclear submarine. Both women are turning out to be important characters. As are five other women who are fertile and left to breed the new humanity of the future. Five and two makes seven women. Seven Eves, thus the title. A clever and fun idea by Stephenson, a new humankind forming from seven women.

On Earth, Dad MacQuarie says goodbye to his daughter on the ISS. He and his group tries to find refuge undergroud. Cal Blankenship sends a last picture to his fiancé. Then he dives to his death with his submarine. After all, chances to survive the ordeal, locked up undergroud or in a submarine, are near zero. As you can imagine, the story doesn't end here.

After 5000 years there are three billion people in orbit around the planet. They are living in a sort of Dyson ring. On the surface they are restoring Earth to its former beauty. All are descendants of the Seven Eves.
Small groups descend to support terraforming. Scouts roam the new Earth to see what's happening. In the background everyone has to deal with an old-fashioned US vs. USSR cold war. The names are different but the colors are the same.

And then a surveyor spots something.

The book is not especially flattering towards the human race. It's not flattering towards gender. The role as US president is not the most flattering for a woman in Stephenson's book. The naiveté of the good and the cunning of the bad was not to my liking. Human business as usual, but with gender stereotypes as usual. Surprise me next time.

The end is also a bit of a letdown. Stephenson teases with a big revelation, but it doesn't come. The story treats us with two versions of first contact, but the results are so different that I would have liked a little more backstory. A little bit less technical overload, a little bit more in-depth storytelling.

Despite the flaws, still an engrossing story. A story that pulls you in and doesn't let you go for 880 pages.