Saturday, June 27, 2015

Seveneves (by Neal Stephenson)

When I learn about a book that I think might be interesting, I download the sample onto my Kindle so I don't forget about it. Then when I'm looking for something new to read, I go to my large sample library and do the electronic equivalent of picking up a book at a bookstore and flipping through the first few pages. A book rarely grabs me enough to compel me to click "Buy Now" immediately. But Seveneves did.

It opens with the moon breaking into seven pieces, and goes from there into hard sci-fi, apocalypse, how can humanity survive territory. This is the first two-thirds of the book, about 600 pages worth, and I couldn't put it down. It leads up to the wow moment when the title comes into play. It's a suspenseful, propulsive story of humanity's attempt to survive against all odds, with a wonderful cast of heroes and villains and several shades in-between.

Then there's 300 more pages, and to say what the premise of those pages is would be a massive spoiler, so I won't. But even though the sci-fi and worldbuilding elements continue to be fascinating, it doesn't hit the same heights as the first two-thirds. This is entirely due to the characters, who completely lack development, and are not nearly as immediately loveable or hateable as the characters in the first two-thirds. (With a couple of exceptions right at the end, but by then it's too late.)

The final third was much slower of a read for me, and less compelling. It also seemed to end with dozens of unexplained, unexplored, unanswered questions and details. I would rather have seen Seveneves structured as two novels -- the first 600 pages work wonderfully as a standalone, and then that final third could have been expanded, the characters could have been far better developed, and a little less could be left to the imagination.

I wrote all these notes out and then, as is my habit, I hopped on Amazon to see what the reviews were saying. A lot of people have the same take on this novel as I did, so I am far from alone here. I would give the first two-third five stars, and the last third maybe three. Still averages out to a thumbs up from me.