Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars
“Seveneves” contains everything that is wonderful about Neal Stephenson and everything that is frustrating about Neal Stephenson. It starts with a bang. Or an explosion. Or something. Regardless of what it is, the moon is now broken up into many large chunks. No one knows why it happened and what starts as a curious search for answers quickly becomes a desperate fight for survival as pieces of the moon continue to ping pong off of each other and some tear through the atmosphere to collide with the Earth. Thus is the story of Part One of “Seveneves”. Neal is on very solid Stephensonian territory here. Good story. Good characters. Lots of dense science grounded mostly in reality. It’s a very fun read but there’s all sorts of minutiae seeded throughout that, if you don’t make sure you understand and remember, will make latter parts of the book mostly incomprehensible.
And how does Stephenson make sure that he loses most of his audience in the latter parts of the book? By creating a Part Two that is a novel unto itself and mostly puts on hold much of what were introduced to in Part One. Still, it continues to be a great story. A desperate fight for survival in the kludged together space station filled with daring rescue missions and plenty of political intrigue as the Earth below burns. By the end of Part Two, we finally learn why the title of the book is “Seveneves”. It would have probably been wise to end to story here. Stephenson is still on terra firma even if the Earth in the novel is still a molten hellscape. It would be a little open-ended of an ending, but plenty of ideas are planted in the reader’s mind to make you think about what kind of a future, if any, the human population might be in for. But then Stephenson decided to add another novel telling us the kind of a future he perceived that human population will be in for.
Enter Part Three. Five thousand years later. Imagine you were thrown back into Earth history five hundred years and had to put into words for that population how things worked in the present day. Now imagine that you had to do it for the chimpanzees of that time. A fairly impossible task. Stephenson tries. Boy, does he try. There is page after page after page after page of descriptives as seen from the point of view of a single brand new character. Inflatable gliders and bot-guns and flynk chains and bola-like space elevators and a slew of new races and an incomprehensible habitat ring with a Cradle and an Eye and Boneyards and somehow divided up between a Red and Blue faction. I really have no idea if I got any of that right. The descriptions are dense and thrown at you at a speed impossible to digest. Much of this could be forgiven if the story that goes along with the descriptions were captivating or if the descriptions had anything to do with the story, but it is not and they do not. What’s even worse, the ending is so incredibly disappointing. It just kind of…ends. There’s no resolution. There’s no attachment to characters. I’ve not seen an ending to a book this bad since every Michael Crichton book ever.
This is the first Neal Stephenson novel that I can safely say you should probably pass on. Or maybe just read the first two parts, because they are worth it. There aren’t any of those “wow, that’s just brilliant” moments that made his “Cryptonomicon” one of my favorite books or that made his “Baroque Cycle” still worth reading despite its ponderously slow parts, but the first two parts still tell a compelling story. Thus three stars.