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What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain...

Five thousand years later, their progeny -- seven distinct races now three billion strong -- embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown ... to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

867 pages, Paperback

First published May 19, 2015

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About the author

Neal Stephenson

162 books25.3k followers
Neal Stephenson is the author of Reamde, Anathem, and the three-volume historical epic the Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World), as well as Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Zodiac. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

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Profile Image for Jenne.
1,086 reviews666 followers
May 24, 2015
Okay, so the first two thirds of this was shaping up to be pretty much my favorite book ever, like if someone had called me up and said, "okay, we will get any author you name, and they will write exactly the book you would like to read, just give us a list of what you want."
And then I gave them a list something like this and was like, NEAL STEPHENSON PLEASE:
-Someone succeeding through clever means
-Something grand being destroyed in an epic fashion
-People trapped together
-People working together toward a common goal/to solve a problem
-The story builds from a sort of contrived situation or scenario eg "Quakers in space!" [in this case, "the moon explodes!"]
-People who are very good at what they do, because they work hard at it
-Details about people's jobs
-Chosen family/community building
-People living proscribed lives, eg military, religious orders, royalty [astronauts! FEMALE astronauts!]
-Discovering the hidden workings of something
-Being thrust into a position of power or responsibility and having to figure it out

And it was exactly what I wanted! At first.

Let's just say...I should have asked for Ursula Le Guin to write the last part. There were a lot of interesting cultural directions the story could have gone, but it felt like they'd sent an engineer to do an anthropologist's job.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
61 reviews17 followers
May 24, 2015
The *science* and world-building is awesome. The storytelling and character development not so much so.

There is a guideline for writing, they say "show, don't tell". And, yes, I know NS never really follows this rule, but here's it's extreme. Most of the book is like

Moira walked into the room. [5 pages of backstory about Moira] She looked at Dinah. [10 pages of backstory about different people who have looked at Dinah].

This is to a degree forgivable when the backstory is *fun*, but this is a surprisingly humorless book. ("But the end of the world is not *supposed* to be funny." "That's what makes it even funnier!") Where is the joy?

Because of this distance, it was hard to get really invested in any of the characters. Who are the great creations here?
Profile Image for Rick Urban.
306 reviews40 followers
April 27, 2017
From: Neal Stephenson
To: William Morrow, Publisher

Dear Friends,

I've got a great idea for a new novel. I've decided to call it "Seveneves", which is a palindrome. In case you didn't know, a "palindrome" is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward or forward. Allowances may be made for adjustments to capital letters, punctuation, and word dividers. By the way, punctuation prior to the development of printing, was light and haphazard. William Caxton (1474), the first printer of books in English, used three punctuation marks: the stroke (/) for marking word groups, the colon (:) for marking distinct syntactic pauses, and the period (.) for marking the ends of sentences and brief pauses.

Anyway, the idea for "Seveneves" came to me when I wondered to myself, "What would happen if the world were ending?" And what would be a more fantastic way to end the world than by having the moon explode (I will keep folks on tenterhooks---hooks used to fasten cloth on a drying frame or tenter--by not telling them why, just referring to the source of the explosion cryptically as "The Agent"), and break into several large pieces, that then break into smaller and smaller pieces, and eventual fall out of orbit towards Earth where they will rain down total destruction upon all living things on the surface of the Earth. The surface of the earth is known to geologists as the "crust", and the crust occupies less than 1% of Earth's volume. The oceanic crust of the sheet is different from its continental crust. The oceanic crust is 5 km (3 mi) to 10 km (6 mi) thick and is composed primarily of basalt, diabase, and gabbro, gabbro of course being a dark, coarse-grained plutonic rock of crystalline texture, consisting mainly of pyroxene, plagioclase feldspar, and often olivine.

And when the best thinkers on Earth deduce that they are going to be smashed to smithereens (always wondered where that word came from, perhaps from the Irish "smidiríní"), they team up and try to get a large group of humans off the Earth and colonized in space orbit around Earth in the two years they have before the great rain of particles reaches its most destructive phase. One of the main characters will be a thinly disguised Neil deGrasse Tyson, and I'll throw in a guy who is suspiciously similar to Elon Musk just to keep things fresh. Elon Musk, you'll remember, is a South African-born, Canadian-American business magnate, engineer, inventor and investor. He is the CEO and CTO of SpaceX, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors, and chairman of SolarCity. Musk has also envisioned a conceptual high-speed transportation system known as the Hyperloop and has proposed a VTOL supersonic jet aircraft with electric fan propulsion. That whole area interests me greatly, by the way, and so I think I'm going to focus a lot on orbital mechanics when I get to the part where the survivors colonize space, because really, who cares about the billions of people that will end up fried to a crisp back on planet Earth? I mean, where is the drama in that when we've got bolide trajectory calculations and solar radiation calculations and theories about the feasibility of various throws and holds of Greco-Roman wrestling in zero-gravity? Of course, you know that Greco-Roman (US) or Graeco-Roman (UK) wrestling is a style of wrestling that is practiced worldwide. It was contested at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and has been included in every edition of the summer Olympics held since 1908. According to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), Greco-Roman wrestling is one of the six main forms of amateur competitive wrestling practised internationally today. The other five forms are Freestyle wrestling, Grappling/Submission wrestling, Beach wrestling, Pankration athlima, Alysh/Belt wrestling and Traditional/Folk wrestling.

Oh, and there will be a super big comet shard that comes into play, because they'll need the water from that shard to be heated and the steam used as propulsion to move the space station (and its adjoining linked spacecrafts containing the Earth's remaining population) into a higher orbit so that the survivors don't get pulled back into the Earth's gravity and have a chance at living off the planet for several thousand years until the Earth is ready to be repopulated. There will be plenty of super-detailed descriptions of all of this stuff for many hundreds of pages in the book, so don't worry if you've missed something or it's unclear. I believe it was Shakespeare who said brevity is the soul of wit, but I'm not going for wit with this book, I'm going for the antithesis of wit with this novel, so, if we think of brevity as A, and the soul of wit as B, then A=B, and of course, in propositional logic, transposition is a valid rule of replacement that permits one to switch the antecedent with the consequent of a conditional statement in a logical proof if they are also both negated. It is the inference from the truth of "A implies B" the truth of "Not-B implies not-A", and conversely. Furthermore, I'd propose that it is very closely related to the rule of inference "modus tollens". But I do throw in something kinda funny around page 786.

So finally, after I've invested all this time and effort into the incredibly detailed world-building, and tossed in a huge number of thinly sketched "characters" to help make the incredibly ornate (some might say "rococo" (/rəˈkoʊkoʊ/ or /roʊkəˈkoʊ/), less commonly roccoco, or "Late Baroque", you know, the 18th-century artistic movement and style, affecting many aspects of the arts including painting, sculpture, architecture, interior design, decoration, literature, music, and theatre, that developed in the early 18th century in Paris, France as a reaction against the grandeur, symmetry, and strict regulations of the Baroque, especially of the Palace of Versailles. Rococo artists and architects used a more jocular, florid, and graceful approach to the Baroque) accumulation of facts and descriptions more digestible and relatable to someone who is not either a post-doctoral MIT graduate or an individual somewhere on the autism spectrum, I'm gonna throw a curve at the reader by starting the third section of the book with "Five Thousand Years Later". I can just imagine my readers hugging themselves with delight at this audacious leap forward.

I don't want to go into detail about the final third of the book, so let's just say that it will provide users with a complicated description of the architectural engineering involved in housing 3 billion people in space, as well as the anthropological, genetic and cultural ramifications of humans living in space for thousands of years, all while keeping the interior lives of these people at a far remove, so that my readers don't get bogged down in all that interpersonal and emotional complexity.

If I can just say in closing, "heterozygosity" is super-important to the themes I'm trying to grapple with in what I consider to be a fairly streamlined and gripping, fast-paced thriller. Remember, a diploid organism is heterozygous at a gene locus when its cells contain two different alleles of a gene. The cell or organism is called a heterozygote specifically for the allele in question, therefore, heterozygosity refers to a specific genotype.

I should have the first draft of this book ready for your perusal sometime in the next few years or so, so please book me into a meeting with the art department sometime around then. I look forward to working with you to make this next book a huge success.

Your truly,

P.S. I cannot stress enough the importance of "heterozygosity" to the narrative.
P.S.S. Oh, and "bolides". Look it up.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
February 24, 2016
Amazing stand alone sci-fi, highly recommended. I guess Neal Stephenson is a legend for a reason!
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
June 4, 2020
The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
I guess in order to indulge in a bit of world-building one must destroy the world first.

