I finally had a chance to finish Neal Stephenson’s latest novel, SEVENEVES. It was deeply interesting, combining epic tales of survivalism after a natural disaster wreaks havoc on the entire planet. Definitely a good read. Highly recommended. Some thoughts below - spoiler alert - not a full-on review, but some stuff I thought about while reading the novel.
The description of the events leading up to, and through, the Hard Rain were amazing. The narrative of final goodbyes as the first Hard Rain impacts hit actually choked me up. I must be getting old. That’s the first time a novel has done that to me.
The survival of the Spacers was interesting to me more for the pace of storytelling and GRM-esque “everybody dies. Everybody.” style of having very little plot armour for lead characters. If 7 billion people can be wiped out in a day, the couple-thousand survivors in space will have some challenges, too.
Fast-forward to the Seven Eves. This part felt extremely oversimplified and contrived to make humanity and races seem more intentionally divided than necessary. The plot device of having the entire human race reduced to 7 women stuck in space, and then having the 7 collectively decide to alter their offspring through genetic engineering to produce distinct races felt forced.
This was by far the weakest part of the entire novel, and the last section of it was based on extrapolating the separation of the “races” and of their desegregation on New Earth. It doesn’t work that way. Even rudimentary population ecology would have suggested a different result of a founding group of 7 individuals. Perhaps, it was intended as a cautionary tale of ego and racial separation. It felt… off.
The founder effect on such a small population, and the mixing of the 7 “races” would have made separate and divergent strains of humanity impossible - especially over the next 5,000 years of shared isolation. Maybe if each Eve had moved to a separate and isolated colony, but not with the first millennium or so with everyone stuck in a tin can welded to a rock in space.
In the first section, there were 3 Chekov’s Guns which were set up before and during the Hard Rain:
- The miners in Alaska
- The submarine
- The Martian expedition
The first 2 were addressed - although the descendants of the submarine were trivialized more than necessary. The story of submarine civilizations surviving beneath boiling, evaporating, and refilling oceans would be at least as epic as those of the Spacers. And the Martian expedition was completely ignored - either they died in the solar flare en route, or they survived. Maybe sequel-fodder?
Update: I just read a couple of reviews that I’d avoided while reading the book. Yeah. I have to agree with all of it.