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Seveneves by Neil Stephenson

December 23, 2016

seveneves

This is a big book in many ways. A sprawling sci-fi epic (880 pages in hardcover—I listened to the audiobook, which was also daunting at nearly 32 hours) that deals with the end of the Earth as we know it. In the first act, a catastrophic event causes the moon to explode, creating a debris field that will, by all estimates, begin to rain down upon the Earth in the next few years. This “hard rain” will make the planet uninhabitable. It’s no small problem to solve.

The second act follows the rapidly dwindling band of multinationals who have been selected to carry on the human species in a network of orbiting space ships. And the third act skips ahead 5,000 years as the descendants of these survivors explore an alien planet—Earth—as the first steps toward repopulating it.

This isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own, but a friend recommended it. She said she couldn’t put it down. Another friend said he thought it was boring. I agree with both. A number of times I found myself frustrated by detailed descriptions of the architecture of the spaceships. I recognize it’s a part of the genre and contributes to the world-building, but even after overly long descriptions I couldn’t picture the shape of some of these vehicles, nor did I really care. Some of the dialogue is corny. And despite the length, I didn’t feel that invested in any of the characters. At times it just felt really long.

That said, the arc of the story is magnificent. Each act has at least one key moment that is grand and vivid and awesome. This is one of those books that I like more with time, as I’m out of the actual experience and the whole story is distilled down to the best parts in my memory. And I have to give Stephenson credit for really sticking the landing—no small feat for such an ambitious novel. No spoilers, but one of those grand, vivid awesome moments comes at the very end and takes the book from being about a group of people trying to survive to being about life itself. Not as in the life we live, but as in the existence of living things, evolution, survival, biology. Like I said, big.

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