Neal Stephenson is a genius. A polymath with a wide range of interests, he specializes in the big idea, and the more concrete the better. In this way he carries forward the tradition of hard science fiction, in which the best example is probably Arthur C. Clarke. Stephenson eschews FTL transportation, time travel, invading aliens, or any of the other tropes of sci-fi that cannot find a solid basis in contemporary science. Instead he takes what is known, adds what is possible, and extrapolates to what could be. His one concession to the unknown is his opening, noted at top. Although a theory or two are trotted out, we never really learn what caused the moon to explode. Consider it the MacGuffin of the novel, the plot device that gets the action moving. I guess breaking up isn’t hard to do. No exploding moon? No story. Why does it explode? Doesn’t matter. The story is about what happens after.
The kernel around which the story nucleated was the space debris problem, which I had been reading about, both as a potential obstacle to the company's efforts and as a possible opportunity to do something useful in space by looking for ways to remediate it. Some researchers had begun to express concern over the possibility that a collision between two pieces of debris might spawn a large number of fragments, thereby increasing the probability of further collisions and further fragments, producing a chain reaction that might put so much debris into low earth orbit as to create a barrier to future space exploration. - from Stephenson’s site
And the story is a compelling one, not so much in the sense of classic plot construction, but in terms of how we get from the biggest “OH CRAP” moment in human history, to something not guaranteed to soil pants. Stephenson looks most attentively at the engineering details of what is involved in trying to salvage the human race, once it is clear that the sky will go all to pieces, that the term scorched earth will be applicable to all the land on Earth, that the homeland will become a wasteland. What hardware is necessary? What is available? What can go wrong? How do we get from here to up there? This is his gig. He loves this stuff and it shows. He also does a good job of portraying the ensuing struggles down below. Who will be selected to survive? How will they be picked? How will the politics of the selection be handled? What will the criteria be? Ideas bang into other ideas, which fracture and crash into even more ideas, and so on, until you have an entire layer of nifty concept blanketing your brain.

World leaders make the big announcement of imminent doom at Crater Lake, and yes, it really is that blue

I think Stephenson is more optimistic than most and his presumptions about the level of on-the-ground conflict and pure lunacy are out of line with what we know about humans. He gives only a little thought to deniers, but in a country like the USA, for example, in which a quarter of the population does not believe in evolution, in which the Republican base clings to beliefs that would make L. Ron Hubbard scream for mercy, in which Texas lunatics of both the tinfoil-hat and elected variety (I know, no real difference there) persuade themselves that a military exercise is a federal invasion, there would be a lot more going on, denier-wise, than Stephenson projects. All theoretical of course, but do you really think that in the time remaining that birthers and those who believe the Apollo moon landing was a hoax would not make use of their considerable ordnance to make life even more miserable for those with brains?

Neal Stephenson

The book is divided into three parts, although it breaks down into smaller chapter chunks. The first takes us from the initial event to the beginning of the end of Earth as we know it, how humanity comes together, or doesn’t, to preserve the species. Part two takes on the final days of earth and a whole new world of conflict, resolution, or not, setting the stage for Part three, five thousand years on, when, through forces natural and engineer-enhanced, it is again possible to set foot on Mother Earth without singeing your toes. The seven eves of the title refer to the last orbiting survivors, whose reproductive capacity and DNA is used in an attempt to reconstitute the species, and, hopefully, in time, reclaim the original Mother ship.

This inflatable harbinger has been deployed on the ISS for several years - image from Smithsonian Magazine

Stephenson does action-adventure pretty well, and there is plenty of that here. The end of the Earth is a compelling starting point and survival of the species concerns will keep you engaged. Will this work? Will that? Who will live? Who won’t?

Character is not the thing in Neal Stephenson fiction. His greatest talents lie elsewhere, although it is definitely fun that he puts an avatar of Neal DeGrasse Tyson aboard. The significance of character here is to consider personality differences and their social, and genetic engineering implications. Given people with certain traits, how are they likely to behave, and how will those behaviors help or harm the survivability of homo sap? There is consideration of the concept of the state of nature. What is natural for people? How is that defined? Pretty interesting stuff. And there is plenty more brain candy in SevenEves. (Not for you, zombies, go away) On the hardware side, how about harnessing asteroids and comets for raw materials? Using robots of unexpectedly small dimensions for space-mining? Making orbiting environments in which humanity could survive, and even expand? How about some notions for terra-forming not only lifeless space rocks, but…um…Terra. How about interesting ways of transporting people and materials between orbiting locations, and between Earth and orbit. How about some advanced notions for individual flight on-planet? Life sciences? How about the challenges of food production in space? Bio-engineering is the biggest item here, not only in selecting who gets to be among those sent into orbit to survive torch-ageddon. But in figuring out how the differences in people can be used to ensure survival of the species, and looking at the results, some of which are quite surprising. Social science? Well, the science is a lot softer here, but the politics of end-times Earth and struggles for power among the spacers offer a look at elements of human nature that will be familiar. Stephenson’s optimism about our ability to think our way to actual survival is balanced by his recognition that we are, as a species, probably certifiable, so will continue having at each other as long as there are others to go after.

An O’Neill Cylinder – from the outside

I am certain that those more versed in contemporary sci-fi will have more recent comparisons to make, but the work that I was most reminded of here is the Hugo-Award-winner for Best-All-Time Series, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In both, a core of talented people (a broader range of talent than in Stephenson‘s more engineer-and-hard-science-oriented portrayal) are brought together to preserve human culture in the face of an imminent catastrophe. The specifics are quite different, but they share a grandness of vision. No psychohistory in SevenEves, but the multi-millennial look at humanity offers the opportunity for and realization of a great speculative vision.

There are some commonalities between SevenEves and another recent, and very popular, sci-fi offering of the space variety, The Martian. Not in girth, of course. The Martian, at a mere 384 pps, could dock with and be pulled up on the side the 880 page SevenEves like a tender boat on a cruise ship. Both deal with life-and-death scenarios in an airless void (no, not the US Congress), although one deals with a single life in jeopardy, while the other takes on a larger target. But there is a heavy emphasis on tech in both. Weir’s wonderful story offered an engaging narrator and way too much detail on how he goes about attempting to survive while stranded on the red planet. Stephenson writes about things that he finds interesting whether or not they clutter up the story with technical minutiae, and at 880 pps, trust me, there is too much detail. Hey, his book, his story. He gets off on the details of mechanics, and it is nowhere as mind-numbing as an endless jeremiad by, say John Galt, but you may find yourself feeling a need to skim from time to time. (Purely an aside - I think Chris Moore should write a novel about the Republican clown car of 2016 presidential candidates, called The Galt in our Stars, in which someone gets a life threatening disease and no one cares). I wonder also how the very small number of remnant original eves is supposed to be able to provide the training their progeny will require to master all the skills required to sustain civilization. I am sure there are many other details one could look at in considering the next five thousand or so years, but it might take a few more volumes.

SevenEves is a major contribution to contemporary science fiction. It is engaging enough on a visceral level, but it is crack not just for sci-fi fans, but for futurists, scientists, geneticists, engineers, and those concerned with how humanity will survive the challenges that lie ahead. It is a big book, not only in its physical bulk, but in its ambition and range of interests. Like the great works of his predecessors, Asimov, Clarke, and other giants of science fiction, the vision Stephenson has built in SevenEves will be read, I expect, as long as there are still people left alive, whether on Earth or not.

Publication date –
-----Hardcover - 5/19/15
-----Paperback - 5/17/16

This review first posted – 5/15/15

==========In the summer of 2019 GR reduced the allowable review size by 25%, from 20,000 to 15,000 characters. In order to accommodate the text beyond that, as of May 29, 2020, I moved it to the comments section directly below, well, maybe not directly, but somewhere around comment #10

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
July 29, 2019
“We're not hunter-gatherers anymore. We're all living like patients in the intensive care unit of a hospital. What keeps us alive isn't bravery, or athleticism, or any of those other skills that were valuable in a caveman society. It's our ability to master complex technological skills. It is our ability to be nerds. We need to breed nerds.”

 photo stephenson_zps8vpxhwlz.jpg
Nerd Alert! Be nice to the nerds in your life. They might save your ass someday.

Nerds realized a long time ago in the United States that they needed to become rich if they ever expected to marry the super model, have 2.5 kids, and be able to afford all those expensive technological toys. The guy who was completely undateable in high school suddenly becomes Tom Cruise when he has a couple of million bucks in his pocket. Several years ago, I read an article that discussed the fact that, over the past several thousand years, Jewish people have progressively become smarter because Jewish women are attracted to men primarily for their brains rather than their brawn, while Catholics and Protestants have maybe become progressively better looking because C&P women are attracted to athletic men, and C&P men are attracted to pretty women.

If you are a man who doesn’t do well on the athletic field, then you have to counter your lack of physical coordination by being very, very successful. Your ability to pass on your genes for future generations is counting on that. Of course a nerd is not so much worried about reproducing as he is about getting laid, but the end result is the same.

Now, let’s say you wake up one morning, and ”THE MOON BLEW UP WITHOUT WARNING AND FOR NO APPARENT REASON.”

It is shattered into seven big pieces and many, many smaller fragments.

 photo Moon20Explosion_zpszwfiefwn.jpg

I always have new possibilities to mentally explore whenever I read a Neal Stephenson book. It has never crossed my mind that the moon would ever blow up. I’ve thought about the Earth shattering or falling into the sun or splitting in half, all of course due in some way to human stupidity, but I’d never considered the ramifications of the moon...exploding.

My first thought would be, “Wow, I’m so glad whatever hit the moon didn’t hit us.” I’m an optimist, right, so I’d be thinking about how lucky we were for the near miss.

The moon is gone.
The moon is gone.
The moon is gone.

Wait, what does this mean for Earth?

