Book name: Seveneves
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: The Borough Press
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Science fiction
Publication Date: 2015
Star Rating: 5/5
Seveneves was shortlisted for the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016.
I like science fiction but I’m not always in the mood for hard science fiction, so I was interested to see whether Seveneves would be a book I could follow okay.
The paperback edition is 860 pages long, so this wasn’t an idle consideration.
The International Space Station (Izzy) is going about its usual business, and down on Earth seven billion people are doing the same, when something unexpected happens.
The moon explodes.
Yes, I know. What a great start to a science-fiction novel!
The immediate consequences are that the pieces stay broadly speaking together.
Doc Dubois, a presenter of popular science on TV, gives them non-threatening names like ‘Peach Pit’.
Everyone is fascinated, but nothing much seems to change.
Then Doc and lots of scientists around the world work out that over time the debris (which includes some large pieces and some smaller dust-like matter) will collide with each other.
These fragments will collide more and more, exponentially breaking into more and more pieces. They will then spread out and many will fall to Earth.
Doc calls this Hard Rain, and it will turn the Earth into a fiery waste ground and everyone will be killed.
Surprisingly, given just how appealing denial is in this sort of situation, the authorities across the world accept Doc’s analysis that the Earth will soon become uninhabitable for something like five and ten thousand years.
Work begins to create space habitats and underwater habitats in which some of the human race can survive.
The latter is barely mentioned, and the focus of Seveneves is on the work done in space to create liveable habitats.
Neal Stephenson works hard to establish credibility for his plot and for the response of the scientists to the challenge they face.
Seveneves has been praised for the accuracy of its science, and while I am not qualified to judge that I can say (as a lay reader) that he also made a big effort to make the story easy to follow without sacrificing any of the science.
The balance between characterisation and exposition was well struck. There were enough people you cared about for Seveneves to be engaging throughout, though many of those people made the ultimate sacrifice trying to ensure that the space habitat survived.
The last quarter of Seveneves moves forward by five thousand years to portray the return of humanity to Earth. By focusing on descendants of the main characters we cared about in the first part of the story, the personal feeling was maintained.
The focus here was less on science and more on anthropology, but there was also more action because the survivors from space meet those from below the water and ‘Diggers’ who survived underground without government support.
I enjoyed Seveneves. The tension around surviving at all in the first phase after the Hard Rain began, and also during the subsequent period of return to Earth, meant that for all the scientific detail there was also plenty of narrative thrust.
Thank you for reading my review.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham.
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If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Armageddon Rag by George RR Martin