Seveneves (Spoilers)

Discussion in 'Neal Stephenson' started by Boreas, Jul 18, 2015.

  1. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member


    I'm 300+ pages into the novel and really enjoying it. The Hard Rain has been ongoing and the brief descriptions of the event, the individual reactions and the realisation of the need for martial law (+ its enactment) got me slightly emotional, despite the prosaic manner of the descriptions.

    I think the heavy exposition is 100% necessary for describing the full ramifications of this ultimate disaster story. I mean, this is a 'hard SF' novel after all and set in current times with the limitations our current levels of technology places on us. These functionalities and limitations are wonderfully described. And I've already learned more about the ISS, the launch processes, the various rockets/modules and the dynamics of astronauts than I ever thought I'd know.

    Unlike Weir's "The Martian" with its technical descriptions of the problem solving processes that could get quite tedious, especially juxtaposed with that rather forced humour, these descriptions are more fluid. Stephenson is a good writer and the novel has kept my strong interest throughout, but it's really been riveting the last little while. But not in an action-thriller type of way - more in a subdued manner where all the preparations have been slowly building up to a head and then it's suddenly upon you. But even when it's upon you, there's this quality of meta-detachment, even whilst some of the characters go through their own shit briefly.

    As he remarks when some people are emotionally breaking down and the Martial Law announcement is taking place:

    She tried then to mourn for all the others who had died, but it was too big. Emotionally, it was little different from reading about a great war that had happened a hundred years ago. Which maybe was Markus' whole point. Even though the dying was still going on, they had to force themselves to think about it like the Irish potato famine, or like what had happened to the peoples of the New World when Columbus had arrived and infected them with a slew of deadly diseases. Regret, even horror were appropriate. But detachment was necessary. They all had 704 seconds in which to effect detachment.

    I'm very impressed by how's he gone on to depict the forces of politics and science, especially as they come into opposition. It's been very nuanced and realistic, with multiple such threads, and he's been able to imbue an excellent measure of our global Zeitgeist into the narrative without it seeming tacked on. Done very naturally, in fact, with some fantastic observations tinged with irony.

    And he's done a great job of dealing with the psychology of impending doom on a global scale - the tactics governments take to pacify crowds, the lies tinted with hope, the paradox of the hypocrisy that actually seems to stem from a kernel to do what they (governments) think is best - this shows up in the difference in attitudes between the private and public sectors.

    The technical descriptions and the adaptations of various scientific principles including marine biology to the Cloud Ark Project is fantastic. I'm loving the orbital mechanics.

    I should have most of the day tomorrow to read. A Watney 'yay!'

    Opinions on the novel?
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2015
  2. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Finished "Seveneves". I liked it a lot, but I do have some reservations with the last third of the novel. @Haven and @btkong, what did you both think of the novel's breakdown - the first 2/3 versus the last 1/3?
  3. Haven

    Haven Full Member

    I loved the first 2/3rds of the novel. The premise was excellent..tightly written storyline, exceptional characters (esp the Bill Nye/Neil de Grasse Tyson homage).
    Particularly I was pretty struck by how accurate the emotions and actions of humanity in general was, when facing a disaster of such magnitude. He also managed to highlight the sheer scale,fear and our own insignificance of the infinite expanse called space.

    The 2nd 1/3 is also a brutal but true reminder of how many humans are simply driven by power...even when the fate of humanity is literally at stake.

    I did feel that the last part of the book was an abrupt shift. I think it's fair to say that the last part is a book in itself and maybe it would have been better for it to have been published as such. It does feel more than a little rushed compared to the brilliance of the previous parts.

    Still, I rarely have enjoyed SF books of such length before and I'm glad to say this was one.

    I really don't envy whoever has to write the review for this book on the blog, the sheer size alone is quite daunting.
  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    The review was posted on the blog about a week ago.

