Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Seveneves

From Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson:
Open quote 

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason."

What a great first line. Unfortunately, it's the best sentence of Neal Stephenson's novel "Seveneves." Still, this long novel features a global crisis that prompts some what-if questions that can be very entertaining to ponder (as long as it's only fiction).

After the jump, my review.

Grade: C+

Science fiction is hit or miss with me. For every novel I really like "Station Eleven" (Grade: A-), there's one I really don't "The Book of Strange New Things" (Grade: C-).

"Seveneves" reminds me of "The Martian," a novel turned into an Oscar-nominated movie. Like in that novel, the heroes are stranded away from earth and have to improvise to survive. In "The Martian", it's a lone astronaut on Mars. In "Seveneves", it's as many humans as can be launched into Earth orbit before a rain of meteors from the exploded moon makes Earth uninhabitable for thousands of years. Like "The Martian," "Seveneves" is filled with high tech problems to solve, one by one, described in jargon only a space junkie could love. Stuff like this:
They had to figure out some way to get Tekla inside Izzy. And since the OVL was jury-rigged, it didn't have a docking port like a normal spacecraft. There was no hatch, no way of mating to an airlock.
Source: Seveneves.
The human interest stories interspersed with the technology descriptions are almost funny in a campy sort of way. This is how Stephenson describes how one main character, "Doob", falls in love:
His working hypothesis was that the breakup of the moon had made Doob young again, exfoliating layers of emotional callus from his soul and leaving a pink shiny impressionable heart just waiting to be colonized by the first appealing woman who came along.
Source: Seveneves.
So, why did I choose to read "Seveneves?" It came highly recommended. It was one of five books Bill Gates recommends you read this summer: "You might lose patience with all the information you'll get about space flight" (you think?) "but I loved the technical details" (me, not so much).

Setting aside the dry geeky explanations, the clumsy character development, and the space cowboy adventure aspects of some of the plot developments, there's still something oddly compelling about the wholly implausible premise. Just what would it be like to be the last humans alive? What would you take with you for possibly thousands of years of humanity's exile in space? Frozen sperm and eggs? Probably. But how about the Mona Lisa? Which would be more useful, the President of the United States or spare toothbrushes? It's those quirky questions that ultimately saves this novel for me, barely.

You, on the other hand, might want to give one of Bill Gates's other picks a chance instead. Or rent "The Martian" on Netflix — it's only two hours of your time. Or you can wait until "Seveneves" makes a blockbuster of a movie itself one of these summers. I look forward to that.

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