Book Review: Seveneves

Seveneves is a hard science-fiction novel by Neal Stephenson. Just like his other books, it is imaginative and full of optimisitc speculation about our technological future. I enjoyed the book immensely, devouring it within the past few days and sacrificing some sleep in the process.

I didn't know the meaning of, and never bothered to look up the definition of what a "hard science-fiction" novel was. But after completing this read, I think I have a pretty good grasp of what it means. The writing is incredibly detailed and technical, just like the authors other books, to the point where "skipping past pages of technical vomit" might be an inside joke amongst Stephenson's fans. I admit that I did skip most of it, I loved the pragmatism of those that I didn't, and sometimes I wonder why some of his "inventions" don't already exist.

The premise of Seveneves is wild, and is greatly contrasted by how casually the author chooses to describe it. I find that to be the most interesting aspect of the book so far. I mean, when the moon literally shatters, you'd expect vivid descriptions of mass panic and hysteria right? Upon further reflection, I realised that no, the author's speculation that people generally wouldn't give a shit once the novelty wore off is equally likely. If the moon disappeared now, I wouldn't even notice. I'd probably even find out through my social feed, and not be looking up.

There are definitely lots of vivid descriptions elsewhere though. Details of the machinery, the science (fiction) and the feelings and thoughts of each major character in the book are abundant. Again and again I'm taken aback by how much precision the author provides in each explanation of the science (fiction) going on.

My favourite parts of the book have been the descriptions (and theories) of life up in the ISS, or Izzy, as the book calls it. I'm not sure how accurate it is compared to the actual lives of the astronauts in the ISS, but it does fulfill its purpose in getting me curious about how exactly might humans live in space in the future.

I also especially enjoyed part three of the novel, which was a timeskip of five thousand years, to around the time humans were gradually returning to Earth. The author weaves in details about the history of the space civilization, how they recovered from just the Seven Eves to a massive three billion population. As is the nature of a large timeskip, the author employs much more speculation here, which remains the most compelling reason to pick up this book.

Unfortunately, with so many interesting concepts at play in this story, it was difficult to synthesise a complete plotline that would fulfill the requirements of storytelling. The characters were not very well developed (especially in part three), and the timeskip makes for a very disconnected part three, which I feel should have been a second novel altogether. That being said, a fancy storyline is not the reason one should read Seveneves. The vivid renderings and distant yet familiar ideas of the author more than make up for a weak plot, and those should be what a fresh reader should be looking for.

I picked up this book upon Dan Wang's recommendation in his essay Definite Optimism as Human Capital. Indeed, the book has deep ties to what he describes as the "right kind" of science-fiction. These are books that encourage the reader to imagine, to speculate, to ideate and inevitably build their desired future. So of course, I definitely recommend everyone to pick up Seveneves some time.

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