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Seveneves: a review


It’s difficult to write a spoiler-free review of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, but I will try. It’s not really a spoiler to say that, in the first paragraph of the novel, the moon blows up. What follows is a long saga of survival — 866 pages long.

Stephenson always provides a hot read. I devoured the book in six days. Stephenson also always provides a feast for nerds. Reading Seveneves is like taking a course in orbital mechanics. Stephenson is not the best at character development, character conflict, and character intimacy. But he seems to be aware of that weakness in his previous books and has made a strong effort to do a better job in Seveneves. Still, he writes some of the least hot love scenes in science fiction.

I give Stephenson high marks for giving the reader a lot to think about. His novels do seem to stick to the ribs over the years. But after about a week’s reflection on what’s worth remembering and worth keeping in Seveneves, I can’t say that I come up with much. One could ask the question, “What is Neal Stephenson passionate about?” I’m pretty sure that, after reading Seveneves, the only solid answer would be technology.

I don’t accuse Stephenson of being a techno-utopian. I think he’s too smart for that. He also has some criticism for those who might put too much faith in technology, and at one point in the book he uses the phrase “techno-mystical ideation.” Yet it seems pretty clear to me that technology is his passion. This is clear just from reading his acknowledgements.

The bottom line, for me at least, is that Stephenson writes must-read science fiction. However, I’m getting stronger and stronger whiffs of an arrogant and elitist attitude that can spoil fiction if it gets out of hand. Stephenson is most comfortable with characters who have big egos, lots of admirers, and Ph.D.’s. If you read the acknowledgements or check out his personal web site, it’s pretty clear that he runs with the gazillionaires of the tech industry — the lords of the universe — and that he can’t much be bothered by us mouth breathers.

Stephenson probably will get a movie deal for this book. It’s the kind of space spectacle that Hollywood loves, and I’m sure that Stephenson knew that when he wrote it. I’d give it four out of five stars. Unless he does something completely different with his next book, I’ll have read enough Stephenson.

One Comment

  1. DCS wrote:

    Wow, I was prepared for a raving five-out-of-five-star review. I appreciate your clear-eyed assessment of the book itself and author’s overall output. What a sober last sentence.

    Thanks for the heads-up. I didn’t have time for 866 pages anyway.


    Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

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