Monday, June 27, 2016

"Seveneves" by Neal Stephenson - Deep Philosophical and Anthropological Insights Cloaked As Science Fiction

Neal Stephenson has become my favorite science fiction writer.  Each book I read fills me with new knowledge, causes me to ask new questions, and leads me on a fascinating literary journey.  His ability to do deep research into esoteric topics is impressive.

In "Seveneves," the moon has been hit by an unknown force or object, and has shattered into large chunks.  These chunks keep bumping into one another and further disintegrating.  Scientists figure out that within two years, that process will become exponential and bolides- small meteors - will rain down upon the earth and ignite the atmosphere - wiping out the human race and all other living things.

During those two years, frantic efforts are underway to colonize space, using the existing International Space Station as the hub around which an orbital Noah's arc is created.  Originally, about 1,300 human beings are selected to perpetuate the race and to live in space until the earth is once again habitable.

Through a series of disasters over the course of several years, everyone dies except for seven women. These seven "Eves" become the progenitors of seven new races of mankind, partly through the miracles of genetic engineering. These races multiple and by the time the earth is once again habitable - 5,000 years in the future - they have taken on racial and tribal characteristics that often set them at war with one another.  As they prepare to re-colonize earth, they make some shocking discoveries that they were not the only survivors, and more tension and violence ensues.

Using science fiction as his fig leaf, Stephenson makes profound social, political and anthropological comments about who we are as human beings.  The space colonists have broken into two main warring parties - The Red and the Blue! In the last days of Old Earth, an unbalanced female U.S. President uses tactical nuclear weapons to enforce order.  She forces herself onto the space colonists and because a destructive force in orbit. The author seems to believe that if we had the chance to start over, we would likely repeat many of the same mistakes that got us where we are.

The pace of the narrative began to lag somewhat in the final section when a team returns to the New Earth to investigate some troublesome reports.  ut this is a minor quibble.  The overall experience of this book is just what I have come to expect from Neal Stephenson's fertile mind.



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