- Hardcover: 880 pages
- Publisher: William Morrow; Illustrated edition (May 19 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062190377
- ISBN-13: 978-0062190376
- Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 16.3 x 5.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 939 g
- Customer Reviews: 3,864 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #52,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Seveneves: A Novel Hardcover – Illustrated, May 19 2015
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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.
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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But all is not lost! The book is really an incredible feat of imagination and originality which was wonderful to read. Although the choices made by the human race in order to survive a cataclysmic extinction were not the choices I would have made, it made for an exciting beginning.
The Event takes place in present day. A force/presence/entity known as "The Agent" causes the moon to explode into seven smaller fragments which remain in orbit around the Earth. This Event, obviously, creates quite a stir for the human race, but the implications of it are not fully understood until the remaining pieces of the moon begin to collide with each other in geocentric orbit. These bigger fragments start to break apart thereby creating more fragments which continue to collide with each other: This is Bad. Ultimately, it is forecast that the moon pieces will eventually start to fall through the Earth's atmosphere and cause a phenomenon dubbed "The Hard Rain" which will incinerate the entire surface of our planet potentially for thousands of years to come. Humankind faces a Global extinction event in less than two years.
Contrary to what I know about human beings, people seem to handle this news rather well for the following two years while a half-baked plan to put as many people into space as possible is formulated. As I said, these are Not ideal choices and being a pessimist, I foresaw the events that would take place as people were selected to become the last bastions of humanity: political figures using their power and influence to secure places, fighting between different nations, problems with religious figures etc. The list goes on as to why humanity was doomed to suffer an 'almost extinction' in space after the Hard Rain began. I shall not get into more details than this, but suffice it to say, the outlook is grim for people.
The final third of the book is the hardest to read. Perhaps it is a combination of the jump ahead 5000 years after the Hard Rain and the tedious description of incredibly futuristic technology that makes it hard to get through. All the new characters in this last part of the book are one-dimensional and a reader really does not have enough time to 'meet' them and care about their personalities and motivations. It felt Very rushed. Much less time should have been spent on describing technological feats of humanity and more on describing the actual humans! Also, there are so many questions left completely unaddressed and unanswered. Who was the Agent? Will Red and Blue go to war? Will the Pingers go to war with Red? Is there a tenuous peace between Blue and the Diggers? The list continues, and while I do enjoy a little mystery, I have too many questions left unanswered to call this a satisfying ending.
Overall, I am glad, relieved and satisfied that I finished Seveneves. It really was unlike any other hard science-fiction book I have ever read. I would likely read more by Mr. Stephenson simply because of his originality and incredible technical knowledge. Would I read another of his books tomorrow? Probably not! I need more time to think about this one before I scale the next.
Would it have been possible to add psychological studies as meticulous as the physical studies of orbit dynamics, repeated on consecutive characters, recognizable mind structures slowly evolving through centuries, to create that continuity? Not an easy task, but already sketched in the third part.
I would be really glad if one day Amazon told me that Seveneves has been updated, or that a new version spans seven books, I would read it again.
Top international reviews
It reads like a long Shaggy Dog story to get to the punchline of the title. He spends pages and pages on the minutiae of orbital mechanics, which to even someone with heavy scientific background like myself felt excessive and overly detailed, and then glosses over loads of improbable science with hand-wavy "never mind about that" dismissal.
Likewise loads of narrative is simply omitted, and there is rather a lot of "tell don't show" too, inasmuch as for example we are told that a piece of information has come from a chap in a space suit drifting away without hope of rescue but still in radio contact, but we never hear the conversation. It's just mentioned in passing. And we're told that Doob fell in love and married but never get to see much evidence of it. In fact a lot of the book is like that - we're told that stuff happened but it feels like he can't actually be bothered to tell us about it so just waves his arms a bit and says "away, some stuff happened". Even the end of the world was pretty much "so anyway, the world ended, and then they..."
It's like in Revenge of the Sith where we are told via a conversation that Annakin and Obi Wan have had great adventures together and saved each other's backs several times, but see little or no evidence of it in their interactions together on screen.
Or, to put it another way, it would be like writing The Great Escape concentrating most of the effort on describing the tunnel digging, load calculations of the tunnel props, how the lighting was devised, construction of the digging implements, and then having half a page of dialogue where one guard mentions to another in passing that there was a breakout but that many prisoners have been recaptured or shot, and a chap on a motorbike had a pretty cool chase but was ultimately caught. And then a German Structural Engineer arrives and the next few chapters describe his admiration of the tunnel.
