What would happen if the moon blew up? It’s a scary thought and one Neal Stephenson seeks to explore in his odyssey, “Seveneves.” I recently finished the book and find myself checking for that particular celestial body whenever I go outside at night. Definitely a good autumnal read if you’re into science fiction.
The story begins on Earth, present day, and soars into the future over its nine-hundred pages. That might seem like a lot, but when considering the topic matter and span of time it covers, it actually ends up being pretty short. I believe Stephenson could have expanded this book into an entire post-apocalyptic series. Despite that, “Seveneves” doesn’t feel rushed or lacking.
I learned a lot about orbital mechanics, the power of the social narrative, the impact of the environment on beliefs and behaviors, plus many more things–all in a fun and interesting way. “Seveneves” was a bedtime read that actually had the opposite effect of curing my insomnia. It takes a talented person to turn something as dry as the physics of space into fiction that is actually entertaining and I found myself staying up late almost every night because of it.
Around two-thirds of “Seveneves” is hard science fiction. That is to say it relies only on the facts as they stand to present authentic and entirely plausible concepts. Having worked for a privately funded aerospace developer and manufacturer among other things, Stephenson is an authoritative voice on the matter and this shows in his work.
In the last third of the book, Stephenson necessarily strays into speculative fiction as he takes us five thousand years into the future to share his vision of what humanity could become given the circumstances. His future recalls to mind the enduring concept of the space elevator, albeit with major upgrades. Humanity plans in terms of millennia and is able to execute projects that, like this, are on a currently unimaginable scale.
Despite being full of big concepts and ideas, Stephenson does not neglect his characters. There is plenty of social drama amongst a variety of personalities; some more lovable than others. One would think the imminent doom of the Earth would bring everyone together, but apparently not. While there are elements of solidarity, human nature manifests itself in divisive ideologies invented by Machiavellian individuals. It’s safe to say that no matter the time period or location, humans will be humans.
Whether you’re an established sci-fi fan, someone who reads mostly non-fiction, or simply open-minded, I hope you’ll join me in reading a book that will surely show up on the shortlist for a few major awards next year. The good news is that if you check it out at your local library and don’t like it, you won’t have wasted a cent. If you do like it, come on in and let me know.