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Seveneves Paperback – 2 Jun 2016
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Praise for Seveneves:
A Financial Times Summer read
‘The scope of Seveneves is breathtaking, the suspense tremendous, the execution faultless’ Financial Times Books of the Year So Far…
‘Remarkable’ Publishers Weekly
Praise for Neal Stephenson:
‘He makes reading so much fun it feels like a deadly sin’ The New York Times
‘Fast-forward free-style mall mythology for the 21st century’
‘[Stephenson is] the hacker Hemingway’ Newsweek
From the Author
Neal Town Stephenson (born October 31, 1959) is an American writer, known for his speculative fiction works, which have been variously categorized science fiction, historical fiction, maximalism, cyberpunk, and postcyberpunk. Stephenson explores areas such as mathematics, cryptography, philosophy, currency, and the history of science. He also writes non-fiction articles about technology in publications such as Wired Magazine, and has worked part-time as an advisor for Blue Origin, a company (funded by Jeff Bezos) developing a manned sub-orbital launch system. Born in Fort Meade, Maryland (home of the NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum) Stephenson came from a family comprising engineers and hard scientists he dubs "propeller heads". His father is a professor of electrical engineering whose father was a physics professor; his mother worked in a biochemistry laboratory, while her father was a biochemistry professor. Stephenson's family moved to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois in 1960 and then to Ames, Iowa in 1966 where he graduated from Ames High School in 1977. Stephenson furthered his studies at Boston University. He first specialized in physics, then switched to geography after he found that it would allow him to spend more time on the university mainframe. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in physics. Since 1984, Stephenson has lived mostly in the Pacific Northwest and currently resides in Seattle with his family. Neal Stephenson is the author of the three-volume historical epic "The Baroque Cycle" (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World) and the novels Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.See all Product description
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It reads like a long Shaggy Dog story to get to the punchline of the title. He spends pages and pages on the minutiae of orbital mechanics, which to even someone with heavy scientific background like myself felt excessive and overly detailed, and then glosses over loads of improbable science with hand-wavy "never mind about that" dismissal.
Likewise loads of narrative is simply omitted, and there is rather a lot of "tell don't show" too, inasmuch as for example we are told that a piece of information has come from a chap in a space suit drifting away without hope of rescue but still in radio contact, but we never hear the conversation. It's just mentioned in passing. And we're told that Doob fell in love and married but never get to see much evidence of it. In fact a lot of the book is like that - we're told that stuff happened but it feels like he can't actually be bothered to tell us about it so just waves his arms a bit and says "away, some stuff happened". Even the end of the world was pretty much "so anyway, the world ended, and then they..."
It's like in Revenge of the Sith where we are told via a conversation that Annakin and Obi Wan have had great adventures together and saved each other's backs several times, but see little or no evidence of it in their interactions together on screen.
Anyway, overall it was a fairly disappointing book. And frankly the whole "5000 years later" belongs in a separate book, especially as it stops somewhat abruptly, setting the scene for a sequel.
As with Cryptonomicon, Stephenson really doesn't seem to know how to end a book even though he makes them thick enough to club baby seals to death with.
Frankly I'm not really sure how I stuck with it to the end, but I did.
The issues as I saw them were threefold - as dazzling and epic as the concept was, I really struggled with the writing style. For the first two parts of the book, the author tries really hard to explain every tiny piece of science to the reader, to the point that you feel you are just wading through textbooks. Not having the most brilliant mathematical or physics oriented mind, this meant that despite my best efforts, there were large sections of the book where I just plain didn't understand what was going on. By the time the third part came round, this had somehow evolved into providing the backstory to everything and everyone, and it started to get a little irritating, as though the author was so proud of his world building (and deservedly so) that he wanted to include all of it into the book, unfortunately to the detriment of the story.
The second issue for me was that I was so emotionally invested in the first two parts of the book that the third part just didn't feel as engaging. I think it was partly because we come to know and understand the characters in the first two parts of the story on a deeper level and the ruthlessness with which the author culls them is a brilliant offset for the emotional impact and sheer scale of the devastation of the concept. He actually explains it himself at one point, saying that the death of one character is somehow more upsetting than the death of 7 billion. The interplay between the characters is so realistic and moving that it's incredibly engaging. In the third part, we don't get any of that. The characters are flat and lifeless and somehow drowned in all the worldbuilding and adventuring. As a result, I just wasn't as engaged by the third part as I had been by the previous part. I think that by the 4th or 5th page describing the structure of the eye, when I still couldn't figure out what it was supposed to look like, I kind of switched off a bit.
Thirdly and finally, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. I'm not entirely sure what I expected, but given the epic scale and extraordinary vision of the plot, I had expected something slightly more climactic than the equivalent of "well I guess this is above our pay grade...we should probably just go home". It also just all felt a bit too neat and coincidental. It's hard to explain why without spoilers, but I felt like the origins of the Eves and Diggers and Pingers were just too close.
I know this review has thus far been negative, but I'd like to reinforce again that there are parts of this book that are just dazzling. It's a story that will stay with me for a very long time. As a side note, I'm a very visual reader and there were enough parts of this that pinged as similarities with certain facets of the Battlestar Galactica series that it was hard not to picture certain characters in my head as characters from that series, especially JBF. It's clear that the author did a staggering amount of research into the science of space technology, as well as mining and probably astrophysics too. He is to be commended for that, even if it did leach a bit too much into the writing. I think he's also to be commended for not shying away from some of the darker aspects of human psychology and behaviour. There are parts of the book that are raw and shocking but provide perfect counterpoint to how we perceive civilisation.
In conclusion, I think that had this book finished at the end of part 2, it would have been a 4 or 5 star read for me, even with all the excessive technojargon. It will stay with me for a while and I may even read other books by this author. I would recommend it for someone looking for some epic sci-fi, especially if science is their thing.
It’s good, classsic sci-fi and fits into the more modern and realisitically accessible side of the genre so I liked it, and would recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of that area or who has read Neal Stephenson’s other work. Also, fair warning, it is a long read, and whilst I appreciate the detail, you should take into account this is a read to be enjoyed over a few weeks..
Personally, it’s one of the most original but realistic scenarios I’ve read about in a long time and justifies itself on that alone, so even if you feel the novel is too long, it’s enough of a must read that I would check out the narration on audible as it’s really well acted and clear to follow even on a busy commute!