    I pretty much loved the whole novel. The first 2/3 were particularly excellent and my opinion echoes yours, overall. Yeah, not just the homage to Neil deGrasse Tyson, but also the homage to whom I initially thought was a template for Elon Musk, but it could also be Jeff Bezos, or a combination of the two. And I definitely felt it was Tyson, not Bill Nye. The weird thing is that I've started to like Neil deGrasse Tyson a little more because of Stephenson's presentation. Otherwise, I've not really been a fan of Tyson's public persona at all. I prefer the fictionalised version.

    I actually loved the last 1/3, too. Most definitely a huge shift, and whilst I thought it was a little jarring at first, I was taken in by all that Stephenson presented. I even loved the retro-explanations of the original survivors and how they dealt with the genetic restrictions, and I was enthralled by the "genetic game" they played and the explanations of the different phases that the offspring cultures went through: gestation, correction, stabalisation, propagation, etc.

    There were some passages that were real gems: the development of nats as weapons, the state of violence in post-zero times, the evolutionary war concerning the development of weapons and countermeasures, epigenetics and "going epi", the EPIC serving as cultural benchmarks to a level akin to the Mahabharata in India.

    The main let down was that it ended too soon. So many new things presented which should have been explored in-depth. I wanted a proper look into the Red side, not just the hints and tidbits that were dropped. The Pinger story is hinted to be as epic (and secret) an undertaking as the Cloud Ark Project.

    And I did have some other minor issues. For example, Stephenson is very optimistic and favourable towards humanity, in general, and I mean this concerning the level of mass hysteria and chaos that should have resulted. It was minimised except for the Venezuelan incident later on. Also, the status of the Red Rover (Red Hope?) mission was never confirmed, though it is implicit. And the gun! Dinah saw the empty holster on the dead body when they picked up Julia, but she never brought it up with the others and no one thought to search. That just seems a little too implausible given just how detail focused they all are and have to be. And much less of a linguistics deviation between the various groups when they do meet. I can kind of understand the Digger side since their necessarily tyrannical culture was based partly around the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but I expected a HUGE deviation with the Pingers given the evolutionary path their radical self-imposed modifications led to.
  5. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    In my Amazon review of Seveneves, I mentioned that it was my first book by Neal Stephenson and also that it required more disbelief suspension than any book I've ever read, due to the plot having required the lifting of various laws of thermodynamics and ignoring known facts about certain scientific principles. And then I said I really loved it and gave it six stars out of five. Since Boreas has said all that needs or could be said about the book's particulars, I can get away with just giving my overall opinion and moving on.
  6. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Oh wait, I do have a question for you, Boreas. The beginning. What do you think the thing that hit the moon was? I expected Stephenson to get back to it at some point.
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    I think that event was clearly supposed to serve as a mcguffin. It's not important what the thing was but the effect it had for the purposes of the plot. Can't remember exactly what the various speculations that were mentioned in the book were, but wasn't one of the possibilities a travelling, micro black hole?

    What else did you find objectionable with regards to scientific explanations? And what were your favourite bits about the novel?
  8. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    There are so many but they're spoilers. Besides the moon fragments starting to reverse their post-explosion trajectories so that they collide. I mean the entire plot...Consider this if you never have: how much air do you think they had on that space station to begin with? 5000 years worth? For billions of people?

    I did read an amusing interview with him somewhere where he comments that he does make stuff up to further some of his plots. So that's cool, as long as he isn't trying to insist that it makes sense.
  9. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Wait...they didn't "reverse" their trajectories for collision. The fragmented pieces would also have had angular momentum. They would have collided naturally multiple times and especially because of their irregular structures. At first slowly and infrequently, but later with increasing frequency. As for air, that can easily be recycled or oxygen produced (artificially through chemical reactions or by growing foodstuff). As they build more structures air recyclers could be incorporated.
  10. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    Conservation of motion, things go in straight lines and each moon piece had a straight line which by definition had to be divergent. Whatever blew up the Moon would have to give the rubble escape velocity or the debris cloud would simply collapse eventually rather than doing the white sky and hard rain bit. And you can't create air for 3 billion people. From what? They weren't doing it at the time of the book so when did they invent this? You might get some oxygen from the plants but where do you get nitrogen and helium and argon and... He also ignores the effects of solar radiation on humans over the short term and for 5000 years. They were not in that cleft forever. To build what they did they were mostly out of it.

