Book Review: “Seveneves” by Neal Stephenson

SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Seveneves is without a doubt, one of the best science fiction books I have ever read. It is also the first book to make me feel physically stressed. And I mean that this book had so much tension that I could barely handle it. I even made a little graph of how I felt while reading it.


My tension curve throughout the book.

Minor spoilers follow, but I did my best to avoid mentioning any major plot developments. I have hidden major spoilers, but if you plan to read this book (which you should), you should stop reading now and go pick up a copy.

The book starts with the sentence “The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” That is literally the first sentence in the book (so I don’t feel the need to hide it behind a spoiler tag). I had no idea what I was getting into when I started it.

After that, the tension just climbs and climbs, as humanity tries to survive. I think that what really drove this books is how different it was from other books about the end of the world. In most other books in this genre, either the end of the world is preventable or it has already happened. But in Seveneves, you’re constantly forced to face the fact that 99% of the world is going to die. And not just that, but in the act of attempting to save part of the human race, there are going to be many casualties. It’s all just a question of how many people will it take to ensure the survival of just a few members of the human race. And nobody is safe. Stephenson ruthlessly kills off any character he wants in whatever fashion he feels is appropriate.

Neal Stephenson did an incredible job on the science behind the story as well. As a scientist myself, I have a great appreciation for authors who are able to combine accurate science with their storytelling. And Stephenson is certainly more than capable of this. That being said, there was one place that I thought didn’t quite fit.

Spoiler:  Highlight to view [The decision by the group of Arkies who decide to strike out to Mars makes absolutely no sense. Not only is the idea of splitting the Ark’s resources absolutely ludicrous, there is no way that they would be able to land on Mars. Mars’ atmosphere is so thin that you can’t use any kind of parachute to slow you down in a meaningful way. But it’s just thick enough that you need a heavy heat shield and must carefully protect your spacecraft. So even if they made it to Mars, they would not be able to land. And even if they did land, they would not be able to get back off the planet.]

And while I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of the book, I thought that the ending was a little flat. Compared to everything that happened in the book, including the final part leading up to the ending, I thought that it was rather anticlimactic. It almost felt like Neal Stephenson decided he was done writing, and that this was where the book was ending. I think that, if he wanted, he could have made this into a whole series of books, rather than just one. The book is quite long, and could have been split into two separate books, and more could have been built in the universe that he created.

In particular, I expected there to be (spoiler: highlight to view) [more of a followup on the races which stayed on the Earth. They met the Pingers and the Diggers, but did not resolve the conflict between Red and Blue, or say how the Earth-Dwellers and Spacers end up reconciling and working things out. It seems almost as though the second half of the book was just Stephenson’s way of saying “This is what humanity turns into.” But so much time was spent building up to this that it seemed like it deserved a stronger ending.

If Stephenson continued this as a series, they could also effect a return to Mars and colonization of the rest of the Solar System. The TerReForm project proves that the new human races were more than capable of terraforming planets. Why not seed Mars with comet cores to build oceans and an atmosphere, just like they did to the Earth?]

These comments notwithstanding, Seveneves is a true masterpiece. The marriage of accurate science and beautiful fiction is something that I have come to expect from Neal Stephenson’s novels. There is a potential movie in the works for this book, and I hope that they do it justice. When all is said and done, I highly recommend this book to anybody who enjoys science fiction or enjoys a good story. Seriously, read this book. I need more people I can talk to about it.

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