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Seveneves: A Novel Hardcover – May 19 2015
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“No slim fables or nerdy novellas for Stephenson: his visions are epic, and he requires whole worlds-and, in this case, solar systems-to accommodate them....Wise, witty, utterly well-crafted science fiction.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Stephenson’s remarkable novel is deceptively complex, a disaster story and transhumanism tale that serves as the delivery mechanism for a series of technical and sociological visions… there’s a ton to digest, but Stephenson’s lucid prose makes it worth the while.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“The huge scope and enormous depth of the latest novel from Stephenson is impressive… a major work of hard sf that all fans of the genre should read.” (Library Journal (starred review))
“Well-paced over three parts covering 5,000 years of humanity’s future, Stephenson’s monster of a book is likely to dominate your 2015 sf-reading experience.” (Booklist)
“[Stephenson] plays with hard ballistics, hard genetics, hard sociology. And what thrills me, is that he makes it interesting. That he makes life and death in space about actual life and death .” (NPR Books)
“Written in a wry, erudite voice...Seveneves will please fans of hard science fiction, but this witty, epic tale is also sure to win over readers new to Stephenson’s work.” (Washington Post)
“Seveneves offers at once [Stephenson’s] most conventional science-fiction scenario and a superb exploration of his abiding fascination with systems, philosophies and the limits of technology.… Stephenson’s central characters, mostly women, serve as a welcome corrective to science-fiction clichés.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Seveneves can be fascinating. . . . Insights into the human character shine like occasional full moons.” (Boston Globe)
“[A] novel of big ideas, but it’s also a novel of personalities, of heart, and of a particular kind of hope that only comes from a Stephenson story. Science fiction fans everywhere will love this book.” (BookPage)
“Stephenson… knows the life-sustaining power of storytelling, since storytelling is what he does…Today’s post-apocalyptic stories routinely aim to convey the loss of the old world through the personal losses of a few characters. Stephenson makes you feel the loss of Earth on the scale it deserves.” (Salon)
“This is hard sci-fi in a real and welcome sense, ruled by unremitting physical laws, unlike the negotiable rules of the action thriller.” (Nature)
“Stephenson’s storytelling style combines the conversational and the panoramic, allowing him to turn his piercing gaze on the familiar aspects of a strange future, encompassing the barely conceivable detail by detail.” (Seattle Times)
From the Back Cover
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Reamde, 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 remains . . . 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.See all Product Description
From the Publisher
Neal Stephenson Speaks about His Latest Epic: "Seveneves"
David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and the forthcoming Slade House, recently interviewed Neal Stephenson about Seveneves, Stephenson’s breathtaking new book about the survival of the human race, which Amazon picked as one of the Best Books of the Month.
DM: Good morning, afternoon or evening, Neal.
NS: Hello, David! Thank you for your work with stammering. I did it for a few years when I was a kid, and then it mysteriously stopped—no idea why. Maybe something to do with being left-handed.
DM: Thank you. Firstly, congratulations on your audacious, multidisciplinary Seveneves—I binge-read its 800 pages over a single weekend, and hugely enjoyed it. Secondly, thanks for this opportunity to quiz you directly: I’m a big admirer of The Baroque Cycle.
NS: Thank you. Some part of me always feels as though writing The Baroque Cycle or something like it is what I really ought to be doing and that everything else is some inexplicable digression.
DM: Please ignore any questions that are wrongheaded or too geeky or feel like a chore to answer.
NS: “Too geeky” is inconceivable.
DM: Given that Seveneves is both a singular creation as well as belonging proudly to the apocalypse/space ark/survivor subgenre of SF, I’d like to begin by asking which books your novel shares literary DNA with? Novels that occurred to me as I read (please confirm/shoot these down as appropriate) are: for impending global wipeout, H. G. Wells’ In the Days of the Comet; for cannibalism in space, a story by John Wyndham in The Seeds of Time; for a Great Chain-style orbital environment, Joe Haldeman’s Worlds. You’re clearly a much “grittier” (meant as a compliment), more twenty-first century stylist than both Asimov and Philip José Farmer, but I also wondered if the Foundation cycle of the former and the Riverworld books of latter informed the endowment your “manufactured civilization” with historical and political depth. Finally, does the spirit of William Gibson’s Neuromancer walk your Great Chain and New Earth? Not so much as regards plot or theme: rather, its reveling in an eclectic magpie multiculturalism and a certain hard-boiled humor. Finally finally, did you ever look at the Old Testament to remind yourself what happened to Noah’s descendants post-Flood? And what are any major absences in my list?