Astronomers name the pieces of the moon and watch as they dance around each other, occasionally colliding. Life goes on with little change...until one astronomer determines that those collisions are going to send debris toward the earth in the form of fiery bolides.

The earth is going to burn.

He tags the phenomenon: #HARD RAIN #Kiss your ass goodbye.

Predictive models give the Earth, as we know it, about two years.

Sex anyone? “The human race might be about to disappear, but not before putting on a two-year frenzy of recreational sex.”

Nerds are now in the driver’s seat. Those brawny warriors of the gridiron would have been better served hitting the books instead of catching footballs or hitting baseballs or smacking pucks or launching basketballs at small round hoops. Those skills, once lauded, are now obsolete. Same goes for those preening pretty girls who may have only aspired to make themselves more beautiful. They, too, will need much more than long eyelashes and long legs to see that their offspring be part of the future of humanity.

Overnight, the human race will be reduced from seven billion down to a few thousand. Every country is asked to select their best and brightest young people and send them for training. Of course, only a fraction of those will be selected to go into space.

Understandably, things get wiggy.

“Seven billion who need to be kept happy, and docile, until the end. How do you do that? What's the best way to calm down a scared kid, get them to go back to sleep? Tell them a story. Some shit about Jesus or whatever.”

For me, I guess I would just refuse to believe the math or hope for another intercession by something spectacular. Not that I would be passing on the new hedonistic lifestyle that most humans would be adopting; after all, if the world does survive by some miracle, it still wouldn’t be the time to be prudish because chances are the math ignored or not will prove to be right. Although frankly, as the clock ticked down, I’d probably decide it was the perfect time to finish War and Peace while sipping a very fine, ancient Kentucky Bourbon.

People, for once, become too busy to really think about politics. They are too intent on the Herculean effort of building a larger space station and also figuring out how to anchor an asteroid on one side as a protective shield from bolides. Two years is not enough time to get things right. It is only enough time to give humanity a chance.

And then…

”Earth was, of course, completely unrecognizable. From this distance it was about the size of a tangerine held at arm’s length, and about the same color. Formerly a cool blue-and-white lake in the cosmos, it now hung there like a blob of molten steel thrown out by a welder’s torch. In the belt between the tropics, where most of the Hard Rain was falling, it glowed orange.”

The remaining members of humanity spend the next few decades on the verge of extinction. They battle food and water shortages (think about drinking melted ice five billion years old. I’m still trying to wrap my puny brain around that.), bolide collisions, lack of resources, but what finally almost destroys humanity...politics.

Humanity gets shaved down to the barebones.

There is a very good reason why the book is called SEVENEVES.

For the last part of the book, Stephenson flashes us forward five thousand years when the earth is returning to a more habitable form. You will be relieved to know that humanity does survive, though it has evolved and devolved from where we were before the Hard Rain. Some humans survived below Earth, and now we are seeing the first contact between ”those who fled” and those who stayed.

Who owns the Earth now?

Creating deep, resonating characters is not Stephenson’s strong point, though they are interesting people who are existing in this spectacular set of circumstances that showcases how creative a writer can be and still stay within the bounds of known science. This is an epic, post-apocalyptic book made more scary because there is no place in the shattered remains of humanity for people like me.

I’ve met Neal Stephenson a couple of times, but the first time was when he was promoting his book Diamond Age. Snow Crash was getting a lot of buzz in the book community, and I’d just finished reading it. He was sitting behind a big pile of ARC copies of Diamond Age book, looking very uncomfortable. I was handling a booth for Roy P. Jensen, a remainder book company I was working for at the time. Traffic was slow, but those few people there didn’t seem to know who he was. I was able to slip over and sit down with him for a while and chat. His mind, not surprising, was razor sharp. He had a way of looking at me like I was streaming computer code that only he could read. He was pleasantly surprised I’d read Snow Crash. He was built like a slender reed and looked very much like the picture I posted at the beginning of this review. I then met him again much later when he was promoting Quicksilver. He had somehow morphed into a dramatically handsome man still brimming with intensity. He wore his success very well. With each book he writes, he continues to add to an impressive collection of work that will continue to influence science-fiction writing for a long, long time.

 photo Neal20Stephenson_zpstcwvsem3.jpg

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews268 followers
January 31, 2023
Seveneves: 600 pages of infodumping leaves little room for plot development
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I must be developing an immunity to the Kool-Aid that Neal Stephenson serves his fans. Snow Crash and Crytonomicon are two of my favorite books, but I was lukewarm towards The Diamond Age and then hit a wall with Anathem. So when I heard he was coming out with Seveneves, and that the plot was much more like traditional “hard” SF than his earlier cyberpunk, steampunk, nanotech, cryptography, technothriller works, I wasn’t sure I’d like it. But really there’s only one way to know if you like a book or not – you have to read it for yourself.

Basically, when you have over 900 pages to work with, you can dedicate hundreds of pages to detailed world-building and still have plenty of time for complex characterizations and a very extensive plot. You’d think that was enough for any author, but we’re talking about Neal Stephenson here. His infodumps can bring even the most dedicated geeks to their knees, and that is what his die-hard fans are looking for. I didn’t mind his infodumps in Cryptonomicon, since they were interesting in their own right, but I was completely defeated by the esoteric mathematic and philosophical discussions of Anathem, which I found extremely tedious.

In Seveneves, the infodumps essentially constitute the first 500-600 pages. Once we know that the moon has been destroyed and then surface of the Earth will be inundated with meteorites (in the first paragraph), Stephenson then decides that the best way to further the story is to describe in painstaking detail every single technological and engineering difficulty that humanity will face. The amount of research he has done is stupendous, and he clearly admires Neil de Grasse Tyson, who appears in barely fictional form. He throws a bunch of scientists and astronauts into the unwanted role of being humanity’s only hope of survival. Despite the book length, he doesn’t devote any time to the fate of the seven billion members of humanity who have been handed a death sentence. Instead, we are treated to chapter after chapter dedicated to problems of geosynchronous orbits, propellant limitations, tiny meteor strikes, artificial habitats, etc, etc.

For me the first two thirds of the book were really heavy going. Even thought Stephenson introduces a long list of characters, it’s hard to get into their innermost thoughts despite the dire situation facing them. As crisis follows crisis, the odds get more and more insurmountable. There are plenty of fascinating details, but the pace of progress is really slow. Finally humanity finds itself down to just seven women, or “seveneves”. With extinction looming, these women must make a momentous decision on how to survive. Their council sets the stage for the creation of seven races of humans that evolve from them.

Fast forwarding 5,000 years, the story finally brings us to the part that I was actually more interested in, the resettling and terraforming of the Earth after the meteorite storm. And when he does start to describe the new races of humanity, each descended from the original Seveneves, the scenario is well-described and such a contrast to the dire straights of the first two-thirds of the book. Here Stephenson is again in his element, giving us a well-constructed future society with complex interactions. There is a huge amount of potential here for a multi-volume far-future epic about terraforming the Earth along the lines of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy. The big problem is that we have already had to slog through 600 pages just to reach this point, and now have only 300 pages left to establish the new far-future scenario and actually incorporate a viable plot that can be wrapped up in that short span.

Unfortunately, just like in The Diamond Age, Stephenson again runs out of pages to deliver a satisfactory storyline after all the world-building. He hasn’t learned how to forward the story amid all the technical descriptions. I know he can achieve this as he did in Snow Crash and Crytonomicon, but this book felt a lot more like the existential torture of Anathem, which I couldn’t finish. In fact, the abrupt nature of the ending of Seveneves suggests ample room for a sequel, which is really irritating, since the least he could do is give us a stand-alone novel if it’s almost 1,000 pages long. I know there are plenty of readers out there who don’t mind multi-volume door-stopper epics, but I have 400 books on my TBR list, so I won’t be lining up to read the sequel if it does appear.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal (who does the first two thirds set right after the moon is destroyed) and Will Damron (who does the far-future portion). I’d have to say that Kowal is facing an uphill battle with a very exposition-heavy narrative that I already found boring, and she makes it much worse by doing a terrible job trying to make the male voices sound male by doing this silly low voice that sounds ridiculous, especially for the de Grasse character. Perhaps it’s easier for male narrators to do female voices, but this just sounded awkward. When we go forward 5,000 years into the future we also get a new narrator, Will Damron, which is a huge relief both due to the change in storyline and because he does a much better job.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,977 followers
April 27, 2016
I don't know what all those complainers are going on about. As far as I can see, I just got two novels for the price of one. The first 2/3rds is all hard science fiction, where science matters and the whole thing is tied together with plausibility. The last third is pure unadulterated speculative fiction with damn fine worldbuilding and extrapolation from the first 2/3rds.

Let me back up. I can honestly say that I loved the gigantic erector set that was the first novel, but I will admit that I wasn't head over heels in love with most of the characters, and the few that I really liked were at least two dimensional. This isn't a condemnation. A lot had to be covered to get us from a happyish world, through a blown-up moon, to a mad scramble to survive before the earth gets fireballed by our ex-moon. That means the International Space Station needs one hell of an upgrade. A lot happens, and it's tragic and heroic and beautiful. I've read a lot worse hard sf, and when I say it, it's not a condemnation, either. Hard sf is a lifestyle choice. It's hard to do and successfully pull off a great story with great characters against, say, any other novel that doesn't care about consistency and scrupulous attention to detail.

