Written by Richard Cartwright
SF authors love to destroy the world. Neal Stephenson not only renders the surface of the earth uninhabitable, he breaks up the Moon to do it in his latest book Seveneves. Stephenson has a large cast of characters divided by 5000 years. The tale itself begins with the destruction of the Moon, and the world’s reaction to that, and the news that dooms life on Earth as well. At the near present or “0”, the action begins with the crew at the International Space Station,and on earth through the eyes of a thinly disguised Neil deGrassie Tyson. Dr. Tyson is not the only homage, another character is a clear riff on Elon Musk. The book is dense with technical explanations of various aspects of orbital mechanics and keeping humans alive in space. Frankly, some parts are remarkably reminiscent of a prior Stevenson work, Anathem. However, the author (narrowly) succeeds in creating full bodied characters that you grow to care about and avoids reducing them to mouthpieces for the big ideas of Seveneves. Oh yes, this is a Stephenson novel, so there has to be big ideas.
The book is ostensibly broken down into two parts in the Table of Contents, 0-6.0 (from the breakup of the moon, to the resolution of the fates of the ISS based characters), a span of about 6 years. The action then jumps ahead 5000 years to a vibrant space based civilization composed of seven human races in the midst of terraforming the battered Earth. However, Stephenson has an uncharacteristically difficult time now composed of seven making the transition from near present day to the far future and the story drags quite a bit at that point. He recovers, and is rolling along nicely till the very end, where there seems to be a rush to tie up loose ends and end the tale. In fact, there are enough open questions to provide fodder for at least two and probably three more books on topics that would be too spoilery to go into.
Speaking of spoilers, the PR person at Stephenson apparently has no idea as to the difference between a tease and a book report. The publicity for the book seemed to give too much away for the reader, in my opinion. William Morrow (the publisher) also, seems to not be cognizant of ebook pricing, as the Kindle edition was $16.99 USD. Because of that, this review was created by listening to the 30 plus hour Audible edition. The hardcover is selling on Amazon for $21.02 USD. One can’t help but believe, the book would be doing far better than 58 in the Amazon rankings were the price a bit more reasonable. Unless $17 bucks is an impulse book buy for you, or you really can’t wait, seriously consider taking advantage of an Audible membership or wait for a library copy. The blame for pricing is squarely on the publisher and not the author who has little or no control over what the publisher elects to sell his work for.
Final thoughts. Not Stephenson’s best work, but far from his worst. Worth putting on the “to be read list”