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Seveneves

February 29, 2016

Perhaps the reason that Aurora, by Kim Stanley Robinson, seemed sadly earth-bound to me is because I had just read Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, which is an expansive and almost boundlessly optimistic science fiction novel in which humans are capable of overcoming almost any obstacle.

The title is a mystery for the first half of the book, in which the moon is blown into seven pieces and the resulting disaster destroys all life on earth, with the tantalizing possible exceptions of far underground and deep under the sea. We follow the remnants of the human race living on the International Space Station, mostly scientists and technicians like “Doob,” who was known for “taking down a Republican senator who didn’t believe in evolution, destroying a climate change denier in an impromptu sidewalk confrontation, reducing a movie star to tears on the Today show by telling her that her stand against childhood vaccination made her personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of babies.”

We get to know Dinah, who works with robots. There’s a great scene when she is trying to dock with a ship whose crew have all died. She begins by filtering out the “Nats” because “being so numerous, Nats tended to overload the screen.” She says:
“Okay, in addition to a pretty well-developed Nat swarm I have half a dozen Grabbs and at least that many Siwis.”
“Any clues in their names?” Markus asked. It was possible to give each robot a unique name, which would show up on its sig. By default these were just automatically generated serial numbers, but they could be manually changed.
“Well,” Dinah said, “here is a Grimmed Grabb whose name is ‘HELLO I AM RIGHT ON TOP OF THE DOCKING PORT,’ which seems promising.”
“Can you make it flash?”
“Hang on.” Dinah established a connection to HELLO I AM RIGHT ON TOP OF THE DOCKING PORT and, after quickly checking its status, told it to blink its LEDs until further notice.”

They do a lot of “hillbilly engineering” to keep the space station going, until at last, on p. 548, we find that only “eight humans remained alive and healthy….Dinah, Ivy, Moira, Tekla, Julia, Aida, Camila, and Luisa….the meeting would later be known as the Council of the Seven Eves. For, though eight women were present, one of them—Luisa—had already gone through menopause.” Each of these women have formidable intellects and talents, and Moira knows how to use automictic parthenogenesis to create offspring, both male and female, from their eggs. They decide that each of them will get one alteration of their choice, so that if Camila, for example, believes that getting rid of aggression in her offspring will help improve the human race, she can decide to do that.

Part III of the novel, on p. 570, begins “five thousand years later.” We see the effects of the actions of the seven eves and the fascinating outer space world they have made. At one point, the main character, Kath Two, goes to a historical museum where “it was possible to look at actual smartphones and tablets and laptops that had been manufactured on Old Earth. They did not work anymore, but their technical capabilities were described on little placards. And they were impressive compared to what Kath Two and other modern people carried around in their pockets. This ran contrary to most people’s intuition, since in other areas the achievements of the modern world—the habitat ring, the Eye, and all the rest—were so vastly greater than what the people of Old Earth had ever accomplished.”

The last part of the novel follows Kath Two and the other six people who make up a “seven,” one person from each race, as they investigate what is happening on earth and scramble to subdue enough of the ignorant and dangerous people to make peace with all of the variants on the human race that they discover.

I love this novel’s optimism about humans able to do almost anything and the details about how life in space could work over thousands of years. The bonus is a bit of satire on our present-day fragmentation of web surfing/writing/thinking habits.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 29, 2016 2:06 pm

    I am not surprised how optimistic it is given Stephenson often bemoans how pessimistic much of SF is these days. I can understand the desire for yay humans we can overcome anything. But while I tend to optimistic in general, I am more of the Kim Stanley Robinson variety who likes a strong dose of realism mixed in 🙂

    • March 2, 2016 11:14 am

      In reply, I do my best Blanche DuBois impression: “I don’t want realism; I want magic!”

  2. February 29, 2016 8:04 pm

    Stephenson is an author I have long wanted to read, but still haven`t! maybe one day!

    • March 2, 2016 11:15 am

      If you want to start with a short one, try Zodiak. It’s a quick read, and worth the time.

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