Mr. Stephenson pulls it off, and I'm not just touting him because I'm a lifelong fan of his writings. I'm saying the novel is solid.

Now on to the second novel. A lot of people have a problem with this one, going, "What the fuck?" Not me. This is where we stop being grounded and we let our imaginations fly. A lot can and will happen in 5000 years from the last hurrah of the plausible and likely end of humanity.

So I see another tradition being followed, one I like even more than the strict master of hard sf. I immediately got sucked into the imagery, the action, the curiosity, the mystery, and the unfolding of a brand new Earth. I don't need to bring up all the greats who have done hopeful and optimistic futures, although I will if anyone asks, but Mr. Stephenson has served up a beauty.

So much is bright and colorful about it, and I'm including the different human races, the flying, the landscape, and the revelations about what the people find down there. No spoilers, but suffice to say there's always a way to bring conflict in, even though the future is hopeful. It was a sheer pleasure to explore, and if the novel was NOT an extension of the first 2/3, I'm pretty sure that most of the haters out there would have thought it was an interesting tale on par with any of the classics. It's all about survival, rebuilding and restoring, genetic engineering, massive scale engineering, and the supremely toned-down idea that love endures.

It was very touching.

All right. I'll mention Brin. It reminds me of the best of Brin.

So that brings me back to the main question: Should these two novels be considered one? There's obviously ties throughout the second one, but I'll be honest with you, they could have been added long after the fact, just so the second novel could see print. That's a very negative way to view it, in my opinion, because I happened to love it for what it was.

Is it a sign of the times that old-style adventure novels set in the deep future can't get published any longer? I hope not. I'd love to see more, assuming the stories still kick ass.

But to answer my own question... Yes and No. The first novel could easily have turned into an ultimate bummer. The second novel could stand on its own. Left to itself, the first novel would have absolutely needed some sort of machinery of god or perhaps the triumphant return of the assholes who had raced to Mars. It would have needed something, anyway, to satisfy the readers. We aren't reading traditional fiction. It wasn't a character study. If the only way to give the reader what s/he wants is to give us a resolution that doubles as a whole second novel, then I say, "Hell yes!"

Because at least this way, I wouldn't have to wait a long time for a sequel when I wasn't satisfied with the first. Can you imagine, or do you remember when Hyperion came out and you got to the end and went, "Huh?" with no Fall of Hyperion to complete it? It's the same deal, although, I'll be honest, Hyperion is still better than this novel. (If you peeps haven't read it, then do so. It's still very high praise to be compared to it, even in a lesser capacity.)

Of course, Neal Stephenson has a whole catalog of some of my absolute favorite reading list, so I'm amazingly biased here.

Was this novel good? You betcha. Did it surprise? Absolutely. Do I recommend? Yes, for fans of the SFF genre with keen eyes and adjustable expectations.

Update 4/27/16

This has been nominated for 2016 Hugo for best novel!

While I think it's pretty awesome in retrospect for the ideas, the science, and the rather epic scope of both saving the race in the first part of the novel and the far-ish future ramifications in the last 2/3rds of the novel, there were also wide swaths of boring info-dumping, too. I might have gone hog-wild all over this novel as the biggest contender for the Hugo, otherwise, but that might also have something to do with how much of a fanboy I am for the author. :)

Unfortunately, this is isn't my first or even second choice for the Hugo winner for this year. Good promise, but the pacing was off.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
797 reviews3,632 followers
February 20, 2022
Wait for the conclusion, because after about 70 percent of the novel, a fascinating future humankind enters the stage.

There are, at the moment, many authors and screenwriters dealing with the idea of space colonization, habitats, and especially sociology and politics, parallel in space and on Earth, that it´s tricky to know who created what. Not to mention the old classics of sci-fi, where similar or maybe even identical settings may wait hidden behind close to impassable walls of oldfashioned writing.

That´s, what I´ve read so far, the closest, first hard sci-fi, first with some and then mainly space opera, Stephenson has written, because he usually tends to stay on devastated, dystopian Earth. There are, of course, lengths, and long passages without much action, but in contrast to some of other of Stephensons´ works with much philosophizing and info dumping, a better character implementation helps to prevent losing control over the storyline.

How good old tribalism poisons a technologically highly developed future space population, the results of it, the psychological and sociological effects of long time living in space environments, and how a very far future could look like, make it one of the most detailed and astonishing future visions, a bit similar to Kim Stanley Robinson´s work Red Mars. Because usually, there is much more action in such genre works, fractions, aliens, war, space battles, etc., but by just focusing on the key elements, Stephenson wants to explore, it gets much denser than the conventional sci-fi.

But it´s just something for enthusiasts and sci-fi prone persons, others could theoretically skim and scan some passages to accelerate if the topic doesn´t interest them, but that wouldn´t really make much sense, because the fusion of the technical and social aspects is what makes this work so interesting. And one has to honor Stephenson for making it a far not as complex, closer to normal novel, read, in contrast to his other sophisticated behemoths including different sciences, theories, genres, and ideas that make reading it both so fascinating and exhausting.

It´s wise to check preferences before, if one wants to read one of the more normal of his novels or one of the true beasts, because these could easily lead to dissatisfaction because they are like written by another author.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Susan May.
Author 238 books616 followers
September 30, 2015
Official announcement:

So after 650 pages of 850, Seveneves & I are going our separate ways. I've decided he's a bore. He just dwells too much on technical minutiae & I like to focus on people & characters & enjoy the adventure in books. I'm sure there are thousands who will love him for who he is.
He did try & change for me, bless him. He put on a silly hat, got me some flowers, but it wasn't enough to entice me to continue with him until the end. I'm sorry, Seveneves, I told you going in, either show me a good time or I will move on. I'm now out with Michael Robotham's Close Your Eyes & already I'm having more fun. No hard feelings Seveneves, you just gotta lighten up. It wasn't you, it was me!

Here is my parting photo for those who have enjoyed the journey on this thread, which included photos of Seveneves as he shared my life for a short time.


The Review
It was long, over-technical, and I couldn't finish it. At 650 pages with still 200 odd to go, I'd been skimming for about 200 previous pages, I gave up. There are too many great books waiting for me. I just felt the whole thing got away from the author. Shame, because it could have been great. The publisher should have broken it into 3 separate novels and really focused on getting each one tight with some pace and heart. The characters are flat.

But lots of people seem to have loved it, so obviously it comes down to personal taste. I would just rather be inside the heads of characters instead of being told about things. And I love technical stuff. I'm a science fiction nerd, but make the technical stuff interesting while you tell the story. Don't sprout it like a brain dump.

The thread for this review has been more fun than reading the book. I'm an author, so I don't like being critical of other authors. This book wasn't for me, but it might be for those who like loads of technical science stuff and aren't so much into characters and action. I just figure when you're in space and you're destroying planet Earth, why not go for it. So don't be put off by my thoughts. However, if you agree with a lot of my reviews then this won't be the book for you I don't think.

Profile Image for matthew.
323 reviews46 followers
July 2, 2015
I knew I was going to hate this novel around page 270 when Mr Stephenson, technocrat extraordinaire, decided to spend a page complaining about modern gender theory and "academic leftists" who were wasting time and energy. I had already been put off by the jingoistic libertarian nonsense promulgated through a lot of science fiction and given centre stage in this novel, but this anti-humanities screed was the last straw. It's not just that it's intellectually lazy (it is, though, full of strawmen) or that it's politically objectionable (Stephenson has his heart in the right place). The problem is that it's a propos of nothing. The questionable section is added not as characterization but as polemic. Life is too short for lazy strawmen in fiction.

If you thought the gun-fetish heavy Reamde was Stephenson's worst, don't bother reading this. This novel is even more execrable and contains none of the wit or charm of earlier Stephenson. His prose flops around -- short, declarative sentences that even children could read. There is none of Stephenson's artfulness, none of his ability to defamiliarize the recognizable into beautiful metaphors and similes (such as when he describes, in Quicksilver, I believe, the stream of urine as the arc of a comet). As a fan of Stephenson, I'm wholly disappointed to have trudged through this dreck, hoping for some sort of revelation that this book was worth it. Alas, there is none.

The plot of the novel, such as it is, is a poor man's Kim Stanley Robinson. You'd be better served to read Red Mars; at least the politics are more complex and nuanced than "government is BAD, you guys!"
Profile Image for Nicole R.
980 reviews
June 20, 2019

I just can't do it anymore. I am 46% through this 880 page monstrosity, and I just cannot read another page. I thought I would give it one more shot tonight, but after reading for 45 minutes and literally having no idea what I just read I think it is time to throw in the towel.

I feel like I should like this book. I love space and dystopian (which, I guess this kind of is?) but I should have known better given that I I am hit or miss on sci-fi. And the plot was actually intriguing. I liked many of the characters and was interested to see what would happen to them.

But, my god, the unnecessary details. The mind-numbing descriptions. The inability to actually get to know any of the characters because he described the inanimate objects in minute detail.

I was more interested in the people. The author was more interested in describing every square inch of a space station. Then a meteoroid. Then a comet.

