Whatever the agent of world destruction, be it asteroids, zombies, pandemics, super soldier breeding programs gone wrong, colliding dimensions, war, or climate change to name a few, the amount of good science involved in apocalyptic novels varies considerably. Zombie apocalypse novels have a low bar, of course, as the actual psychology of the undead is more in the realm of speculation than science. We expect more science from an account of nuclear war than from an incursion of alien spores. Thus, to pull off an apocalyptic narrative with a scientific backdrop it needs to be credible enough for us to suspend disbelief.
Neil Stephensen’s new Seveneves is so grounded in good science, solid sociology and astute psychology, that it is an absolute pleasure to be immersed in. The agent of apocalypse is a high density object which strikes the moon, entering and exiting it like a bullet going through an apple, causing the moon to fragment into seven pieces. The fragmentation of will not stop at seven, however. Humanity has two years before the fragmentation rate of the moon accelerates exponentially to the point of becoming an apocalyptic event rendering the surface of the planet uninhabitable for 5,000 years. Billions are going to die, but to prevent total extinction a sudden and quantum effort involving both technology and psychology will be required.
The story is divided into two. First, an account of humanity’s near extinction in space. Second, an account of humanity’s return to earth 5,000 years later. Initially I was concerned about the 5,000 year jump in the book, as it was bound to be hard to let go of characters to whom one had become deeply attached after 600 pages. I was extremely impressed, therefore, with the seamless manner in which the reader was placed in position to fully understand the future civilization and share in its scientific and historical roots.
At 861 pages Seveneves is a commitment to be sure. This is no time to be commitment averse, however. First of all the book is only dense in the sense that it hurtles along at enormous speed like an accelerating bolide fragment. Seveneves is deeply engaging on many fronts. In fact, it is such an unusually satisfying reading experience that if the world were going to end in two years I would still recommend spending a chunk of your remaining time reading it.