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Seveneves

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Seveneves

Seveneves
First edition cover
Author Neal Stephenson
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher William Morrow
Publication date
May 19, 2015[1]
Media type Print, e-book
Pages 880
ISBN

Seveneves is a speculative fiction novel by Neal Stephenson, published in 2015. The story tells of the efforts to preserve human society in the wake of apocalyptic events on Earth, following the disintegration of the Moon.

Contents

  • Plot 1
    • Part 1 1.1
    • Part 2 1.2
    • Part 3 1.3
  • Development 2
  • Reception 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Plot

Part 1

The Moon explodes "for no apparent reason". As the shattered remnants of the Moon begin to collide with one another, astronomer and science popularizer "Doc" Dubois Harris calculates that the number of collisions will increase exponentially. A large number of moon fragments will begin entering Earth's atmosphere, forming a "white sky" and blanketing the earth within two years with what he calls a "Hard Rain" of bolides; this will cause the atmosphere to burn and oceans to boil away, and make Earth uninhabitable for thousands of years. It is decided to evacuate as many people and resources as possible to a "Cloud Ark" in orbit, including a "swarm" of "arklet" habitats which will be able to avoid the debris from the moon— both to attempt to preserve the human race and to give the remaining doomed inhabitants of earth something to hope for, to prevent civil disorder from breaking out on earth before it is destroyed. Each nation on earth is invited to choose by lot a small number of young people to become eligible to join the Cloud Ark.

The Cloud Ark is to be based around the International Space Station (ISS), currently commanded by American astronaut Ivy Xiao. The ISS is already bolted onto an iron Arjuna asteroid called Amalthea, which provides some protection against moon debris. Robots are used to excavate Amalthea to provide more protection, in a project run by mining and robotics engineer Dinah MacQuarie. Technicians and specialists, including Doc Dubois, are sent to the ISS in advance of the Hard Rain to prepare it to become the headquarters of the Cloud Ark.

The plan is that the Cloud Ark must be self-sufficient for 5,000 years and capable of repopulating Earth once it is habitable again. A Human Genetic Archive is sent to the Cloud Ark, with the intention that it will be used to rebuild the human population. Approximately 1,500 people are launched into space in the two years before the "Hard Rain" begins.

A billionaire named Sean Probst realizes that the Cloud Ark will need a ready supply of water in order to provide propellant for the space station and to prevent it from eventually falling into the earth's atmosphere. He embarks on a two-year expedition to extract ice from a comet nicknamed Greg's Skeleton, using a nuclear reactor to provide power to bring it back towards earth.

Part 2

The "Hard Rain" begins and human civilization on Earth is obliterated, although some try to take shelter underground (such as Dinah's father) or in the deep ocean (such as Ivy's fiance). Markus Leuker, appointed leader of the Cloud Ark, declares all nations of Earth to be dissolved, and imposes martial law under the "Cloud Ark Constitution". Despite a worldwide agreement that members of government will not be launched into space, the President of the United States, Julia Bliss Flaherty, manages to get herself sent to the Cloud Ark at the last minute. The Human Genetic Archive is ruined as a result of damage to the exterior of the space station.

There is disagreement on the Cloud Ark about the best way to organize its society and avoid the debris of the moon. Some "Arkies" favor converting the Cloud Ark into a decentralized "swarm" of small space vessels at a higher orbit out of range of debris, rather than maintaining the central authority of the ISS. Doc Dubois wants to shelter in the "Cleft", a crevasse on the now-exposed iron core of the moon. Others want to go to Mars. Julia Flaherty starts to acquire a coterie of followers and encourages the proponents of the decentralized "swarm" plan.

Sean Probst's expedition has succeeded, and he has brought a comet into an orbit which will soon pass by Earth. His radio has failed and he has built a replacement by hand, and is able to communicate with Dinah MacQuarie by Morse code. However, he and his party die of radiation sickness caused by fallout from their nuclear reactor. Markus Leuker and Dinah travel to the comet with a small crew to take control of it and bring it back to the Cloud Ark, in order to provide sufficient propellant to reach the Cleft on the moon's core. Just before Dinah returns with the ice as the sole survivor of the mission, Julia Flaherty persuades the majority of the population to abandon the ISS and move to higher orbit in a decentralized swarm, and sends a preliminary expedition to Mars. The ISS together with the remaining third of the Cloud Ark is rechristened Endurance.

During the three years that it takes for Endurance to reach the Cleft, the majority of its population die of various causes (cancer caused by cosmic radiation, suicide, etc.); by the time they are within range of the Cleft, only about 30 survivors remain. Julia Bliss Flaherty's Swarm splits into two factions, who fight and Flaherty's faction is defeated. Running out of food, the Swarm resorts to cannibalism, and by the end of three years only 11 survive, including Flaherty and the leader of the opposing faction, Aïda. Aïda requests to reunite the remnant of the Swarm with the Cloud Ark before it reaches the Cleft, but secretly plans a battle for control of Endurance; as a result of that battle the population is diminished even further.

