Engineering geeks, this book was written for all of us.
|Neal Stephenson in 2015|
So there was a lot of hype of Neal Stephenson’s latest book, Seveneves. Stephenson’s latest is a word play on a very famous book by Bryan Sykes, which traced (with the best scientific knowledge of the time) humanity’s common ancestry. By the way, that is a book that I would highly recommend also. So, if you’ve read the Sykes book, or have heard of it, you’ll likely guess at what happens in this one.
The basic premise of the book is pretty simple. Some mysterious force or object has destroyed the Moon in a time that’s not too far from now. That’s not an immediate problem, but the reality is that a destroyed Moon would shower bits of itself on Earth constantly, resulting in the planet surface becoming sterile and lifeless due to the enormous level of heat. That’s one hell of a mass extinction event kids. So, humanity, with all of its knowledge, rolls a Hail Mary to survive the coming storm of rocks, by sending up supplies, hastily constructed ships and people into orbit, the safest place possible. Everyone else dies though.
The book is based on three parts, though in reality, it’s actually two parts. The first two parts are about how humanity bludgeons its way to survival by the skin of its teeth, at the same time also managing to preserve the genetic diversity of the rest of Earth’s lifeforms. The third part of the book takes place in the far future, and serving as its (very long) epilogue, it’s probably the weakest part of the book.
The problem with the book is that there’s an overuse of engineering nerdiness. In the first two thirds of it, that’s fine, because the engineering bodges and layers upon layers of short term solutions to get to the end goal is actually thrilling. The engineering and technical mumbo-jumbo has a point in the story of actually being important in saving our genetic skins. That lots of things happen over the course of these two thirds mean that it’s a breeze to just keep reading.
The last portion of the book, however, should have been awesome. But it isn’t. There’s too much time spent on describing how things looked and worked, and not enough on things actually happening. The pacing in this section is just like an inverse cosine wave between zero and two pi. It doesn’t work at all well. I’m trying to decide if Stephenson was working on two separate books and then had the brilliant idea of combining them, or if it was planned all along.
So, Seveneves. Good or bad? If Stephenson had stopped at the end of part two, and written a short epilogue, and not another three hundred odd pages, this would have been a brilliant read. Instead the epilogue thrusts us into another adventure, but it feels like turning over the page has landed us in another book. Normally, I’d say “awesome bonus material”. But this time, it doesn’t fit quite as well as I’d like. Still, if you’ve ever wondered how to really save the world without any superpowers, Seveneves is the book for you.
If it was just the first two thirds of the book that was published, it would be enough to be awesome. Unfortunately, the last third kind of spoils it.
Read this if you…
Want to be a rocket surgeon when you grow up.
Skip this if you…
Find nerdy technical jargon difficult to follow.