Summer Reading: Seveneves
Every year, This is Not a Newsletter
takes a break from all the heavy research and the weighty economic development tomes and recommends one novel for summer reading. Of course, this annual “beach book” still has an economic development connection, but we aim to find a story that’s perfect for a lazy afternoon in the sun…This year, we’re pushing Seveneves, an apocalyptic science thriller by American writer
Neal Stephenson. Earlier this year, billionaire tech guru Bill Gates released a list of “5 Books to Read This Summer” and he’s on the same wavelength as we are, with Seveneves
as his #1 suggestion.
Now, a word of warning – Neil Stephenson likes to write long books. Clocking in at just under 900 pages, Seveneves starts out as The Martian
on steroids, tracking the work of a small crew working in and around the International Space Station. As the story unfolds, the moon is shattered by an unknown astronomical event, breaking into seven large pieces. Back on earth, TV scientist “Doc” Dubois Harris (a
Neil deGrasse Tyson figure) realizes that continued collisions of the fragments will create an ever-increasing cloud of debris growing at an exponential rate. Within 10 years, this process will create a “Hard Rain” – a series of meteor storms that will destroy all life on earth. Cue the scientists and astronauts as the planet (more or less) unites to find a way to preserve the human species in the face of total annihilation.
The first two-thirds of the novel recount the dirty, desperate, heroic efforts to carve out a space for human life in high orbit. And to Stephenson’s credit, this is no trite space fantasy. In
novelist Andy Weir’s The Martian,
astronaut Mark Watney decides he will have to “science the sh*t out of this” to survive alone on Mars for a few hundred days. Stephenson’s crew have a decade to figure out how to get humans to survive at least 5,000 years in space, and then re-seed a sterile planet before they can come home, all using today’s technology. The final third of the book jumps forward in time 5,000 years, and follows our genetically-modified descendants as they seek to repopulate the Earth. It’s a disconcerting jump, made even stranger by Stephenson’s attempt to summarize 5,000 years of scientific, technological and evolutionary history in the books’ final 200 pages. At times, it’s a bit like reading an encyclopedia cover to cover, though Stephenson powers through to deliver a compelling ending.
amazing tour de force of hard science fiction, and incredibly entertaining, particularly as the large cast of characters try to navigate the intense end-of-the-world politics that emerge. If you’ve ever tried to steer an economic development project through a hostile City Council, imagine brokering a deal involving – well – everyone on the planet. Don’t let the size and scale of the book intimidate you…Seveneves
is a very accessible, very human novel that ultimately succeeds in showing how we succeed most when we collaborate and cooperate best. You can pick up a copy here.