By the time Endurance reaches the relative safety of the Cleft, there are only eight survivors, all female. One, the sociologist Luisa, has reached menopause, and the remaining seven (Dinah, Ivy, Aïda, Tekla, Camila, Moira, and Julia) come to be known as the Seven Eves. The Human Genetic Archive has been destroyed, but they have sufficient resources to use the surviving genetics laboratory to rebuild the human race by parthenogenesis. They agree that each of the Seven Eves gets to choose how her offspring will be genetically modified or enhanced. One of them predicts that, hundreds of years from now, this will result in there being seven new races.

Part 3

The narrative jumps to 5000 years later. There are now 3 billion humans living in a ring around the Earth, and they have indeed formed into seven races, each one descended from and named after the Seven Eves who survived the events of Part 2. These races have quite distinct characteristics, including "Moirans" who can undergo "epigenetic shifts", radically changing their bodies in response to new environments. The iron core of the moon has mostly been used to build space habitats, but the Cleft itself has been turned into "Cradle", an exclusive piece of real estate attached to a tether, which occasionally "docks" with Earth.

Humanity has divided mostly down racial lines into two states, Red and Blue, which are engaged in a form of Cold War characterized by cultural isolation, espionage and border skirmishes, mediated by treaty agreements more honored in the breach than the observance.

The orbiting races DNA data saved from the escape to orbit. Once a breathable atmosphere is recreated, and sufficient plant and animal species have been reseeded, some members of the orbiting races ("Sooners") resettle the planet, in violation of treaty agreements.

A "Seven", a group of 7 people with one member from each race, is recruited by "Doc" Hu Noah, to investigate mysterious people who have been sighted on Earth. As the story unfolds, they discover that some humans did indeed survive the Hard Rain on the planet by living in deep mines ("Diggers"), while others survived in ocean trenches using submarines ("Pingers"). These survivors have also evolved socially and biologically to form two additional "races." Conflict occurs because each of the orbiting camps (Red and Blue) wishes to establish a preferential or exclusive relationship with the Earthbound races: the Diggers, although descendants of Dinah's family, interpret the Blue state's presence on their territory as an act of aggression and develop an alliance with Red, prompting Blue to seek out an alliance with the Pingers on the strength of Ivy's connection with one of their founders. The story ends with communication established, and new miscommunications promising further conflict.

Development

Stephenson first began planning his novel around 2004, while he was working at Blue Origin. He observed: "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. Having been raised on the idea of 'Space, the Final Frontier', I was both appalled and fascinated by the possibility that it might instead become an impenetrable ceiling only a hundred or so miles above our heads."[2]

He would continue to develop Seveneves over the next eight years, as Stephenson tried to "stick to legit science as much as I can".[3][4]

Reception

As of June 2015, critical reception for Seveneves has been mixed.[5][6][7] A review in the Chicago Tribune commented on the book's length, stating "when Stephenson finds a theme commensurate with his ambition, all those pages can speed by like a bullet train. Seveneves offers at once his most conventional science-fiction scenario and a superb exploration of his abiding fascination with systems, philosophies and the limits of technology."[8] Booklist also praised the work, writing "Well-paced over three parts covering 5,000 years of humanity’s future, Stephenson’s monster of a book is likely to dominate your 2015 sf-reading experience."[9]

The Guardian was more critical in their review, criticizing the work as being overly descriptive, and observing: "Once we arrive in the novel’s snail-paced last third, there are lots and lots of lavish descriptions of imaginary machines: city-sized orbiting habitats, giant pendulums reaching down into the Earth’s atmosphere, 'sky trains'. After scores of pages of this, my eyelids were succumbing to a powerful gravitational force."[10]

References

  1. ^ Harper Collins Catalog, Harper Collins, retrieved 2015-05-11 
  2. ^ Alexander, Niall. "Seveneves of Neal Stephenson". Tor.com. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Higgins, Jim. "Neal Stephenson talks about his new book, 'Seveneves,' and real science". Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  4. ^ Neal, Stepheson. "Writer" (Video). The Seveneves Notebook. Neal Stephenson. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  5. ^ "Seveneves (review)". Library Journal. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  6. ^ "Seveneves (review)". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  7. ^ "Seveneves (review)". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Wolfe, Gary K. (May 14, 2015). "Review: 'Seveneves' by Neal Stephenson". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Francis, Chris. "Seveneves (review)". Booklist. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 
  10. ^ Poole, Steven. "Seveneves by Neal Stephenson – a truly epic disaster novel". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 May 2015. 

External links

  • Official website
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