Thoughts: Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves

I love Neal Stephenson; Cryptonomicon is one of my two favorite books (The Age of Innocence being the other). I really liked Anathem and Reamde. I like his essays; I like reading about his latest projects; I loved reading his essay, In the beginning was the command line.

I just could not get into Seveneves. I devoured it, of course. But it really just felt like Stephenson should have written an article – or even a futurist speculative/engineering extrapolation of how humans would survive an extinction event.

Stephenson is one of those authors with whom I willingly go down any rabbit hole. I don’t care if he gave us a novelized history of fiducial currency and the rise of modern economics or technical readings on operating systems. Usually, there is enough story to signify when we should care less about the background and more on the characters.

Well, that’s not fair; there’s a stream of thought in speculative fiction that social organization, structure and control are critical for long term survival, as important  as technological applications. In addition to descriptions of orbital mechanics and navigation, there is an effort to document the actual societal fallout of the survivors floating in space. But only a token effort is spared to focus on opposing efforts in organizing the survivors. We know, since we are mainly hearing the arguments discussed among our heroes, we know which viewpoints we are supposed sympathize with. It doesn’t help that when we next see the survivors… well, I’ll let you find out.

Most of the novel deals with the preparation for survival. Only in the last few pages (relatively speaking), does Stephenson address how society might organize in the interim. No surprises; of course humans will survive. This had the effect of glossing over how they did so. The book jumps five thousand years into the future, leaving behind both the biological and technological expansion that must have followed.

It is a credit to Stephenson that he writes in a way that, some times, makes you wish for a textbook as much as to know what happens next.


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