    By the way, back to the moon, putting aside the fragments flying away from each other...The moon would not lose any of its gravity and the pieces would remain bound within its gravity well. This is simple physics, because the pieces are propelled into each other by the power of the gravity well and thus, since there is no such thing as free energy or perpetual motion, the energy generated by such collisions MUST remain lower than the energy required to escape the gravity well.

    But again I don't mind him making it up.

    Edit: I just realized an example of what I'm saying that will help. Consider the big fireworks they shoot into the air and the traces they produce, all moving away from each other.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2016
  11. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    The way I understood it, while the Moon cracked into its seven irregular pieces and their vectors were diverging, there was still an element of chaos in their movement. It's not like it would be a theoretically ideal divergence away from each other as you might describe with ideal initial conditions on a piece of paper. There are no perfect circles or spheres or any other such perfect theoretical objects in nature. It's always less than perfect because of entropy. The fact that angular momentum would also give them spin and coupled with their irregular shapes, some of those objects are bound to collide due to their close proximity. And even if the collision happens at slow speed, which is what I assumed, the unbelievable momentum of those two initial pieces weighing in at trillions of tonnes of kilogrammes colliding would break off smaller chunks plus add more chaos in the system and lead to further collisions, compounding the initial effect. This is how I understood it.

    Yes, the majority of the mass of the Moon would remain bound to their original orbit. But it only needs a few percent of the mass to fall onto the Earth to cause a 'Hard Rain' for approximately 2000-5000 years. Any chunks that reach the Earth would obviously be travelling at speeds great enough to break away from the 1/6th g of the Moon. Not too great a task. I'm guessing someone batting a home run on the moon would give the ball enough energy to if not reach escape velocity then get pretty close? Surely cataclysmic collisions can break off chunks of rock with enough such velocity? And any of those chunks that do not reach earth immediately but have escaped the moon's gravity well and are even just a tad bit on the Earth-side of the Earth-Moon Lagrange point...well, their orbits would eventually decay and they'd fall onto Earth.

    As for the air....I don't know. 5000 years of historical and scientific development are skipped over to get to the end result. But wouldn't a colony on Mars, for example, have to deal with the same problem as the population grows? Are you saying they wouldn't be able to do it as their population grew from a hundred or so people to many thousands over generations? I think Izzy had the tech necessary for the purpose, and the advanced mining techniques and robotic technology that Dinah was spearheading would be a massive boon to mine the required materials from within Cleft for constructing additional structures and tech as and when needed.

    As for the solar radiation problem, I remember Stephenson dealing with it in parts of the narrative, especially when Julia and Camilla (?) timed their attack to coincide with an ongoing sunstorm so that most of the crew of the Izzy would be holed up in protected zones. They had also covered Izzy with ice from that retrieved comet as protection against micro-meteorites and solar radiation. The primary purpose of retrieving the ice was for fuel to enable their Big Ride, but protection played a very close second, I would think. They would not be in that Cleft forever, as you say, but they would likely remain there for many hundreds of years if not for an entire millennium. Ample time to come up with techniques and material resources to deal with the problem.
  12. kenubrion

    kenubrion Well-Known Member

    From the Acknowledgments, "The following scholars have done work that was essential to the completion of this project. While eager to give them due credit, I am aware that those who are still among us, and who actually bother to read my work, may be chagrined by my tendency to whip out my artistic license and make stuff up whenever it's convenient..."

    Which allows us to agree to disagree, yes? I blame Neal.
  13. GwynHuddle

    GwynHuddle Full Member

    This description me to think about the essence of Chemistry in our lives. First of all, the book tells several elements to follow. And another aspect is connected to the use of them in our lives. That is the reason I am happy to have Ereztech assistance in my life and to avoid everyday routine, at least, in such a way. That is not harmful for the environment.

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