NS: This question requires more introspection than is my normal habit, but I’ll have a go. I have read many of the books mentioned, but the most influential book, as far as Seveneves is concerned, is one whose name and title I have unfortunately forgotten. When I was a boy I used to ride my bike to the Bookmobile, a library on wheels that parked in a certain location the same day very week, and check out whatever they had in the way of science fiction. This would have been in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I have a clear memory of reading a book with a picture of a large, Golden Age of Science Fiction–style rocket ship on the cover, about an impending planetary disaster that forced the people of Earth to build a space ark and fly off into safety. As you point out, there have been enough such books to be definable as a subgenre, but for some reason this one grabbed me and made a deep impression. Too bad I’ve forgotten what it was called. At about the same time there was a popular song in a similar vein, about people getting on a space ark to escape some kind of environmental collapse. Again I have forgotten its title and can’t seem to dig it up on the Internet, but we have all heard it. I can hear the tune in my head right now. Anyway, at that point in my life—some time when I was around ten or twelve years old, probably—the notion got into my head that what you’re calling the apocalypse/space ark/survivor subgenre was interesting and that it would be fun to write one of those someday. Of course, by the time I finally got around to doing it, four decades later, much had changed in the world of SF and so it was clear that I was going to have to adopt a less naive approach, which might explain why you are seeing resonances of William Gibson et al.
As for the Old Testament, no, I didn’t go back and look at it specifically. Perhaps that is because I felt I already knew the story in my bones, and perhaps it was out of an unconscious reluctance to be overly influenced by it. You don’t want your readers seeing easy connections; it becomes a distraction. Even those of us who haven’t read it for a while have a general awareness that the Noah’s Ark story occurs very early in the Bible and this it’s only a setup for the world that unfolds from it.
DM: Seveneves suggests you've thought deeply about the “Whence Personality?” question.
NS: I’m honestly not sure where to draw the line between “thought deeply about...” and “thought a serviceable plot device could be made out of…” but I appreciate your giving me the benefit of the doubt.
DM: In the “Five Thousand Years Later” part of Seveneves, your characters are defined by their genetic heritage. The influence of culture is acknowledged, but culture seems to be a mega-amplification of the genetically derived personalities of its dominant populace.
NS: That’s not wrong, but I’d argue it is also a more conscious, self-aware assertion of ethnic and cultural identity based on the Epic. By the time we get to “Five Thousand Years Later,” it’s impossible for most people to disentangle genetic from cultural factors. Which, come to think of it, might sound familiar.
DM: My question, then: What about life experience? Might not a Julian, for example, experience events that prepare her for an act of Christ-sized self-sacrifice? In our own lives, to what degree do you think personal experiences can trigger an epigenetic shift of the self?
NS: Just as an informal, nonscientific observation, most people’s personalities don’t seem to change very much during their lives. There are exceptions in the case of people who go through hugely traumatic events or suffer from brain injury or disease. Some would argue that religious conversions can have deep personality-altering effects. But these are all exceptions to the rule. Having a persistent nature is part of being human. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to speak of knowing another person, or loving them, or being their friend or enemy or rival. Part of being a sentient human is the ability to anticipate others’ mental states—to say “Fred’s going to hate this but Jane would love it."
If you’re still with me, the only thing that can effect a big change in personality is something that physically rewires the brain and/or alters the body’s chemical milieu.
Your example is interesting, though, because is it hinted at and prefigured in the book, right? The Julians are carrying a curse on their backs because of what their Eve did and so part of their cultural program is to say, in effect, “No, look, those same personality traits can be used for good.” Professionally, they gravitate towards spiritual professions. So the scenario you describe is totally plausible, and would in fact make for an interesting piece of ancillary fiction set in this world.
DM: Your novel is dyed with the theme of survival: of survival’s fragile and random nature; of individual survival, of cultural survival, of genetic survival. Do you think there’s a connection between the survival instinct and a hunger for immortality? And speaking of immortality, do you believe in the soul?
