Good books are the ones that start out with a captivating premise that sucks you in and then the characters have to accept said premise and deal with its ramifications. The bad ones are the those that feel forced, where the characters are artificial, and each scene feels forced and unnatural. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson kicks off with one of the best opening lines to be written in some time: “The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.”
The book actually focuses very little on why or how the moon is obliterated, other than the people of Earth calling it the work of “The Agent,” about which little is known and it’s not really important, because there are more important and terrifying things to consider. A fictional equivalent of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Rufus MacQuarie has made his name as a public figure who helps explain science at its most basic levels to the masses. When a billionaire wanted to take a trip into space, MacQuarie was chosen as the backup should the billionaire fall ill or be unable to be ready on the day. Rufus documented the rigorous training he and the billionaire went through and it made him renowned.
Now he’s about to become even more renowned. All that remains of the moon are seven large pieces hanging up there spinning around. MacQuarie makes some mental calculations and then watches his predictions come true as some of the pieces collide and become smaller pieces. Then he makes some bigger calculations and eventually meets with the President of the United States to reveal his dooming prediction. Over the next two years those pieces of the former moon are going to keep colliding and breaking into smaller pieces in the millions and then billions causing what he calls the “White Sky” when all those small pieces fall out of orbit and make their way towards Earth in what he calls “Hard Rain.”
In a little over two years, the planet will be destroyed, every living thing on it killed in the fires of these lunar meteorites. No one will survive. And the planet has two years to decide how to keep the human race alive in some form.
Hope lies in the International Space Station. Those who are already up there automatically get a “get off the Earth and survive” card free. Over the next two years they will create the Cloud Ark, manufacturing many smaller “arklets” that will be habitats for people. Everything needs to planned and thought out. What supplies will be needed, what fuel, what items they will take with them to remember the history of humanity. Over the two years there will also be a drawing of two people from every country on the planet, the ideal pair representing their nation and culture. Of course, things do no always go to plan.
Neal Stephenson has created a story here that is enthralling in every sense of the word. The research at times is mind boggling as he goes from complex aerospace technology to well calculated genetics to thought out sociology. He literally brings the human race to the brink of extinction. The Hard Rain destroys the planet just as MacQuarie predicted and there are about 1500 people in Earth orbit tasked with the job of keeping humanity alive for the next 5000 years when the rain will finally end and they can possibly return to Earth and begin terraforming.
The first third of the book is about the lead up to the Hard Rain. The second third is about how the survivors survive and deal with the everyday problems of living in a small ship in space and where they’re going to get all their resources from. The final third of the book is what humanity looks like 5000 years in the future.
The book is full of female characters, because women have less of a drain on resources as compared to men, but also because Stephenson is creating a realistic world here and not one where men do everything. Diversity is omnipresent and just part of the rich fabric of this world, as it is in ours. Sadly this is something that has to be pointed out in books that do this well, because there are still far too many that feature nothing but white dudes doing everything.
The cast is interesting and entertaining. The science is fascinating and forces you to turn the page and keep reading. And the story is just a wonderful ride you won’t soon forget. It is the epitome of the ideal work of science fiction and even though its 880 pages, readers will never want it to end.
Originally written on July 31, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.
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