Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

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Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow. It was created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction. From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it was intended to help us share our love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.


Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Date: May 19, 2015

Edition: Hardcover, 867 pages

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 3.5/5


Science first; story second

Backcover:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of AnathemReamde, and Cryptonomicon comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic — a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

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.

Its more like: science first, science second, story third, and characters fourth. I feel like I should make a disclaimer before I start this review because this was my first Stephenson novel, and I had no idea about the amount of detail he puts in to explaining the technology and science in his stories. You may want to keep that in mind as you read this, because if you are a Stephenson fan, then mostly everything I’m about to say that bugged me, you will most likely have loved.

I’m my opinion: the backcover of this book is a huge white lie.

“The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” At first it was spectacular sight for all mankind, to look up into the sky at night and see that Moon and split into several pieces. Unfortunately, no one was able to see the apocalyptic repercussion of this even. Disaster strikes (again) nights later when two pieces of Moon collide and cause a piece to come crashing into the Earth. It is then that scientist, Doc Doobius, puts the pieces of the Moon into a computer simulation program and discovers that all the pieces will continue colliding exponentially, creating a White Sky event where the Earth will continuously be hit to the point of destruction. The worst part is this is it’s only 2 years away… and will last for 5,000.

Luckily, mankind already has a space station up, and now they must prepare it to hold thousands of the world’s top and brightest minds, in order to save the human race from extinction. AND THAT’S HOW THINGS ARE FOR THE FIRST 350 PAGES! Then the NEXT 200 PAGES are the first year-ish of the people living in space and trying not die. Finally, at PAGE 570, we suddenly jump ahead 5,000 years and humans are preparing to move to back Earth.

So yeah, the backcover is correct in what it tells you, but it is very misleading in how far away the return to Earth is in the story.

I don’t know about you, but when I start reading a book, I can usually tell within the first couple of pages, roughly, what my rating is going be. My thought upon starting this novel: a 5 star; I was so disappointed in myself that I had never bothered to read any of Stephenson’s books before! We start the story off with a BANG!, meet a large cast of characters, immediately have separate and side plots, and there was a ton of technology and science! Best of all, was that all this cool tech was being explained!… but then we got more tech and more explanations… and even more and detailed explanations… Suddenly this no doubt 5 star book, went to a “I don’t think I’m going to have the energy to finish this thing”, because it was too much. There will be explanations – of pure science – that are a “paragraph” long, lasting from the top of one page, continuing on to the second, and finally ending somewhere one the third page. A 3 page paragraph! And this not too uncommon.

((Serious question: Do his novels even get edited?))

Personally, I found the focus on the tech and the amount and frequency of its explanations to be disproportionately dominating to the story and the characters. I actually saw a joke on-line and it said the real main character of Seveneves was orbital mechanics. I couldn’t agree more. We meet a bunch of different characters, but I don’t know what happen to exploring them? The world and everyone they love is going to blow up soon, but where is the emotion or awareness of this? We nearly learn about every nut and bolt that went into the space station and space suits, but events regarding characters interactions were merely left unsaid, or assumed that you figured out what happen from later on in the story. Even when we get character dialogs – if there not focusing on science – it only felt like intermittent scenes. Bits of personal here and there, sprinkled in-between the tech, to let you know that there are people in the story.

There are going to be two opinions on this novel: you either think the first 500 pages of the novel are the greatest things ever, or it will be completely misery for you reading it.

In my opinion, this story should have told one of two other ways. Either break up parts 1 and 2, the prep and first year in space (the first 500 pages), from part 3 into separate novels (because part 3, which takes place 5,000 years later, feels like a completely new novel); or break this story into 3 novels: prep to space, living in space, and return to Earth. Each one of these parts is already nearly 300 pages, so if you break into separate novels, you can keep all science, and focus more on the story telling and character development.

If you notice, the only complaint I have is with the amount of tech, but if you like that, you will love this story! When the novel first started, I said I loved all the tech and detail, but it eventually become entirely too much for me. I actually think it may have been because of that that I felt the actual story and characters were lacking, because when we got to a point where we get an info dump on biology and genetics, I was eating that up! I was into the story, and the characters suddenly came to life.

I’m going to assume if you’re a Neal Stephenson fan, you will adore this – apparently this amount of info dumping if what he does. If you’re new to Stephenson, like I was, unless you orbital mechanics and physics are you’re jam: proceeded with caution.