I want to give this book the benefit of the doubt. Maybe if I wasn't so busy with work and school and had more time to read I would have enjoyed it more. Maybe if I hadn't taken almost a month to read just under half of it I would have noticed the details less and the plot would have moved along better. Maybe if I had it in hardcover I would have been encouraged by the satisfaction of pages moving from the right to the left.

Then again, maybe not.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews869 followers
May 24, 2022
"What keeps us alive isn't bravery, or athleticism, or any of those other skills that were valuable in a caveman society. It's our ability to master complex technological skills. It is our ability to be nerds. We need to breed nerds.”

The People Who Survive, an interview with Neal Stephenson, author of Seveneves - Electric Literature

Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is impressive! Mankind has two years to prepare for the end of the world. Go! There have been other books with a similar premise, but the devil (about how humanity comes together to work out the enormous technological and existential problems of the challenge) is in the details. And the details are important to Stephenson. Critically important! In Seveneves (the first 2/3 of the novel), Stephenson combines nice storytelling with a hard science bend in a way which is understandable (most of the time) and doesn’t have me wanting to skip over those details.

In that respect, this part reminded me of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. It isn’t just what you do, but how you do it which is important. After the Earth is blasted by chunks of the moon and apparently made uninhabitable, the focus shifts to surviving and thriving off world. Though over a thousand people escape a doomed Earth, after a few short years, only a handful are left to figure out humanity’s next steps.

The final 1/3 of the novel takes place 5,000 years later. This easily could have been a separate novel, but there are connections. I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of the formation of seven distinct races that is presented at the end of the first part of the book and then again near the beginning of the second part. However, it allowed Stephenson to continue his exploration of ways in which humanity might want to alter itself to adapt to a changing world. I had been somewhat skeptical, but it worked.

Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves is thoughtful and relevant to how we think about our future!

4.25 stars.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,052 reviews583 followers
April 21, 2023
I continued my recent SF binge with a look at this mammoth offering from the award-winning writer of ‘speculative fiction’. The first sentence sets the scene pretty well:

The moon blew up with no warning and for no apparent reason.

Soon, the best known television commentator on such issues is proclaiming that the hard rain’s a-gonna fall. And keep falling. In fact it’ll rain rocks for thousands of years. Not the best news then.

And we’re off into the realm of the end of the world, as we know it – with a date for its destruction pretty much nailed down to two years hence. All of this is covered very early on and the first two thirds of the book is devoted to how the human race (but mainly the Americans) respond to this news.

This is where I wanted to be wowed by accounts of people’s reaction to the impending catastrophe, scenes of civic unrest and, perhaps, a deep quasi-sociological study of how mankind would cope with the likely total destruction of humanity. Well, I guess I haven’t read a Neal Stephenson novel before or I might have known this is not where he’d take it.

In fact, the human reaction appears to be a very co-ordinated, highly organised and a largely matter-of-fact acceptance of their collective fate. This side of it dealt with, Stephenson retreats into what he really wants to talk about: the space travel, the gizmos and the tech-speak of the truly hardened SF geek. Ok, that might be a bit harsh, and it does more reflect my personal preference for coverage of the human-interest side of events rather than the science documentary that ensues, but I do feel it’s the one true flaw of this book. Exploring the idea of a Space Ark as a way of sustaining the human race is interesting, and an amount of science is needed to give the tale credibility, but I also wanted to know what was happening back on earth.

In the last third of the book we jump forward to the end of the hard rain and are shown an interesting ‘what next’ hypothesis. To me this felt like a different book - the next book. It’s quite an interesting tale in its own right, but the real story had already been told.

I feel that I’ve been quite critical in my summary, but it’s really born of the frustration I feel that such a brilliant idea – something that should have been a truly memorable and brilliantly epic story – fell somewhat short of my expectations. In some ways the feel of this book has similarities to The Martian, though it lacks the same energy and buttock clenching tension. However, I did still enjoy it and I think true SF aficionados will find less to grouse about than me.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
March 18, 2019
$1.99 Kindle sale, March 18, 2019. 4.33 stars. I managed to read this 870 page SciFi chunkster while my family was on vacation in southern Utah, visiting Zion, Goblin Valley, Dead Horse Point and Arches national and state parks. (There was a lot of downtime while we were driving between different points of interest, and luckily my husband likes to drive, which leaves me with a lot of reading time.)

Arches National Park

The seared look of the landscape in some of those parks fit in well with the premise of this epic novel.

Goblin Valley State Park

In Seveneves, the moon is suddenly broken apart by some unknown agent, and scientists soon realize that the pieces of the moon are going to continue to whack into each other and break up into smaller and smaller pieces. Within a couple of years, this will cause a rain of meteors and meteorites that will burn all life off the face of the earth and make it uninhabitable for, say, 5,000-10,000 years.

What to do? It turns out there are a few different possible answers.

One group - and this is initially the focus of Seveneves - heads into space. There's a frantic effort to set up a space station and modules so that life can be self-sustaining for several thousand years. Even with nations and governments (largely) cooperating, two years is really not enough time to really organize such massive undertaking. People do what they can ... but the system soon starts to fray, for both technical and sociological reasons.

When Stephenson is on, he's fantastic and imaginative, one of the best SF writers I know. The sheer brainpower that went into this novel is mind-boggling. The drawback here, at least for some readers, will be the massive overload of technological explanation, especially as it involves the physical set-up of the space station, robots, and other high-tech inventions of the future. I enjoyed it all at first, but by the time it got to the voyage of the Ymir (where a space shuttle takes off on a vital mission), I had mentally checked out of the engineering parts and was skimming them.

Toward the end of the novel, there's a sudden leap forward several thousand years in time, when we find out what happened to the survivors. It's a little disjointed, though it's interesting to see how it all played out in the distant future. I'm wondering if Stephenson, brilliant as he is, just doesn't have a good handle on how to end a novel strongly. At least this one's ending was better than The Diamond Age: or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Still, Seveneves has an absolutely fascinating premise, and that, together with Stephenson's great imagination and some compelling plotlines, kept me going through the end. I would give my husband (who was driving for our entire southern Utah trip) periodic reports on the State of Humanity in this novel, and even he, a TOTALLY non-SF person, was asking me for updates. So overall it's clearly a win!
Profile Image for Yzabel Ginsberg.
Author 3 books102 followers
July 16, 2015
I finally managed to finish it. Yesss. I did.

Now where to start.

Good ideas, definitely. Using the ISS as a base for survival. Trying to cram as much knowledge and items as possible there to preserve the human race. Having to watch from above, knowing that all your beloved ones are doomed to death in about two years, and the clock keeps ticking by. Knowing that it's all unavoidable because it's happening on such a scale no group of heroes will be able to fix it, or whatever. Having to say goodbye while keeping strong. The orchestras on Earth, silenced one after the other. Crazy harebrained expeditions like the Ymir's—oh, goodness, that part was epic, and clearly one of my favourite ones. Such moments of beauty those could've been.


But it read so dry most of the time, and not because of the science. Actually, I like the science. I like having a few explanations about how this works and why and what's the science behind. I like seeing how characters go through specific situations using robots, vehicles, and so on. However, this book was really bizarre in that regard. It regularly felt like being in a classroom with a teacher explaining some very easy stuff you've already understood, then brushing away your questions at the harder theories you do not understand. As an "old" reader of sci-fi, and one that isn't new to hard sci-fi either, I am kind of used to inferring a lot of things. I do not need to read sentences such as "they climbed into the Lunar Vehicle—in other words, the LV". Just write the full name, then give me the acronym three lines later, and I can do the math, thank you. I've always been crap at maths and physics, really, so when I start thinking "but that's the very basics, why are you expanding on it", then there's a problem.

All the telling-not-showing also greatly reduced the characters' roles as people instead of plot devices. Granted, it was obvious a lot of them would die, and this is precisely why I would've loved seeing more from their point of view, more of their actions "off screen".For instance, the guys in the Ymir, again, went through a lot, yet we just learn about it matter-of-factly later. Or the Arkies and the "Casting of Lots", all the young people who were trained and sent in space to keep as much diversity as possible.

In a way, this book was too ambitious for, well, one book. Or too full of explanations, taking too much room, to be able realise its full potential as a plot with so many implications. It could've spanned two or three novesl: the going into space, surviving for 5000 years with all the problems that were bound to arise, then the return to Earth, for instance. So many themes to tackle. The politics. The troubles going on Earth before the Hard Rain: not as pronounced as one could've expected (hoarding, rioting...). The schemes going on on board the ISS after it had become the only shelter left (they should've shot a certain woman as soon as they saw her, is all I'm going to say). And then, later, the whole seven races and their characteristics that somehow never got diluted in spite of living in such crammed space, clinging to differences that didn't make that much sense all things considered (I didn't buy the "they all retained traits from their founders" idea). The return to Earth had some nicely adventurous moments, bordering on indeed showing more than telling, but those didn't last.