NS: I actually don’t think that there is a connection between the survival instinct and a hunger for immortality. A species has to become pretty intellectually advanced in order to grasp the concept of death in the abstract, and to dream up the idea of immortality. Long before that (in evolutionary terms) all species with brains have the survival instinct in some form. So, I am just saying that there are many existent proofs of species that have one, but not the other.
Last year I experienced a virtual reality demo at Valve. In real life it took place in a room in an office building. I was wearing a VR headset that was showing me an environment where I was standing on a high platform with a long drop off the edge. I knew intellectually that I could walk around the room and be perfectly safe, but it was difficult to take that step off the platform because my visual system was warning me of danger.
[Regarding] the soul, I’m a little wary of any discourse on that topic that pretends to have an answer, so I tend to keep my musings to myself. There is interesting, legitimate metaphysical work on the topic going at least as far back as Leibniz and continuing today, following the theme that consciousness, or at least computation, might be at least as fundamental as phenomena such as space, time, energy, and matter, which are the usual subject matter of physics. I follow that sort of thing with interest but with very modest expectations that answers will be arrived at during my lifetime.
DM: Did any part of Seveneves present itself to you in a dream, a nightmare or a fever?
NS: Does it seem that way? I would love to be the sort of writer who could garner usable ideas that way, but it happens rarely, and not in the case of this book.
DM: Your whittling down of 7 billion people to seven Eves adds up to a traumatic (if gripping) read: first the Event itself, then an “Epic” of good intentions foiled, bad luck, wrong decisions, Julian machinations, cannibalism, short-termism, violence and Might Is Right; all pretty dystopian. But then “Five Thousand Years Later,” apart from the Red and Blue Schism, is pretty utopian: the human population is stable, terraforming is working well, people live long, useful lives, and a fair degree of social justice seems to prevail.
NS: Interrupting you for a second, I suspect it’s only utopian in the way that modern life in Oxford or Pacific Heights is utopian; we are only seeing the good stuff in this book, because we spend very little time in the Habitat Ring, and that among busy, educated people. Nastier bits are hinted at, but I didn’t want to delve into them in this story.
DM: Do you believe humanity is basically predatory, capable of altruism only when it doesn’t really cost us; or is humanity basically altruistic, capable of predation only when we’re frightened, desperate or in thrall to demagogues; or is a humanity an eternal, self-replenishing chess game between our altruistic and predatory aspects?
NS: I’m more sympathetic to the latter theory. But I don’t think it’s chess. I think it’s tic-tac-toe. Even the best of us have certain psychological mechanisms that can suddenly kick in and turn us into monsters. That to me is the basic message of events like the rise of Nazism, the Salem witch trials, and so on: not that bad people do bad things, but that good people do bad things. It’s distressingly easy for those mechanisms to be triggered, either consciously by demagogues, or naively by people who think they’re trying to do the right thing. Which is why I think it’s more akin to tic-tac-toe.
DM: As befits a novel whose title is a palindrome, your epilogue could almost be a prologue: we haven’t long met the Diggers (who will be reevaluating their hasty treaty with Red) and only just made contact with the Pingers; the mysterious Purpose has only just come up, and—unless I blinked—we never had hard evidence that the Martian-bound Arkies actually snuffed it (though, I admit, the odds would be stacked against them). Are you considering a “longer game” with a Part 2? (“MADAM I’M ADAM”?) New Earth is so rich: I didn’t want to leave it behind, yet.
NS: What writers of fantasy, science fiction, and much historical fiction do for a living is different from what writers of so-called literary or other kinds of fiction do. The name of the game in F/SF/HF is creating fictional worlds and then telling particular stories set in those worlds. If you’re doing it right, then the reader, coming to the end of the story, will say, “Hey, wait a minute, there are so many other stories that could be told in this universe!” And that’s how we get the sprawling, coherent fictional universes that fandom is all about.
