March 20, 2019

Winnipeg
-4° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Ambitious sci-fi opus highlights author's confidence in his craft

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/5/2015 (1397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It takes a certain confidence as a writer to open your book with the destruction of the moon and then never bother mentioning how or why it happened. It also takes confidence to interrupt your novel two-thirds of the way through with the words "Five Thousand Years Later" and to trust your readers to keep up.

That American author Neal Stephenson does both of these things in Seveneves, his ninth novel, is an indication that the bestselling author of technically dense, thematically ambitious science-fiction novels has a fair bit of faith in himself as a writer.

In the novel, the destruction of the moon results in an exponential increase in meteorite activity, as fragments of the satellite drop out of orbit and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. This culminates in what the novel's scientists refer to as the White Sky event, in which the rate of meteorites becomes so high that the atmosphere literally catches fire, destroying all life on Earth.

The book is divided into two parts, with most of the first part describing, in the painstaking detail that Stephenson's readers will be familiar with, the design, development and building of a space ark designed to preserve humanity through a combination of living passengers and preserved genetic materials.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 30 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 30 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 30 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/5/2015 (1397 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It takes a certain confidence as a writer to open your book with the destruction of the moon and then never bother mentioning how or why it happened. It also takes confidence to interrupt your novel two-thirds of the way through with the words "Five Thousand Years Later" and to trust your readers to keep up.

That American author Neal Stephenson does both of these things in Seveneves, his ninth novel, is an indication that the bestselling author of technically dense, thematically ambitious science-fiction novels has a fair bit of faith in himself as a writer.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

In the novel, the destruction of the moon results in an exponential increase in meteorite activity, as fragments of the satellite drop out of orbit and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. This culminates in what the novel's scientists refer to as the White Sky event, in which the rate of meteorites becomes so high that the atmosphere literally catches fire, destroying all life on Earth.

The book is divided into two parts, with most of the first part describing, in the painstaking detail that Stephenson's readers will be familiar with, the design, development and building of a space ark designed to preserve humanity through a combination of living passengers and preserved genetic materials.

The ark is built around the International Space Station, nicknamed "Izzy," and the book's first part focuses on a group of characters linked to it, as the hastily assembled crew struggles to survive the immense environmental and psychological strain of riding out a millennia-long global apocalypse in space.

The book's second part is about half as long as the first part, and more plot-heavy. In it, the descendants of the survivors of the ark, the products of centuries of selective breeding and deliberate genetic engineering, have begun terraforming the now-livable Earth only to discover that they are not, as they had believed, the only survivors of the lunar catastrophe.

The two parts stand relatively well on their own as stories. The brevity of the second part combined with the massive temporal jump makes the two "halves" of the book seem somewhat tangential to each other — as if the first part were a massive prologue to the second or the second were a very large epilogue to the first.

Even though Stephenson's novels vary widely in plot and setting — from stories of 17th-century pirates and natural philosophers to more traditional cyberpunk tales — he has an unmistakable writing style. The actual plot and action of this 880-page doorstopper would probably fill about 300-350 pages, with the rest of the book filled with long ruminations on various topics, mostly connected in some way to space travel and orbital mechanics.

At times, especially in the first part of the book, it makes the plot feel almost secondary. Crucial events happen and major decisions are made remarkably quickly, each feeling a little like a means of getting from one info dump to another.

As fans of Stephenson's work will tell you, though, one of his talents as a writer is to make these long discursive passages surprisingly engaging so that, by the end of reading his books, you can end up seeing the world around you through the lens of whatever system of knowledge animates the particular book you've read. In that Seveneves is no exception, and the book is a return to the "big idea" form of earlier books such as Cryptonomicon, Anathem, and The Baroque Cycle.

It takes confidence to write a book like this one, but it takes skill to pull it off. Seveneves, while not perfect, is still pretty compelling evidence that Stephenson has got both to spare.

 

Brandon Christopher is an associate professor in the department of English at the University of Winnipeg.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

History

Updated on Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 8:19 AM CDT: Formatting.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us