This was a far, far cry from Snow Crash (which I read and loved some 12 or 13 years ago, by the way). It could've been so intense, so epic, so full of both hope and despair mixed together. Instead, it just completely fell flat for me.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
October 23, 2015
This epic tale of survival of the human species in space after the earth gets wrecked by a “Hard Rain” of meteorites was a real treat for me. It represents a landmark in revival of old themes of science fiction from the Golden Age of the 40s and 50s, which had hallmarks of inspiring a sense of wonder and of extolling human technological capacities and can-do spirit sufficient to break out of our fragile planetary prison. For those who have been disappointed in previous attempts to read recent Stephenson works, I see improvement in his character development and tendencies toward digression and diversion. A handful of characters here get fleshed out enough as lively personalities for satisfactory levels of emotional engagement, and the expository writing he incorporates to explain science and engineering feats are less like information dumps and more subjugated to the critical problem solving of the character’s heroic missions.

From the first line (“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason”), the reader is placed in a marathon to prepare solutions for survival. The main characters are two women on the International Space Station, Dinah, an engineer from a company pursuing use of robots to mine asteroids, and Ivy, a physicist and NASA astronaut commanding “Izzy”. Their oddball friendship is forged as an island of sanity in the macho atmosphere of males in the complement of astronaut scientists on the station. When the modeling projections from earth experts tell them that within a couple of years that the big pieces of the moon will bash themselves up and throw off enough pieces to destroy the earth, we experience their tough emotional transitions in relating to loved ones destined to die along with everyone else. But they rise to the occasion. Ivy has to manage a massive remodeling of Izzy to accommodate as many people as earth can send, and Dinah gets tasked to use her cool array of robots to help with the engineering and to hollow out the asteroid recently brought in to the station by her company.

Another key character, Doob Harris, is a black astronomer turned into a public education whiz in the likeness of Neal deGrasse Tyson. Along with reports from Dinah’s miner father in Alaska and Ivy’s submarine commander husband, Doob contributes a lot to the eyewitness accounts of the progression of events on Earth. He is privy to a lot of meetings of the power elite and becomes tapped for inspiring cooperation and dedication to the colony enterprise, which calls for much sacrifice for survival of the few. He travels around as an official for media events associated with collecting pairs of boys and girls from each nation in proportion to their population. Though tens of thousands are selected, the sad secret is that fewer than two thousand can be sent. He is resigned to die with his family, but it turns out that his expertise in media relations and science-based propaganda are needs for Izzy’s mission.

The details of Izzy’s growth was fascinating. An image in the book shows the station bound to the asteroid at one end and a toroid which can be spun for artificial gravity, necessary for agriculture and for significant visitation by humans to avoid bone loss from weightlessness. Living space for the majority is created from modular inflatable cylinders or space capsules that can attack to station struts or fly freely in computed regulated swarms to dodge moon debris. They can be tethered in pairs and spun to make a centrifugal equivalent of gravity.

I love Stephenson’s interplay among factions on Izzy. The core of scientists and administrators making all the decisions, the cadre of mostly Russian astronauts sent up for the dangerous construction work, and the large set of youth who largely get ignored. The social and political evolution of this mix leads a number of dangerous crises. Appointment of a more powerful commander in place of Ivy becomes necessary, along with security forces to maintain order. The former U.S. president, who shows up uninvited, makes for an interesting and destabilizing villain in the factional disputes. How long can the effective dictatorship under martial law proceed? When does a constitution, bill of rights, and legal system become necessary? What is to stop a revolutionary faction from going off on their own?

Before the final apocalypse on Earth, Dinah’s boss mysteriously orders her to develop programming of her fleet of robots to work on sculpting ice. He arrives at Izzy unexpectedly and announces his bold plan to go get a big chunk of a comet to help assure the long term viability of the human space colony. He soon makes off with some of Ivy’s expert people, a small spaceship, a nuclear reactor, lots of supplies, and a lot of Dinah’s robots for this multiyear initiative. We get a big dose of science for this mission, but it’s worth it to make their brave and thrilling adventure come alive with high levels of plausibility and appreciation of its risks.

Ever since the real doom threatened by the Cold War our despair of science as a savior has only grown in response to the environmental devastations and mass extinctions arising from our human impacts in the world. Since my youth I have loved the big themes of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic literature and now thrive on its recent renaissance. In response to pervasive pessimism most books in this area have been on a down-bound train for a long time, often melding closely with dystopian fiction. This tale is hopeful over the ability of the species to work collaboratively to harness current technologies for achieving sustainable orbital human colonies. But it is also incorporates a realistic appreciation of the curse in man’s divisive nature and proclivities for violent conflict. Before the book gets very far, you will not only be wrenched by natural death of countless residents of earth by fiery cataclysm, you will experience a lot of losses among the space colonists due to human stupidities and competition for power. As the book blurb testifies, the nip and tuck of survival has a coda many years later:

But the complexities and unpredictablity of human nature coupled with unforeseen dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remains…
Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown … to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

I will leave all details of the later part of the book unspoiled. Stephenson acknowledges his borrowing of ideas for this section:
While the first two parts of the story are a tale of straight-up global disaster and hastily improvised technology, I always viewed the third part of it as an opportunity to showcase many of the more positive ideas that have emerged over the last century, from the global community of people interested in space exploration. Many of the big hardware ideas of the latter part of the book have been kicking around in the literature for decades and will be recognized as old friend by longtime readers of hard science fiction.

Despite my appreciation of the plausibility of much of the engineering and physics in this book, I am somewhat disappointed that the biology did not get as much care. For one thing, living on reprocessed algae for generations is a bit of hand waving at the complexities involved for chemical manufacturing in a space environment. The problem of not having enough biodiversity in the human population in their final situation is handled okay with a fair projection of editing out deleterious mutations and splicing in of artificial variant of genes. However, the prospects of creating organisms and ecologies starting just from stored DNA sequences seems forever impossible to me. You will always need living cells of related species to insert any synthesized sequences into (for more information see this article from the Genetic Literacy Project). E.O. Wilson in his book, The Diversity of Life, argues that an ecosystem with its interdependencies of thousands of species evolving over millions of years is unlikely to ever be something that technology interventions will ever be able to reconstitute. The idea in the end sections of generating races with different genetic proclivities in personality types also seemed not to be founded on current behavioral genetics as I understand it or likely to be founded on voluntary genetic segregation among human survivors.

Overall this book was an outstanding achievement that I will long treasure for its heights of imagination, fun, and adventure.

Profile Image for Enso.
184 reviews35 followers
June 5, 2015
As the joke has been going, if you enjoy orbital mechanics as a main character, you'll enjoy this novel. I was commenting to someone that the book could be 100 pages shorter if we dumped the super detailed description of orbital mechanics that occurs as an info-dump over and over again. Then I met someone who had gotten annoyed enough to begin counting pages when it happened and got to around 259 pages of it. *sigh*

Stephenson is the Stephen King of Science Fiction: only writes massive novels that no editor is up to the challenge of editing (and I *liked* Reamde!). There is a kernel of an excellent novel (or two) here but this is just a monstrosity that I finished out of spite.

The novel is divided into thirds:
1) Lead up to the destruction of Earth in a few years' time
2) The orbital antics following the destruction
3) 5000 years later with the re-terraforming of the Earth

The first third was a pretty good novel. The last third *could* have been a decent novel with a bit of work. The middle third was kind of shit. All of this with waaaaaaaay too much detail on how space mechanics work from an author who was a consultant at Jeff Bezos' private space venture in Seattle.

Needless to say, I was disappointed and question whether I'll be reading any more of Stephenson's tomes after all of this, and I've read every novel he's ever written.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,347 reviews4,863 followers
November 1, 2021

3.5 stars

As the story opens the moon explodes into a number of big chunks for reasons that are unclear, though most likely it was hit by some space object.

The shock and awe among Earth's human population is soon exacerbated when scientists announce that the moon chunks will inevitably collide with each other, break up into smaller and smaller pieces, and - in two years time - begin to rain down on the Earth. This 'hard rain' will last five thousand years and destroy the entire surface of the planet.

In an effort to preserve the human race, world leaders and scientists plan to construct a space habitat for a couple of thousand people - with the International Space Station (ISS) as the hub. The book is almost 900 pages long and approximately the first three-quarters describes, in great detail, the construction of this habitat. This part of the book is very technical and (for me) hard to picture.

My overall impression is that people would live in roundish space pods, each about the size of a trailer home, that can attach to and detach from the ISS and each other. This would allow the pods to move about to avoid being hit by space debris. It would also enable them to connect to each other and rotate, to generate a gravitational field.

The space habitat would need to generate food, oxygen, and energy. It would also need to house a huge amount of tools, medicine, scientific equipment, technology, and so on. The habitat would also include a chromosome bank to preserve the genomes of plants, animals, and humans left behind on Earth.

The long range plan is, when the Earth becomes habitable in five thousand years, it will be repopulated by the descendants of the space people as well as other living things generated from the genome bank.

Naturally there's some drama attached to the selection of the tiny percentage of people who will be sent aloft, since everyone else would die. The author doesn't really address what would happen among those destined to be left behind. He seems, in fact, to suggest they would (for the most part) benignly accept their fate. This seems completely unrealistic. Then again, covering this issue would probably be another book.

Meanwhile there's plenty going on during the construction of the space habitat. As always when there are more than five people involved in an undertaking, politics rears it ugly head. Thus things don't proceed according to plan and lots of unexpected things happen. I don't want to give away spoilers so I'll just say that - after many many pages - the hard rain starts and life in space commences.