I won’t belabor that, since it’s now the basis of most of the entertainment industry. I’ll just point out that Seveneves is squarely in that camp, and so it is inevitable that readers coming to the end of the book will react as you did. Making the book a hundred or a thousand pages longer wouldn’t change that. There is clearly the potential for more books, stories, or media adaptations. Whether or not those will ever exist is a function of financing, timing, and many other imponderables. As you’ll understand, having been through the entire process of film adaptation, marshalling all of the resources needed to produce such things is ludicrously complex and frequently ends in frustration.
Your proposed title is excellent, though, and gives me something to work with!
DM: I could easily ask you another six questions, Neal, but I’ll leave you in peace now. Thanks for considering my questions, and good luck with Seveneves.
NS: And thank you, David. Good luck this fall with Slade House.
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Top Customer Reviews
I've read a lot of Neal Stephenson, from short books like Snow Crash to the 3,000+ page, eight-book trilogy that is The Baroque Cycle. Stephenson's Anathem is my pick for the best contemporary sci-fi/futuristic/whatever genre book. Hands down, no contest.
So I hoped that Seveneves would be almost as good. Unfortunately, for me it wasn't.
With as few "spoilers" as possible, here are the main reasons why I didn't like Seveneves very much.
First, I've become quite tired of Stephenson's penchant for length. A very, very long story worked pretty well in Cryptonomicon, less well in Reamde, and not very well at all in Seveneves.
More than 650 pages to establish a space colony and raise an orbit. Then we go away for a few millennia and come back to cover a week or two of action in another 400 pages.
I get it that Stephenson is an uber-geek, someone who can't imagine what too much detail could possibly be, especially on one of his favourite subjects. Here, we learn so much about orbital mechanics and space engineering that we could all get jobs with the Chinese space program.
Enough, already -- the first part of the book, all 650 pages of it, details something like five key events, involving characters who, even the literal handful who actually make it to page 650, have only remotely historical influence on the 400 pages of the last section.
Second, so much of the book is spent describing hardware that even 1,000+ pages aren't enough to get to know more than one character in any depth. It's frustrating. All of that concentrated devotion on things and processes, and so little concern for the people served by all that technology.Read more ›
The story's concept is eerily frightening and would have made a barn burner of a, say, 300 page work.
The most exciting thing in the book happens in the first few pages: the moon blows up. After that, the story takes a decided back seat to the explanations, in minute detail, of the science and technology involved in saving a remnant of humanity. For each few paragraphs of story there are pages of nothing happening while we learn about orbital mechanics or space suits or some such thing, which, while certainly interesting does not make for much of a story. And the characters are shallow and forgettable: when one of them dies (as many do), even if he/she was a major player, it really doesn't matter, not to the reader, not even to the other characters. In effect the characters and the story are just anchors to hang the lectures on, just there to add a little color to a textbook. While the storytelling picks up toward the end, it is too little, too late. With 25% story and 75% lecture, this book is not much of a novel. Good documentary, though.
As to be expected from this author, the writing itself is very good, the ideas are interesting and well researched, and everything hangs together pretty well. There is no obvious silliness, and the science and technology are plausible.
If you are looking for ripping good story with engaging characters and a compelling plot, you will not find it here. If you like your science fiction heavy on the science and light on the fiction, this book will be just what you want.
Most recent customer reviews
I don't read a lot of fiction but after Bill Gates recommended it, I thought I'd give it a try and it was worth the time. Gives you plenty to think about. Recommend.Published 8 days ago by A. Wells
Gets lost in the technical details - the second half is basically a travelogue through a series of high tech landscapes with almost no plot or character development.Published 15 days ago by K. Turner
If you are one to like how and why everything in a book is, you will like this book. It delves into mechanics, physics and the inner workings of everything, sometimes for pages and... Read morePublished 27 days ago by Abdallah Hussein
Love it! Bringing in just enough science to set the stage for one of the greatest adventures ever.Published 2 months ago by Adam Gordon
Not my usual type of book...very technical and detail-oriented. Not a lot of character development but just enough to keep you interested. Incredible imagination--read this book!Published 2 months ago by Renee
An excellent description of the realities of living and existing in space. I enjoyed the way the author Incorporated recognizable characters from popular culture to make the... Read morePublished 2 months ago by WBraun
I love Neal Stephenson, but this one is a yawner. Far too much endless technical information mars what could have been a great story. Read morePublished 4 months ago by L. Cothren