Neal Stephenson - “Seveneves”

This is a good book. It’s rather uneven, with the final part being slow and overly heavy on environmental descriptions. The story arc is novel, interesting, and makes sense.

This is a review with no spoilers.

Is this really Stephenson?

Reading this straight after “Snow Crash” made me double-check whether I really got the same author. The writing style, as well as the narration, make me think “Arthur C. Clarke!” rather than “author of gritty but humorous cyberpunk action stories who pioneered the metaverse”.

Not only is the style of this book much more cordial and serious, but even the actual story includes much less chaos. Part 1 of the book is surprisingly devoid of war, mass suicide, orgies, looting, and so on. Essentially the opposite of the intuitions of the future in “Snow Crash”.

People are people

Importantly, there are no true villains in the book. There are protagonists and antagonists but they are all portrayed as complex persons with multifaceted motivations and responding to the situation they found themselves in.

The relative lack of chaos across the behavior of humans in the book is somewhat questionable to me, and honestly took away from the immersion in the world of “Seveneves”. It’s especially noticeable given that Stephenson is clearly aware of this part of humanity, and is able to talk about it well in “Snow Crash”. Given the subject matter of “Seveneves”, I expected it to be a wilder ride.

Three parts

The book starts off pretty vigorously. The event that pushes action into motion happens very early, and the action continues steadily while we’re getting to know the protagonists. That first part was probably my favorite section of the book. It flows and builds interest really well.

The second part is where the science-fiction genre gets into gear. It’s here where the book feels the most Clarke-ian. Problems appear and get solved somehow later. Unlikely events, that need to happen for the plot to advance, do happen. Suspension of disbelief is needed. I had a sense that it all goes rather linearly according to plan and that astonishingly little went wrong due to insufficient initial preparation or unforeseen circumstances.

Finally, part three is my least favorite. It consists of spacious descriptions of technology and geography, with some insight into sociology and “events in-between”. But the little action that is there is shamelessly drawn out. It’s a bummer because the story is good, the reveal is interesting and makes sense.

I wish part three was split into two, where some of the setup and background could be handled by the former new part, with some new story. Then the final part could be more dynamic, as it deserved to be.

Final words

I enjoyed the book and I think it would make for a great video game in the style of Fallout or Horizon: Zero Dawn. It would be set up in the final part of the book, with the world providing gradual explanation as to what we are seeing and why, and the main quest line slowly revealing the Epic.

As it was presented in the book, I was itching to make adjustments that would make this epic story more evenly paced and dramatic. But obviously it’s easy to criticize from the sidelines. I only mention this because I had no such itches with “Snow Crash”, even though that book is now 30+ years old.