Jump ahead five thousand years and the descendants of the original humans in the space habitat - now numbering several billion people divided into seven races - start to terraform and return to Earth.

Inevitably, given human nature, the races are divided into the equivalent of two "countries" called Red and Blue. These are somewhat reminiscent of the old Soviet Union and the United States. There's tension between Red and Blue, and wars and peace treaties result - much as occurred on Earth before time zero (when the moon exploded).

In the last part of the book a group of seven people, including an individual from each race, are sent down to Earth on a scouting expedition. Their mission is to investigate some odd sightings and to see what's what down there. This leads to the climax of the book and perhaps presents some hope for the future of humankind.

I'm not quite sure how I feel about this book. The premise is fascinating, and the author - who clearly did a phenomenal amount of research - seems to cover every aspect of what's required to make a successful space habitat. The details of constructing the habitat, however, are overly long, detailed, and tedious. For me, the human interactions in the habitat are more interesting.

I also feel that the story becomes more compelling toward the end, when the new human races are preparing to go back to Earth. There are a few surprises in the story, which some readers might anticipate.

Director Ron Howard is making a movie adaptation of the book, which I look forward to.

It might provide visual images of technical details that are hard to follow when described in scientific jargon. It should also provide a picture of the new races - which seem to be significantly different from modern humans.

I'm not sure the average reader would enjoy this book but I'd certainly recommend it to fans of 'hard' science fiction. In any case, this book could definitely generate lots of intelligent, engaging conversations at book clubs, dinner tables, and parties.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Philip.
500 reviews673 followers
May 11, 2017
3.5ish stars. Really 3 stars but I'll add .5 for pure chutzpah.

Wow. That was definitely an experience. I have to hand it to Neal Stephenson; the amount of research time that went into this must have been insane. I mean, I have no idea how accurate any of the science actually is but, I mean, it sounded good. After the first few info-dumps, however, I just kept thinking to myself, "Yes, I get it! You're smart! I'm convinced!" I'm sure there are people who are into the nitty-gritty details about astrophysics, robotics, orbital mechanics, genetics, etc. etc. etc., but I'm just not one of those people. Thus, I was occasionally (sometimes more than occasionally) bored out of my mind. Some of it was legitimately interesting, most of it was not.

The story at the heart of the first part of the novel was fascinating and worth telling. The story at the heart of the second part was sporadically entertaining and maybe worth telling.

The scope and ambition is just incredible. The premise is gripping. The vision and innovation is breathtaking. And that's what got me so invested. Whenever the characters were involved, doing whatever they were doing, I was sucked in. It seemed that those moments were so few and far between. Whenever I saw quotation marks while reading or heard the (honestly kind of awful) narrator change voice to portray a character, I would immediately stop zoning out and pay attention again. I get that this isn't necessarily a character driven story but I liked it best when they were involved because, to me, they were the literal embodiments of civilization's reaction to the disastrous implications the story is based on. Also, I have a huge crush on Ivy.

Having said that, I found it hard after starting over upon the commencement of part 2 to really care about the new characters and feel connected to them. It was interesting in the sense that they were descendants of the characters (blue good! red bad!) I knew and loved, but not gripping in an emotional sense to have much investment into what happened to them as long as red was utterly destroyed and humiliated into obliteration and I hope they all die horrible deaths and I hate Julia. I guess that goes for the second story in general. It was wonderful and necessary to experience the outcomes of what culminated at the end of part one. And I can't really say what would have been a better way to give us that experience. But I don't know if the story we were given was the best way.

Hidden beneath all of the science, Stephenson had a lot to say about humankind as a whole. Put under extreme pressure how would we react? Would we be able to come together as a united body for the sake of preserving everything we are? Humankind having been reduced to eight women (arguably the greatest, or luckiest, humans in existence) how would humanity transform based on their decisions and natures? 5000 years in the future, what would be different and what would be the same? It allows us to ponder on how civilization today is different from 5000 years ago.

Back to the audiobook narrator for the first part. Woof. Doob sounds like Kermit. And he's probably the best-voiced male. It was rough.

Overall: ambitious premise, commendable effort, moderately proficient execution.

Also, was it hard for anyone else to buy that
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
August 5, 2015
Interesting, and extremely entertaining book. (Or, should I say, 'two books'? Because it really is two totally separate novels.)

The first book is a very much on-trend apocalyptic-event novel. An enigmatic something causes the moon to blow apart into 7 huge chunks. Since Neal Stephenson covered it at the talk I saw him give recently, I'm going to say he doesn't think it'd be too much of a spoiler to reveal that those seven chunks are soon predicted to keep banging up against each other in orbit until they eventually become a devastating hail of meteorites that are going to transform the Earth into a very, very unpleasant place to be for the foreseeable future.

A great many people decide that the answer to this disaster is SPACE - and a concerted effort is made to get self-sustaining habitats up beyond the Earth's atmosphere ASAP.

I felt that this part of the book might've been very over-optimistic, as far as humanity's ability to pull together in a common cause. It's difficult to call a book that portrays a disaster of the scope that we eventually see here as 'optimistic' in any way - but I still had that feeling.

Amusingly (but weirdly), the main character for two-thirds of the book is Neil DeGrasse Tyson. There's also a character who strongly resembles Elon Musk (others have said Jeff Bezos), and later on, we get to meet bizarro-world Malala Yousafzai. And... is that possibly Hilary Clinton? I don't think so, but...

In the detailed technical description of the continuing innovations that people have to come up with to attempt to survive, the book reminded me of a much, much, much, much better-written version of Andy Weir's 'The Martian.' (Seriously, if you were thinking of reading 'The Martian' read this instead.) Overall, it reminded me much more strongly of Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Red Mars.' I liked this book better than Robinson's as well, but it has a very similar theme, and structure, and similar way of drawing characters, etc. If you like one, you'll probably like the other.

As I said, though, the last third is a completely different book. Suddenly, we jump to 5,000 years in the future, where we get to see what has become of humanity. There are some interesting extrapolations - but I also think, some oversimplifications. Mixed in with the predictive theorizing there's an action-oriented plot... which sort-of seems to be here just for the sake of having a plot (another thing that reminded me of Robinson's Mars-terraforming trilogy, actually.) It's still entertaining!
Profile Image for Lena.
184 reviews76 followers
June 23, 2022
As much as I like science fiction with an apocalyptical scenarios, this book couldn't grab my attention at all. At first sight it has it all: original ideas, thorough descriptions of new technologies and scientific theories, but it's very long with a boring plot and a bunch of unlikeable characters.
Profile Image for Beatriz.
831 reviews707 followers
March 12, 2019
De un hecho que probablemente haya sido el tema de otras novelas de ciencia ficción, como es la destrucción de la Luna y, por ende, la inminente destrucción del planeta Tierra, Neal Stephenson ha creado una obra monumental y absolutamente estremecedora. Su trabajo de investigación al abordar la amplitud de aristas que intervienen en todos los hechos que se comienzan a desencadenar, es realmente asombroso. Yo soy fundamentalmente humanista, por lo que debo reconocer que algunas descripciones científicas y tecnológicas se me hicieron algo largas y densas, a pesar de que el autor se preocupa de presentarlas de tal forma que hasta el más lego en la materia pueda entenderlas. Sin embargo, cuando con el mismo cuidado y nivel de descripción aborda los problemas sociales, éticos, antropológicos, políticos, culturales y religiosos, así como las emociones de sus personajes, para mí fue una gozada total.

Obviamente, en sus 800 páginas, el libro pasa por diferentes niveles de intensidad, pero hay momentos realmente arrebatadores y que quedarán grabadas en la memoria del lector: la Luna explotando en la primera página del libro, el descubrimiento de que ese hecho provocará la destrucción de la Tierra al cabo de dos años, la comunicación de este hecho a los siete mil millones de personas que habitan nuestro planeta, la concepción del Arca Nube y cómo logra hacernos sentir esa imperiosa necesidad de salvar a la humanidad como especie, son sólo algunos ejemplos de la primera parte y los que puedo mencionar sin que sea spoiler.

Por otra parte, las circunstancias en que los sobrevivientes tienen que perpetuar la especie, lo encontré de una originalidad increíble y, por lo mismo, en absoluto me incomodó el salto de 5000 años que se hace en el relato (pasada más de la mitad del libro) para saber cómo resultó todo.

En resumen, una odisea épica magnífica, donde es posible apreciar a verdaderos héroes de nuestro tiempo y en que los sacrificios personales son realmente dolorosos. Por todo lo anterior y porque fue un libro que me tuvo marcando ocupado por más de tres semanas, casi sin poder pensar en otra cosa, le doy unas muy merecidas 5 estrellas, a pesar de que hay partes en que realmente al autor se le va la mano con las descripciones y la lectura se pone un poco cuesta arriba. Pero, mirándolo en retrospectiva, siento que esas descripciones fueron necesarias para la comprensión integral de la obra.
Profile Image for Otis Chandler.
388 reviews113k followers
December 14, 2016
I love Stephenson - and this was another hit - absolutely loved it. The great thing about a good Stephenson book is it makes you think about the future in new ways, and this book was no exception.

