Seveneves

Sir Richard in Space (Image by Arnfinn Christensen)

Neal Stephenson

Now, before we start…..is there anyone here who has not read Stephenson’s “Cryptonomicon”, “Snow Crash”, “The Baroque Cycle” and “The Diamond Age”?  If so, please just take some time. Go out and beg, buy, borrow or download them…all of them…and read them while the rest of us wait…..

Welcome back.  As promised, the rest of us waited here because we  wanted to be sure that everyone has read the best of Stephenson before we proceed.  If the first Stephenson I met had been “Seveneves” (or “Anathem” for that matter), I just might never have read Stephenson again  – and that would be a great, great shame.  Imagine if “Signs” or “The Village” were the first M Night Shalayam movie you had seen – it would be the only one, wouldn’t it?  You would never give (the excellent) “The Sixth Sense” a chance.

SPOILER ALERT

Here comes the damning with faint praise – it is not that “Seveneves” is a bad or boring book.  It is a page-turner and has some beautiful  ideas – the Cloud Ark, swarms of miniature robots, the bejewelled ring, the Eye, the Cradle, space gliders, crow messengers flynks  and so on…. but but but.  Overall it seems thin, holey and unresolved.  It’s just not special.

My seven Complaints:-

CHARACTERS

There are too many, interchangeable characters.  I started a list   so that I could differentiate the characters on Izzy, but there was no need. After a while I simply didn’t care who got lost on a space walk.

The only person I really wanted to know about – Sean Probst – a sort of Richard Branson on propellant, does much of his work off-stage and then carks it.

The group of seven in the third part are, as one charater says, a ragtag bunch.  Like a Hollywood superhero combo they are an interesting interracial motley bunch of diverse warriors – a Neanderthal type, a lithe dark-skinned girl with green eyes, a white man who would be handsome but for the awful scars, and so on…fill in the blanks.

CREDIBILITY

The Earth burns not with a bang, but a whimper.  Where are the throngs of desperate, violent refugees?  Remember the evacuation from Saigon?  One minor insurrection and three stowaways are just lazy, Mr Stephenson.

Would those left behind to burn  go on carefully selecting their best and brightest to go into space to (maybe) survive?  Would the doomed simply get on with their lives as normal, working to save the select few?  Would the billions of  earthlings who are about to become barbecue sausages keep on going to work everyday for no reason?  Would they truly be comforted because the human species will go on in space  or somewhere or not at all? Who would care?

Why don’t Doob’s new wife and his children seem to mind at all that he is going off into space to an uncertain future while they stay for a certain roasting?

Why are people as hopelessly underqualified  as Ivy and Dinah put in vitally important positions in this most vitally important diaspora of all time?

Why don’t the Reds just kill the Diggers?

Why don’t the cramped and unhappy habitués of the Ring all flock down to New Earth on the elevator?  An attempted mass evacuation in reverse.

CIVILIZATION

How do the Pingers evolve into amphibians in only 5,000 years, whereas the Diggers do not develop into mole type creatures?  How come everyone speaks recognisable English after 5,000 years of separation?

CONTRIVANCE

With another nod to Hollywood, Stephenson very disappointingly has the lithe dark-skinned girl with green eyes get naked now and then  for no particular reason (none of the men do).

CANNABALISM & THE CURSE

Aida’s proclamation isn’t so much a curse.  And would high-tech space dwellers really be worried about a bit of cannibalism among starveling refugees 5,000 years ago?

CONSISTENCY

This is evocative….

“The third or fourth time Kath Two saw this tower it was from a distance of perhaps a hundred meters.  She was gazing at it straight down one of those narrow streets.  On its upper story it had a row of arched windows, looking out in all directions.  Warm light was shining out of those windows, and she could see people sitting at tables, drinking and talking and eating and reading.  All of those activities sounded good to her, and she entertained a hope that it might be some kind of public house – not a private club.

The entrance was not obvious, but she found it around to the right side, where a mousehole had been cut into the metal matrix in which the rock was embedded.  The tunnel angled upward and curled around, becoming a spiral stair partly obscured by rusticles the size of small trees.  Actual candles burned in niches.  One turn of the helix took her out of the metal and into the stone; two took her to an arch-topped door of real wood, unmarked except for a wrought-metal door Knocker in the shape of a bird with a heavy curved beak  Hand-forged feathers of black iron and palladium made it grizzled.  Through the door she could feel warmth and hear conversation.

She reached for the knocker, unsure yet whether the place was meant to be public or private.  then suddenly she was conscious of the scrap of paper in her hand.  She stretched it out under the light of the nearest candle.

THE CROW’S NEST

SOUTH CRADLE.”

 …..but why are we suddenly in Rivendell? The first part of the book is sciency, fascinatingly so.  The second part will intrigue those who are interested in, and know something about, space flight.  The third part has these lovely, fantasy aspects but it doesn’t all hang together.   Although the third part is TVC’s favourite part, most reviewers like it the least.

CONCLUSION

Remember that stirring march toward the sign-posted skyscraper at the end of “The Diamond Age”?  The breathtaking unfurling of the screens in “Snow Crash”?  There’s nothing like that here. Rather there’s a pointless, messy fight and things end all of a sudden – wait for the sequel.  Sadly, I won’t be rushing out to beg, buy, borrow or download it.

 

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