Sunday, 3 July 2016

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson | Review

As one of the books on my Summer Reading List, I was very excited to finally read this!  Weighing in at over 800 pages, this is a pretty hefty book.  I went through a period of reading sci-fi and fantasy in my teens and gradually drifted towards fantasy as my preference, as I found a lot of sci-fi to be unnecessarily descriptive of their various technologies in such a way that they proved excessively tedious.  However, I've recently begun to dip my toes back into the genre (see Sleeping Giants Review) but Seveneves is one of those books that I sacrificed sleep for, and as such, most definitely worthy of a review.


It follows the characters of Dinah, a mining and robotics engineer aboard the ISS, and Doc Dubois, an anstronomer and public figure on Earth, after the Moon is destroyed and humanity is forced to come to terms with a ticking clock, counting down to the end of their planet.  The majority of the book is filled with a sense of feverish activity, as the human race scrambles to expand and improve the ISS and preserve as much of humanity is possible.  What is interesting is the manner in which humanity responds to the knowledge of their imminent destruction.  Many books would have painted a picture of rioting in the streets, wholesale destruction and terror; instead the majority of humanity pulls together in whatever way it can to preserve their race in whatever way they can.  I actually found the way that it was writted to be a more realistic reaction to how most people would react, and it made for a pleasant change.  

Five thousand years later, humanity has separated into seven different races, and the "Hard Rain" that has been systematically destroying Earth for millennia has come to an end.  Humanity begins its first forays down to the surface, but they find that very little is as it once was.

 
Seveneves is extremely technical in parts; I found some of the explanations interesting, and know far more than I did about orbital physics and epigenetics, but the descriptions of buildings and space stations I found tedious and difficult to grasp, and I often glazed over a bit and ended up skipping ahead slightly.  The descriptions are difficult to picture, and the few illustrations rarely served to clarify matters.  More pictures is very rarely something I would like in books (maps, hell yes) but in this case I would have liked more images to help with picturing some of the vast structures in the book.  

Despite the complexity of some of the descriptions, the plot and characters easily carried this book for me.  With a weaker story I would probably never have finished Seveneves, bogged down in extraneous detail that didn't seem to be going anywhere.  Yet the seemingly hopeless situation and the realism of the characters kept me engaged to the point where I simply had to keep reading to find out how they were going to survive.  It's made apparent simply by reading the blurb that humanity survives in some form, but how they get there is constant peril.  Much of the story feels like one step forward, two steps back, as internal political squabbles, problems of supply and the sheer terrors of attempting to survive in space threaten humanity's existence. 

I enjoyed Seveneves a great deal, but I think it would have been greatly enhanced by the addition of a few blueprints and images to explain some of the more complex mechanismsThe character of Dinah was my absolute favourite, and now I kind of want to be an asteroid miner.  If you like your sci-fi with a hefty dose of realism and an engaging plot, and think you can either skim over the involved descriptions or grasp them better than I did, Seveneves is worth a read.


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