Anyway, overall it was a fairly disappointing book. And frankly the whole "5000 years later" belongs in a separate book, especially as it stops somewhat abruptly, setting the scene for a sequel.
As with Cryptonomicon, Stephenson really doesn't seem to know how to end a book even though he makes them thick enough to club baby seals to death with.
Frankly I'm not really sure how I stuck with it to the end, but I did.
The issues as I saw them were threefold - as dazzling and epic as the concept was, I really struggled with the writing style. For the first two parts of the book, the author tries really hard to explain every tiny piece of science to the reader, to the point that you feel you are just wading through textbooks. Not having the most brilliant mathematical or physics oriented mind, this meant that despite my best efforts, there were large sections of the book where I just plain didn't understand what was going on. By the time the third part came round, this had somehow evolved into providing the backstory to everything and everyone, and it started to get a little irritating, as though the author was so proud of his world building (and deservedly so) that he wanted to include all of it into the book, unfortunately to the detriment of the story.
The second issue for me was that I was so emotionally invested in the first two parts of the book that the third part just didn't feel as engaging. I think it was partly because we come to know and understand the characters in the first two parts of the story on a deeper level and the ruthlessness with which the author culls them is a brilliant offset for the emotional impact and sheer scale of the devastation of the concept. He actually explains it himself at one point, saying that the death of one character is somehow more upsetting than the death of 7 billion. The interplay between the characters is so realistic and moving that it's incredibly engaging. In the third part, we don't get any of that. The characters are flat and lifeless and somehow drowned in all the worldbuilding and adventuring. As a result, I just wasn't as engaged by the third part as I had been by the previous part. I think that by the 4th or 5th page describing the structure of the eye, when I still couldn't figure out what it was supposed to look like, I kind of switched off a bit.
Thirdly and finally, I was a bit disappointed with the ending. I'm not entirely sure what I expected, but given the epic scale and extraordinary vision of the plot, I had expected something slightly more climactic than the equivalent of "well I guess this is above our pay grade...we should probably just go home". It also just all felt a bit too neat and coincidental. It's hard to explain why without spoilers, but I felt like the origins of the Eves and Diggers and Pingers were just too close.
I know this review has thus far been negative, but I'd like to reinforce again that there are parts of this book that are just dazzling. It's a story that will stay with me for a very long time. As a side note, I'm a very visual reader and there were enough parts of this that pinged as similarities with certain facets of the Battlestar Galactica series that it was hard not to picture certain characters in my head as characters from that series, especially JBF. It's clear that the author did a staggering amount of research into the science of space technology, as well as mining and probably astrophysics too. He is to be commended for that, even if it did leach a bit too much into the writing. I think he's also to be commended for not shying away from some of the darker aspects of human psychology and behaviour. There are parts of the book that are raw and shocking but provide perfect counterpoint to how we perceive civilisation.
In conclusion, I think that had this book finished at the end of part 2, it would have been a 4 or 5 star read for me, even with all the excessive technojargon. It will stay with me for a while and I may even read other books by this author. I would recommend it for someone looking for some epic sci-fi, especially if science is their thing.
It’s good, classsic sci-fi and fits into the more modern and realisitically accessible side of the genre so I liked it, and would recommend it to anyone who’s a fan of that area or who has read Neal Stephenson’s other work. Also, fair warning, it is a long read, and whilst I appreciate the detail, you should take into account this is a read to be enjoyed over a few weeks..
Personally, it’s one of the most original but realistic scenarios I’ve read about in a long time and justifies itself on that alone, so even if you feel the novel is too long, it’s enough of a must read that I would check out the narration on audible as it’s really well acted and clear to follow even on a busy commute!
If you want to learn a whole range of new skills and wish to join NASA this is a great starting point! If you want a thrilling out of this world experience, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.
The second part, though, went all soft and floppy. The descendants of the seven survivors from an orbital refuge start to return to a restored Earth, and encounter two other groups who have, against the odds, remained on the planet and survived. There's a long rambling Lord-of-the-Rings style journey to track down the "remainers", and then it just fizzles out.
There are also several plot failures that only come to light by the end of the book. What was the mysterious "agent" that triggered the global catastrophe? What happened to a splinter group that headed off for Mars? Why did the handful of orbital survivors each give rise to their own "tribe" of descendants who, 5000 years later, had barely interbred? And what's this nonsense about a mysterious "Purpose" that only pops up at the very end and leads nowhere?