3.5/5 Rating

-DJ

Date Read: 08/29/15 - 09/14/15
Review Written: 09/01/15
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14 thoughts on “Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

  1. Sharry says:

    I don’t think I would be a Neal Stephenson fan – I need a character-driven plot to get through a book. I heard that Neal Stephenson was as you described so I’ve stayed away (perhaps to my detriment since it sounds like he comes up with some imaginative and detailed far future sciences?).

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    • I’m a character readers too, and all the tech explaining really took me out of the story, but when we got the info dumps on biology – which I liked it – it felt like the characters came to life then. But yeah, extremely imaginative and detailed is correct… but a bit too detailed for my liking. Unless you know this is type of stuff you’d like, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.

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  2. Tim Ward says:

    I’ve started two Neal books, Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon. Snow Crash had a cool world, but within the first hundred pages I decided the characters weren’t appealing enough to continue. With Cryptonomicon, I made it three or four hundred pages in because I really liked the characters and was curious about where the plot would go, but I ended up giving up because the plot meandered too much and I was tired of being bored by it.

    There is certainly an audience for his work, but I”m afraid I’m not it either.

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    • After about the first 100 pages or so I got really bored with this one. I was maybe getting 50 a pages done a day? (Which is low for me). It the definition of a struggle to read through this.

      Apparently there is an audience for his work and they get very high rating – both according to Goodreads – but not for me either. Unless the topic is one I KNOW I would LOVE to know exact details about, I’m probably going to pass on the rest of Stephenson’s work. Not bad; just now for me.

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      • bormgans says:

        If you give Seveneves 3,5 stars despite your criticism, I would still try Anathem & Snow Crash. The first has great, great ideas & great characters, and much less of the science than Seveneves (it still has science, but just less). Snow Crash is a kind of outrageous cyberpunk novel about a pizza delivery boy and virtual reality, and again is something else entirely, it has a few good characters too and is much lighter in tone.

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        • I really think the main issue I had with Seveneves, wasn’t the amount of science discussion it had, but the type of science it was focusing. As I said in my review, when we starting diving into biology and genetics, every aspect of the novel came to life! So, now that I know how much detail Neal goes into, if the main type of tech focused on in the story if something I am interested in – or could handle a mass amount of detail on – I would considering give it a shot.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Tammy says:

    I was intrigued by this when it came out, but I knew I’d never read it. I’ve never read Stephenson and although I do love science and tech speak, I need all the other stuff that makes a great story too.Yeah, 800+ page books just don’t work when you’re a book blogger, at least for me:-)

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    • I love science and tech too, but this was on a who other level. Just not for me at all. And yeah, I completely support you decisions to skip this. Too long in my opinion, and I’d say maybe an audio book, but how knows how long 800 pages would take on narration? 😛

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  4. You pretty much nailed it with your final paragraph. There’s apparently a lot of people who love what he does, but I’ve found his novels either tiring (Snow Crash, way too over-the-top and forced) or tedious (Anathem, way too heavy on the quantum mechanics). Not when I look for in an 800-page book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was because of those people that I picked this up! I’d read people ranting and raving about Stephenson online, and almost all his books are above 4.0 on Goodreads, and Snow Crash even has over 100,000 rating!

      The plot of this sounded amazing, and I thought I was going to love this… but no. Oh, no. I had no idea what I was getting to XD

      Feel pretty confident in saying that I won’t be coming back to him any years soon. MANY other 800 page books out there I’d rather read 🙂

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  5. I have wanted to read this and a couple of his other books (like Reamde and Anathem) but size of them has always made me pick something else. I did read Snow Crash, and really liked some parts of it, but other parts, like pages and pages about toilet paper distribution, I could have done without 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Like most folks, I’ve only read Snow Crash when it comes to Neal Stephenson. I do have both this one and Reamde in ebook and audio though, and I still want to read both, except every time I look at them I am intimidated by their length. One of my friends ADORED this book though, and has told me repeatedly to read it. But most of the reviews I’ve seen have been okay to decent, so I don’t know if I’ll bump this up any time soon.

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    • I can’t even imagine how long 800 pages would be on audio. Probably great for a cross country road trip though 😛 I suppose if you’re major into physics, this will be amazing – I was digging this story when the biology talk came up. So, your friends may be right, but I’ll vote with not bumping this up on the TBR.

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