It was really two books, and I certainly didn't see the second one coming. It starts out in modern times and then someone blows up the moon. We don't have time to find out who, as within a few years the fragments of the moon cause the worst asteriod shower earth has ever seen and wipe out all life in earth. We have time to send 1,500 people up into space - and this is their story.

The use of robots throughout the books was fascinating to me. Stephenson has clearly looked 10-20 years into our future and correctly predicted how it will go. From robot workers in space, nano-bots, nano-robot weapons, and more - we get a vivid portrayal of how robots might be a part of our future lives.

I thought the focus on use of whip technology in space was interesting. And of course, the whole notion of Cradle was just cool - though not sure about it's feasibility.

Profile Image for Niall Alexander.
29 reviews53 followers
April 30, 2015
600 pages of concentrated awesomesauce, let down a little by Stephenson's decision to devote so much of the last part to backfilling the 5000 years of future history he skipped absent the underpinnings of character or narrative. Still. His best in a decade, I dare say.
Profile Image for Mona.
484 reviews284 followers
August 20, 2015
Geeky Heroines and Heroes

A Wealth of Technical Details

Let me get this clear up front.  I’m a Neal  Stephenson fan.   Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books.   I also loved the Baroque Cycle series.  Snow Crash, not so much. That said, I was ambivalent (right up until the end) about whether to give this 3 stars or 4.  But the last section did it---four stars it is. My ambivalence is because of the very thing that makes Stephenson’s writing what it is---the plethora of technical details. Certainly Stephenson knows about space.  After all he worked for American aerospace company Blue Origin.   So there’s a real authenticity to the wealth of detail in the first two sections of the book.  

My quarrel with the book would be that sometimes, Stephenson gets bogged down in the hard technical stuff that he understands so well.  Actually, he's got an almost Aspergian obsession with technical minutiae.  In that sense, this reminded me of "The Martian", although "Seveneves" is a much better book.  Or put another way, I thought that sometimes the details got in the way of the story instead of advancing it.

  I became less certain about this as I progressed, since in many cases the technical details were the story.  This became more apparent in the last section, which took place in the far future.  Still, I think some of those details could have been cut and the book would have been better.

 The best moments in the book were those highlighting old fashioned narrative elements like character, story, and emotion.


Here's a summary:

Section One--Humanity's Last Two Years on Earth

In the first section, some unknown factor dubbed "The Agent" causes the moon to break apart.  I think the time frame for this is contemporary. TV science commentator Doc Dubois, a.k.a Doob, determines that this will cause a massive meteor shower known as the White Sky which will destroy the earth, rendering it unihabitable.  Mostly this will happen through a rain of fire known as the Hard Rain. (I wonder if Doob, an African-American astronomer whose full name is Dubois Xavier Jerome Harris, PhD, is modelled on Neil DeGrasse Tyson).

  Humanity has two years to prepare. So, most of the first section concerns a mad rush to save the human race by sending a small, hand picked cadre of assorted scientists, engineers, and other geeks into space.

Section Two--Earth is Defunct, Now What?

Section Two starts with the destruction of earth's seven billion via the White Sky, which precipitates the Hard Rain.  It ends with the main space station of survivors finding an asteroid remnant of the moon, The Cleft, in which they can safely dock the space station, which has undergone various changes of name and configuration.  The heroic acts and deaths of those who sacrifice themselves to save the human race make an amazing story.  In the end, there are seven eves, women of childbearing age who will perpetuate the race.  The Council of the Seven Eves includes Ivy Xiao, a scientist who is the captain of the space station; Moira Crewe, the geneticist;  Dinah MacQuarie, astronaut, roboticist, and jill of all trades;  Tekla, an Amazonian Russian cosmonaut who is an athlete and security guard as well;  Camila, a young Muslim woman;  and two others (not revealed because they are spoilers).

Section Three--Five Thousand Years in the Future

Section Three takes place five thousand years in the future. The human race is once again thriving, with three billion descendents of the Seven Eves living on a sort of Dyson ring in space known as The Habitat. It's an engineering culture. There are seven races, one descended from each Eve.  Reflecting the friendships formed when the Eves were alive, the Moiran, Teklan, Dinan and Ivyn races have an alliance called Blue.  The other three have an alliance called Red. Scientists have been terraforming earth in preparation for a massive return to the Earth's surface. A small interracial group--a Seven--is formed to take an exploratory trip to Earth. The expedition is headed up by Dr. Hu (a sly pun on...guess who?) What they find there is quite astonishing. I think the scope and breadth of the story are what won me over.

Bechdel Test

Also, I think this passes the Bechdel test. ( Bechdel Test ) Lots of strong female characters that talk to each other about topics other than men. This is very rare in science fiction, especially in hard science fiction, so kudos to Neal for this.  

Audio Readers

The audio had two readers.  Mary Robinette Kowal read the first two sections and I did not care for her reading.  She got most of the foreign accents laughably wrong, her renditions of male characters made me cringe, and she mispronounced lots of words.  Will Damron, who read the last section, was much better.

Please forgive any typos, etc.  My computer is broken and I am waiting for parts so I can repair it, but in the meantime my only online access is via my old and cranky Android phone or 45 minute computer sessions at the library..when it is open.
Profile Image for Dragana.
1,606 reviews143 followers
June 2, 2015
Its been a while since book left me with so many mixed feelings like Seveneves did.


* Builds on existing technology. Science fiction novels that use current state of our world as a starting point (or existing science concepts) and then build on it are my favorite kind. For example think of anything by Arthur C. Clarke. In Seveneves, everything scientists and engineers do, sounds realizable.

* Made me care. As a speculative fiction fan, I read a lot of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic books. In most of them the big part of the human race dies or has died. But Neal Stephenson really made me care and cheer for the survival of Earth.

* Nerdgasm galore. Neal Stephenson used a lot of interesting science facts as plot elements. I loved all the talk about development of artificial intelligence in robots, genetic engineering and what happens when you do ordinary tasks in space.

* Russians. Serbs and Russians have a shared ancestry and I noticed similarities in mentality and the general way of thinking that always make me smile. While Americans care about safety and take all necessary precautions, Russian technology is straightforward and a bit crazy in it’s simplicity.

"The qualifications for being a Scout seemed to be a shocking level of physical endurance, a complete disregard for mortal danger, and some knowledge of how to exist in a space suit. All of them were Russian."


* Gut-wrenchingly sad. Remember that part that Neal Stephenson made me care? Well, there is a downside. There are a lot of times when sacrifices had to be made or accidents happened. As a result, a lot of people and even some of the main characters die. While I was reading Seveneves, I had a big knot in my throat. It was all so tragic… I can not say this is bad, but I do not like books that make me sad.

* Annoying characters which I wanted to kill with my bare hands. Arhg! I hated them so much. They exploit and manipulate the others for their own interest. And the worst part, since their highest concern is saving their own ass, is that they usually survive. While good, noble characters die because they make willing sacrifices for the benefit of the human race.


* Bored by some scientific information. I liked some of the geeky stuff and Neal Stephenson’s attention to detail, but sometimes he just didn’t know when to stop and went into too much detail. It might be my fault, since some topics were not as interesting to me as others. For example: when the explanations about the propulsion, directions and amount needed to move a vehicles in space would start, I would just space out and skim until he changed the topics.

* Big paragraphs, sometimes spanning a couple of pages. I felt smothered with so much descriptions, all thrown at me without any break.

* Meh ending. After apocalypse and 5000 years I didn’t get the impression that human race improved at all. They still make the same mistakes. Why the hell did I read 880 pages for? Give me some hope!


Seveneves is a book that leaves me with a lot of thoughts and topics for discussion. I wish I read it in some book club, so we could chat about interesting geeky details, favorite emotional moments and rant about the characters we hate.

When it comes to recommending Seveneves, I am not sure what to say. I think big space geeks will enjoy so many details about living in space, space mechanics and other data. If you have that one friend who spams you with movies like Tears in Space (Don’t Fall) recommend Seveneves to him.

Disclaimer: I received this ebook from Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and honest review. This text is also posted on my blog Bookworm Dreams in a little bit more styled edition.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,255 reviews630 followers
May 23, 2015
The most expected sf novel of the year for me turned out to be quite frustrating as it clearly could have been awesome and among the best sf of all time if it just started on page 516 or so with what was advertised in the blurb (the seven races terraforming the earth etc); but for 500+ pages the book is a competent mixture of techno-thriller apocalyptic/post apocalyptic sf with some very unrealistic assumptions (something like the hard rain of the novel coming up would induce massive breakdown of the order and a scramble of anyone who is rich and connected for the exits not what is presented in the novel), but with lots of interesting stuff too; however this is stuff that has been overdone and in which i lack that much of an interest - overall a 2 star for those 500+ pages

however the last 200 pages - despite the necessary denseness and info dumping which caused many narrative walls for a long while though the last 50 pages or so are superb as narrative too - delivered so much to make the novel quite memorable but also to cause the regret and frustration that not the whole of the 700 pages (or at least the vast majority) were dedicated to them with the hard rain stuff and all the contemporary action relegated to a short prologue and the meeting of the seven eves (well eight, sort of) on page 50 or at most 100...

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