The first is a sort of end of the world, death by raining moon fragments and saving of the human race by going into space kind of tale. Saving is relative, and by dint of a technology not quite indistinguishable from magic.
The second picks up 5000 years later, when the human race has recovered, and very nearly speciated in several directions.
It’s the second one I really wanted, the exploration of the cultures that resulted from such a difficult beginning. Unfortunately, that was the shorter of the two stories, and a little drier.
Not that the first story was bad, but I would have enjoyed a lot more expansion of the second. Never mind that this was already a 900-page book. I would have been okay with splitting the second story out into a novel of its own.
The first story is a classic pattern of success and setback, rinse and repeat, with victory barely snatched from the jaws of defeat each time, right up until the last “victory”, and that victory is tenuous in the moment. It’s not in the long term, as we move into the second story, but it sure doesn’t feel like a victory at the time. It’s hard to see how the species can possibly recover from such a winnowing down, but we only get the basic intention of how that’s going to happen, not the how itself.
The second story is a little more politically oriented, but the action and the plot are both still there and both still working. After 5000 years of change and growth and history and culture, we still come up with a bit of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. As long as there are people, there will be politics and conflict.
There’s a lot of infodump through the course of the book. Granted there’s a lot of science present, much of it speculative or extrapolative, and needing a lot of explanation. But sometimes, it’s too much. Especially when we’re talking orbital mechanics.
Most stories live or die with their characters, no matter how good the ideas or science might be, and Seveneves has a lot of them to choose from, some I loved, a couple I loved to hate, and a lot of whom just seemed to be there to serve the plot without getting a lot of detail of their own. The ones who got the detail, got a lot of it which was nice, and sometimes came through the eyes of other characters.
The cast is fairly inclusive but mostly on a geek scale, especially in the first half, and in both stories, there are a lot of people who work like hell to be good at their jobs in the ordinary course of events and then work even harder when everything is on the line.
There’s a lot of good balance here, gender-wise, and even some hints beyond just straight binary sexuality, but it never got in the way of the story and Mr. Stephenson was careful to make sure the characters he wanted us to care about were fleshed out. Most of these were women, as one might guess from the title.
Text density sometimes (often) slowed down the action. I know this is one of the things Mr. Stephenson is known for, but a paragraph that goes on for a page or more doesn’t always make me want to press through to the end of the chapter before I have to go do something else or turn out the light.
Overall rating: 3 stars. I enjoyed the book, though, like I said, wish I’d gotten more of the second story than I did. Based on where the first story ended, there was so much that could have been explored both culturally and politically and most of it was barely touched on in the course of the narrative. New things were coming to us almost to the very end of the tale.
If Mr. Stephenson ever returns to this setting, I hope it’s to the later time frame for a deeper look at the cultures that grew up after the hard rain, or maybe to some point critical in that growth.by