Friday, June 12, 2015

SevenevesSeveneves by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know what all those complainers are going on about. As far as I can see, I just got two novels for the price of one. The first 2/3rds is all hard science fiction, where science matters and the whole thing is tied together with plausibility. The last third is pure unadulterated speculative fiction with damn fine worldbuilding and extrapolation from the first 2/3rds.

Let me back up. I can honestly say that I loved the gigantic erector set that was the first novel, but I will admit that I wasn't head over heels in love with most of the characters, and the few that I really liked were at least two dimensional. This isn't a condemnation. A lot had to be covered to get us from a happyish world, through a blown-up moon, to a mad scramble to survive before the earth gets fireballed by our ex-moon. That means the International Space Station needs one hell of an upgrade. A lot happens, and it's tragic and heroic and beautiful. I've read a lot worse hard sf, and when I say it, it's not a condemnation, either. Hard sf is a lifestyle choice. It's hard to do and successfully pull off a great story with great characters against, say, any other novel that doesn't care about consistency and scrupulous attention to detail.

Mr. Stephenson pulls it off, and I'm not just touting him because I'm a lifelong fan of his writings. I'm saying the novel is solid.

Now on to the second novel. A lot of people have a problem with this one, going, "What the fuck?" Not me. This is where we stop being grounded and we let our imaginations fly. A lot can and will happen in 5000 years from the last hurrah of the plausible and likely end of humanity.

So I see another tradition being followed, one I like even more than the strict master of hard sf. I immediately got sucked into the imagery, the action, the curiosity, the mystery, and the unfolding of a brand new Earth. I don't need to bring up all the greats who have done hopeful and optimistic futures, although I will if anyone asks, but Mr. Stephenson has served up a beauty.

So much is bright and colorful about it, and I'm including the different human races, the flying, the landscape, and the revelations about what the people find down there. No spoilers, but suffice to say there's always a way to bring conflict in, even though the future is hopeful. It was a sheer pleasure to explore, and if the novel was NOT an extension of the first 2/3, I'm pretty sure that most of the haters out there would have thought it was an interesting tale on par with any of the classics. It's all about survival, rebuilding and restoring, genetic engineering, massive scale engineering, and the supremely toned-down idea that love endures.

It was very touching.

All right. I'll mention Brin. It reminds me of the best of Brin.

So that brings me back to the main question: Should these two novels be considered one? There's obviously ties throughout the second one, but I'll be honest with you, they could have been added long after the fact, just so the second novel could see print. That's a very negative way to view it, in my opinion, because I happened to love it for what it was.

Is it a sign of the times that old-style adventure novels set in the deep future can't get published any longer? I hope not. I'd love to see more, assuming the stories still kick ass.

But to answer my own question... Yes and No. The first novel could easily have turned into an ultimate bummer. The second novel could stand on its own. Left to itself, the first novel would have absolutely needed some sort of machinery of god or perhaps the triumphant return of the assholes who had raced to Mars. It would have needed something, anyway, to satisfy the readers. We aren't reading traditional fiction. It wasn't a character study. If the only way to give the reader what s/he wants is to give us a resolution that doubles as a whole second novel, then I say, "Hell yes!"

Because at least this way, I wouldn't have to wait a long time for a sequel when I wasn't satisfied with the first. Can you imagine, or do you remember when Hyperion came out and you got to the end and went, "Huh?" with no Fall of Hyperion to complete it? It's the same deal, although, I'll be honest, Hyperion is still better than this novel. (If you peeps haven't read it, then do so. It's still very high praise to be compared to it, even in a lesser capacity.)

Of course, Neal Stephenson has a whole catalog of some of my absolute favorite reading list, so I'm amazingly biased here.

Was this novel good? You betcha. Did it surprise? Absolutely. Do I recommend? Yes, for fans of the SFF genre with keen eyes and adjustable expectations.



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