Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: Seveneves


22816087Title: Seveneves
Author: Neal Stephenson
Genre: Science fiction

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads Summary:What would happen if the world were ending?
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.
A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant. 

I absolutely loved the first 2/3 of the book, but the last part took some effort to get through. Overall an astonishingly inventive, profound, and entertaining piece of hard science fiction. I'm definitely going to be reading more by Neal Stephenson!!

Having been warned that Neal Stephenson really puts the science in "hard science fiction", I was expecting this book to be a lot more dense and pedantic than it actually was. His writing style in this book was really straightforward, with a wry sense of humor throughout. Many of the characters choose to face the end of the world with their sense of humor and sarcasm intact, which is a blessing because it made everyone seem more human in the face of global calamity. It's clear that Neal Stephenson knows how different kinds of people react in stressful situations, because every character responds to calamity differently, and yet they all have understandable motivations. My favorite part was all the tongue-in-cheek observation about sexism in our world. Mild spoilers, but when a man is chosen for a leadership position despite a very competent woman being a natural choice, it's explained along the lines of: "he was chosen because of his charismatic nature, ambition, and ...in other words, because he was a man."

Another thing I loved about this book was how many diverse perspectives it incorporated. Sure, it is yet another sci-fi novel written by a white man, but at least half of the cast are POC characters and there are also a few queer characters. One of the annoying thing about "end of the world" TV shows, movies, and books is how it always ends up being a bunch of white people in space with a token POC thrown in. This book really makes an effort to include people of many diverse backgrounds, be it racial, cultural, or religious. The fun part is seeing how so many people with different ideas about the best way to preserve humanity's future compromise (or not) and manipulate each other to get what they want.

That said, the part that fell flat for me was the last third of the book, which takes place after a giant time leap of 5,000 years. I thought some ideas were really cool, like the language and different warring factions that developed. It was also cool to see how people we got to know in the first part of the book are perceived 5,000 years later. I wasn't sold on the whole genetic aspect of the future humans though. In some ways I felt like they had evolved too quickly, and in other ways I felt like they hadn't evolved enough (both biologically and culturally). I can't remember specifics, but I remember questioning many characteristics about the future humans. It was also tough for me to get attached to a whole new set of characters in the future. I did like how the people of the future tried to rectify the mistakes of the past, though. I also liked how the story ended in an open-ended but satisfying way.
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