One of my favorite things to do is to lend books to people and then pester them about those books. I once went to hear Christopher Moore* speak about his latest release, and I happened to see a German colleague of mine there. The next time we had school, I brought him all of my Christopher Moore books in a bag, asked him if he needed to fill in some his English language Chris Moore repertoire, and, told him if yes, he could keep this bag until he was satisfied. He was appreciative, but now when we meet, I detect a slightly guilty look in his eye because he still has my books two years later.
I spent much of the first quarter of 2017 reading/listening to the book Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (http://www.nealstephenson.com/) and now keep tying down unsuspecting friends and strangers with talk of the plot of this epic novel. This book is a work of speculative fiction that begins with the moon exploding and takes readers on a 5,000 year (and over 800 page) journey to preserve and then reestablish humanity.
“This was governed entirely by Newtonian mechanics. Each piece of the moon attracted every other piece more or less strongly depending on its mass and its distance. It could be simulated on a computer quite easily. The whole rubble cloud was gravitationally bound. Any shrapnel fast enough to escape had done so already. The rest was drifting around in a loose huddle of rocks. Sometimes they banged into one another. Eventually they would stick together and the moon would begin to re-form.”
I don’t really desire to review this book as much as recommend it to you. The fact that Bill Gates wrote on his blog why he recommends this book might be enough for you, so you might already be convinced. You have my permission to stop reading right now and get started on Seveneves. I would like to give you some reasons from my perspective why you might want to read this book and talk about it.
This book is very long and puts the “sci” in sci-fi. Only after checking out the a library e-book did I realize how many little length-indicating dots were below the book icon on my e-reader, but I would not be deterred. ** Don’t let the length scare you away. It simply means that the sophistication of the writing and the attention to detail will greatly satisfy you.
As I mentioned, to kick things off, the moon explodes. (SPOILER: You might be distracted by the lack of resolution on this front.) A scientist named Dubois Harris, who reminds many of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, puzzles out that in about two years, Earth will witness a Hard Rain of tiny moon fragments that will wipe life from the planet and render it inhabitable for thousands of years. That is math on a level I cannot fathom. The focus of the brightest and most powerful becomes deciding what and who will be sent into orbit. Those waves of humans sent will reconfigure and add on to the International Space Station (Izzy) so that it can house the genetic material that will eventually return to Earth.
The second part of the book has us reading 5,000 years later. Civilization is still orbiting earth, but Earth has been terraformed, seas refilled and creatures great and small genetically recreated and returned to the planet, as have some humans. Most of humanity still lives in a ring habitat in orbit, but there are established travel connections with Earth. A new mission develops, giving rise to questions of class, culture, genetics, politics, deception, etc. It is fascinating to read what this futuristic, post-Earth civilization looks like and how it functions as a product of Stephenson’s creativity. I bet you are wondering yourself what it is like, but I don’t want to reveal too much. I will say that some of the classic issues remain/return. Civilization is also faced with challenges of which we can only understand shadows.
Though this is my first read of Neal Stephenson, I can see that he is a great writer and an extremely intelligent man. He worked previously for Blue Origin, a private aerospace manufacturer owned by Jeff Bezos, so his science is legit. The author’s descriptions of the technology used in all eras of this book are amazing. Though extremely technical, Stephenson gives the details in a manner that laypeople can understand and recreate in the mind’s eye. Engineers and scientists of any field will be quite satisfied with the technology described in this epic novel. The awe is not limited to the unfolding of how the remnant of humanity lives in orbit, but is also evident in how human life returns to Earth thousands of years later.
This novel obviously offers more than just tantalizing feats of robotics and orbital mechanics. It brings up so many existential and moral questions, and these prompted me to write about this book on this blog. Here’s a list that should send you in search of your own copy.
- If Earth is doomed, how is it decided who stays and who goes?
- Who decides?
- How does the entire planet collaborate on one, overarching issue?
- Whose genetic material gets to live on?
- If you are not being launched into space, what do you do with your time left?
- What happens to governments?
- How do you keep on in the face of the end of all?
- What if you knew you would never set foot on Earth again?
- Can science save us?
- What is up with the title of this book?
- How much of a human life is shaped by pure genetics?
- What could happen if humans scientifically influence genetics?
- If the human race began from scratch, what about various social constructs?
- What aspects of life as we now know it would resurface, if we began anew? Politics? Fast Food? Smartphones? History books?
- How would a new age remember the former Earth?
I must leave you hanging on these questions and a host of others. I hope you are feeling as dissatisfied as I am and will therefore get your hands on this book. I want to talk to you about all of the details I have left out, so get to it!
*Sidenote Nr.1: If you haven’t read Christopher Moore (https://www.chrismoore.com), you should. I started with Lamb, and I am pretty sure I heard about this book in a Rob Bell sermon back when he was still pastor at Mars Hill. The audiobook for Bite Me is very entertaining. You will read his book over and over again. Also, follow him on Twitter. He is brutally honest and hilarious.
**Sidenote Nr. 2: Want to read more books more quickly? Having an e-reader (I like the Kindle.) can help. I often check out digital version of books from our library’s online service and then see if they also have the audiobook available. Now, even when in the car or at the gym, I can make progress on my reading. Amazon often offers a discounted Audible audiobook for titles that you own, and when you have a title on your Kindle, it believes you own it, even if you are just borrowing it. Here is a moment when I am glad to be living in the time in which I find myself. If you have a Kindle and use Audible, the two will seamlessly sync, so you never lose your spot. This is exactly how I found myself reading the e-book in English, while listening to it in German in my car. Please feel free to contact me if you would like step-by-step assistance.