Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Staff Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson


Image of itemWhat if the moon exploded?  That sounds like the kind of question you’d ask the Mythbusters or Randall Munroe (Thing Explainer, What If?) and end up with a brief, interesting, and entertainingly factual answer.  At nearly 900 pages, Seveneves doesn’t skimp on the technical details, but the characters help to ground the story and to make the danger immediate and gripping. Neal Stephenson takes this simple hypothetical and creates a breathtaking space adventure and human drama.

Like another recent hit, Andy Weir’s The Martian, Seveneves starts in the near future, maybe only a decade or two from now.  The only real difference in human space exploration is that the International Space Station has been expanded and that private investment in off-planet travel and mining has moved a little closer to reality.  The crew of the ISS, led by Dinah Macquarie and Ivy Xiao, serves as the anchor for the story as their temporary home becomes a potential safe haven as the lunar disaster unfolds.  On earth, Doc Dubois, a fictionalized stand-in for Neil deGrasse Tyson (Cosmos), must help the president of the United States work with the rest of the world to solve the engineering challenges of moving as many people into space as possible before the shattered pieces of the moon begin to fall into the planet’s atmosphere.

The real heart of Seveneves lies in that struggle.  As the human race fights to survive, they must also come to terms with each other and with the enormity of what has been lost.  Finding a way to preserve humanity isn’t just a matter of water recyclers, air filters, and dodging asteroids, but of rebuilding a society from scratch.  Stephenson promotes the triumph of individuals, building on some of the libertarian principles he evoked in Cryptonomicon and REAMDE, but above all Seveneves offers a bracing and imaginative look at people banding together in the face of a global catastrophe.

Jeff Hartman
September 2, 2015

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