Sorry, Neal. I loved the first part, and it's superbly written. But the second part is too vague and woolly and leaves too many unresolved plot points.
I found the technical detail ADDED to the 'this is actually happening' feeling and was really involved with all the major characters.
Snow Crash not withstanding, NS's books are not a super-casual read - but like Anathem, Seveneves really does repay the effort. I'm looking forward to re-reading it a third time and am confident I'll find even more to wonder at than before. If you want to slag off a NS novel - go write a review of Readme ;-) But if you ever stopped reading Seveneves, try going back to it - you'll be well rewarded I promise you!
There is a lot to like about this book and I enjoyed it immensely. Character building is good – there are a few core characters in the ISS that we can really get engaged with. The world-building is just incredible. And the plot, with its political intrigues, is quite dark in places. However, it has huge flaws: there is far too much highly detailed explanation of scientific / physics / maths problems which are just to complex for a lay reader to follow anyway. And part 3, which should be the main story, feels rushed and glossed over – it’s as if Stephenson was more interested in the amazing world he had built than in what happens to the characters in it.
The first 2/3rds of this book are set in a near future where everything is a frantic race to save as many as possible.
The last 1/3rd of the book advances some 5 thousand years into the future where the descendant species of the survivors have returned to Earth amid a program to bring life back to its surface.
This is a beast of a book, well over 800+ pages of action and high stakes intrigues. Many of the characters are complex and dynamic - the world building is impressive - seeing as it also involves the opposite of world building. World Breaking you might say.
The ending wraps up most of the storyline of the novel - but there are tantalising unanswered threads all the same that will hopefully one day be picked up by the author in another book. Well I hope so anyway. 😎
4 out of 5.
This novel starts in the present time, when an earth-threatening disaster begins. It covers mankind's reaction to this in the first half of the book, and in the second half presents a far-future vision of how humanity has adapted.
I notice that a number of reviews of this book talk about a long and boring discussion on orbital dynamics. I did not notice this at all, and was gripped from start to finish. So i would have to conclude that this section, at least for a layman with a strong interest in astrophysics and space travel, was not at all long or boring.
If you are already a Neal Stephenson fan then it is a must-read, and if you are keen on science fiction in general then you also won't be disappointed.
What Stephenson does is combine deep science and technology with detailed cultural, political, and social commentary to produce an ultra-realistic descriptive full of plot and personality. Can you tell I really like his work?
Seveneves is a self-contained novel that deals with an apocalyptic event which sets the scene for a response from contemporary humanity. As a serious follower of all things "space", I really enjoyed Neal's insertion of the current (deplorable) state of our space technology into his tale: Ariane, Baikonaur, Falcon 9, Zvedza just a few examples. For many this may be too technobabble and drag on a bit but as a person who wishes Amiga had worked so that I could have been in the position of Mr Musk (although why an obsession with vertical rockets and Mars rather than flying shuttles and the Moon?), his futurist musings are music to my eyes.
I love the sense of claustrophobia as the human race shrinks, as personalities develop, as men fall by the wayside before the sanctity of the female reproductive treasure.
My only criticism is that the end seems rushed compared to the love and detail spent on the first part. There again, I always find that I never want Neal to end his telling, much like Iain M.
Fleecy Moss, author of "End of a Girl" and "Undon".
It's hard to do this without spoilers but essentially, seveneves takes a massive change of direction 2/3s of the way through and to all extents and purposes becomes a different novel. Up til that point, it is fantastic- the scope and feel of Kim Stanley Robinson at his best, with Stephenson's greater feeling for pace. I can't praise it too highly. The first climax- "Hard Rain"- and what leads up to it is truly superb. From then on, it still occasionally recaptures that but increasingly Stephenson feels less interested- more and more happens off camera, storylines aren't tied off, and plotlines become rushed and begin to lose their credibility. And then it just comes to a grinding halt.
And then, part 3. Part 3 is like terrible 60s scifi. Endless exposition descriptions of tech, all "telling not showing", some excellent ideas but the plot becomes an unbelievable and slapdash mess and just an excuse to show off his locations and tech. I had no idea Stephenson had it in him to be this bad. I suppose he's always been bad at endings... Here, the ending just starts way earlier than usual!
But I still give it 4... Because no matter how bad it gets, it's still worth it for the dizzying heights (and if you enjoy it, go read Red/Green/Blue Mars!). But what a missed opportunity