Neal Stephenson
Seveneves Cover

Seveneves: A Cautious Review


First let me say that this review is based upon the audiobook version of Seven Eves by Neal Stephenson. This is important because I believe the performer plays a significant role in the tone and feel of a story - emotion, inflection, nuance can color the characters in ways that reading a story will not.

In this story earth humanity faces its greatest threat to ultimate extinction when the moon is destroyed sending a "rain" of debris into the atmosphere of earth scorching all surface life for thousands of years. The novel traces humanity's attempt to survive this onslaught.

I wonder if perhaps readers of this novel will fall into two general groups. If you accept the overall trajectories and life decisions of the main character, if you find their choices, motivations, and logic to be believable then the vast volume of technological description and detail will serve to enhance the overall arc of the story. I, however, fall into the second camp. I did not find the choices made be the characters to be believable given this staggering context of tragedy and destruction. I simply could not believe that a handful of any people facing such enormous difficulties and challenges would let petty differences and squabbles serve as the primary motivator for choices.

I will site only one example to avoid multiple plot spoilers (though I could site quite a few). At the time that humanity is down to only the seven eves, I find it impossible to accept the idea that they would need someone to threaten them with individual death in order to get them to compromise. They have seen billions of human deaths, the utter destruction of earth's ecosystem, and the near extinction of humanity and yet they let their pettiness get in the way of focuses on the remaining staggering survival steps that will be needed. Also, knowing the long history of division and war that racial division wrought on the earth they choose to intentionally breed mulitiple distinct races. It would seem far more plausible that any seven people facing such devistatingly long odds would unite to create a race that was wholly focused on survival by united all the genetic profiles from the seven eves to enhance their chances. Of course division and disagreement would still develop over time (even as soon as the same day as the council of the seven eves). But I simply could not buy into these global decisions.

In general it felt like Stephenson had a very specific plot arc in mind and the characer development was molded to fit that trajectory rather then letting the characters breathe and develop in a natural way.

Obviously some of the major awarding bodies don't agree with this assessment as the novel was nominated for the Campbell, the Hugo, and the Locus SF Awards. So, in the end, my reaction likely says as much about my perceptions of life and humanity as it does about the quality of the writing in this novel.

I will note that I have loved all of the Neal Stephenson novels I read or listened to previously (Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Anathem) so therefore I have titled this a cautious review because I feel like I just missed whatever it was that made this novel so highly respected by others.