SevenEves is my “White Whale” for Cannonball bingo 12. When it came out, my spouse raved about it and in the five years since its release, SevenEves keeps cropping up on “best of lists” and positive Cannonballer reviews. Despite all the positivity, I was resistant to reading based on size and how that could affect my cannonball. The White Whale square gave me an excellent reason to move it to the top of the TBR.
To some extent, my title says it all. SevenEves is one of the most grounded in reality science fiction books I have ever read. Neal Stephenson does an excellent job explaining orbital mechanics, propulsion, and all the scientific details that makes this story of humanity escaping to space feel incredibly real. Stephenson weaves all these explanations into the story in an organic way, doling out information as the story requires to ground it in reality, this makes what seems fantastical feel plausible.
As for gripping, this book is one heck of a ride. On the very opening page, Earth’s moon explodes into several large chunks. No explanation is ever given but it isn’t necessary because what follows this event is more important. Namely, the realization that chunks of the moon will continue to collide into one another. This was going to set off a cascade of destruction that would ultimately lead to a constant bombardment of meteors heating up the atmosphere, slamming into the planet, eventually causing the very air to burn and oceans to boil away. Nothing on Earth was going to survive and best estimates put the planet as uninhabitable for 5,000 years. How long does humanity have to figure out a way to save the human race? Two years, plus or minus a couple months. What follows is a frantic race to get as many humans off planet as possible, an act which quickly becomes mired in politics.
Exciting as all that is, what is most engaging are the ways in which Stephenson writes his characters, the majority of protagonists being women, and his extrapolations on humanity.
The pedigree was intimidating (Ivy Xiao, commander of the space station), even off-putting to people who were impressed by such things. Dinah, (MacQuarrie, sent to the space station to lay the groundwork for a robot laboratory) who wasn’t, cared little one way or the other. Her informal behavior toward Ivy was interpreted by some observers as disrespectful. Two very different women in conflict with each other made for a more dramatic story than what was actually true. They were continually bemused by the efforts made by Izzy personnel, and their handlers on the ground, to heal the nonexistent rift between them. Or, what was a lot less funny, to exploit it in the pursuit of byzantine political schemes.
There are parts of the book that are down right prescient with what is going on right now.
His (Dr. Dubois Harris, colloquially called Doc Dubois) job on TV was to explain science to the general public and, as such, to as be a lightening rod for people who could not accept all the things science implied about the worldview and their way of life, and who showed a kind of harebrained ingenuity in finding ways to refute it. (Dr. Fauci)
What astronomers didn’t know out weighed, by an almost infinite ratio, what they did. And for persons used to a more orderly system of knowledge, with everything on Wikipedia, this created a certain perception of incompetence, or at least failure to perform, on the pat of the astronomical profession whenever weird things happening in the sky. (Replace astronomers with epidemiologists and this perfectly describes what is happening with the Covid-19)
I am tempted to give SevenEves a five star rating because it is an incredible read on a variety of levels. However, while all the precise information was initially fascinating, by the very end it felt a bit draggy from all the details. If we could do half stars I would give it 4.5 and highly recommend it to any science fiction fans, particularly if you like your sci-fi firmly based in reality.