Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson


On an unspecified date in the near future, an unknown and unexpected mystery ‘agent’ – i.e. object of some description flying at a terrifying velocity through space – shatters the moon into seven pieces. While this is initially taken as an exciting/intriguing but largely unimportant marvel, as the pieces are pulled by their gravity and repeatedly collide into one another, they start breaking into smaller and smaller chunks. Scientists ask, what will the end point of this process be? Short Answer: The End of the World.

Thus a race against time begins to save at least some of the human race from its impending doom, a project which ends up revolving largely around the International Space Centre. The result of this is termed the Cloud Ark; a system of ships that hold a small number of people from across the globe, as well as archives of humanity’s history, art, and all that will be lost.

This review has been a long time coming. Seveneves – the hard sci-fi epic by Neal Stephenson – was my runaway Best Read of 2017. Since then, I have passed my copy around friends and family, and encouraged those who thought it might be Too Much for them to at least listen to the audiobook. This book has not inspired what I would describe as an evangelical zeal within me; rather, it has inspired a quiet, resolute devotion.

Let me be clear; I do not read hard sci-fi. Of all the genres I love to read, sci-fi languishes near the bottom. One step up from When I Read YA, it is the shallow water I frolic in when I’m feeling playful and fancy something different. When I picked up Seveneves in a bookshop, I picked it up based on its intriguing name and premise. I expected a potentially interesting if-sometimes-boring meander through the harder, more-science-less-fiction end of the pool. I did not expect for it to completely blow me away.

The timeline of this book is massive. The majority of the book is devoted to following the cluster of Important Characters that form the ensemble cast over their first decade or two living in orbit above a now uninhabitable earth. There are many obstacles to overcome, with threats both environmental and political. The cast is big – at least initially – but you feel close to every member. At times I absolutely couldn’t put it down, and even in its slow moments I never once felt inclined to stop bothering; this book is well worth the effort. Overall, the story spans millennia.

Be warned: the book is very thick, and it has very tiny writing. Stephenson’s colossal undertaking is consistently excellently written. I can’t vouch for the credibility of the science aspects, however they seem to the untrained eye to be impeccably well researched. They’re also delivered in a way that I feel would satisfy even the most discerning of hard sci-fi readers, while still being accessible to your everyday reading-pleb like me. More importantly, this book feels… worth something. It stayed with me. I was left, at the end of it all, a little unsure about how some of the ends tied up; but I may be being unfair on that score. It was a long time ago, and I can’t quite remember why I felt that way. Which may be an excellent excuse for a re-read of this wonderful, marvellous book.

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