Monday, May 25, 2015

Neal Stephenson novel on the future of humanity after losing the Moon...

by Salman Hameed

It is impossible to imagine what humans will be like in a few hundred years let alone in a few thousand years. I think Stephen Hawking is quite accurate when he says that the most unbelievable thing about Star Trek is that humans in the 24th century (the setting of The Next Generation) look like humans of today. It is not a value call of whether we should change or not but rather an assumption that given an opportunity, we will change.

So here comes a novel that looks fantastic and covers 5000 years into the future. It is by Neal Stephenson who writes thought-provoking hard sci-fi. His Anathem is on my list of books to read this year and will get to it soon (all of his books are hefty 800-1000 pages long). In any case, his new book deals with the future of humanity after the destruction of the Moon. It is of course not that unreasonable to imagine an Moon-less Earth, as the Earth and the Moon did not form together (see What if the Moon didn't exist?).

Here is a review of Neil Stephenson's Seveneves in Nature:
It traces an epoch in which humankind and the environment change profoundly. The bulk of the novel is the lead-up to, and immediate aftermath of, a stunning cosmic event
that leaves humanity teetering on the edge. The remainder describes a renaissance with only faint echoes of what we recognize as human culture. 
The cataclysm is the destruction of the Moon by a mysterious agent. As Earth is assaulted by a rain of debris from the shattered satellite, the vast majority of the human population faces oblivion. The core of the story relies on current, or currently anticipated, technologies — weaving a plausible tale of how a tiny number of survivors, the “seveneves” of the title, might secure a future for our species. Stephenson imagines the rebirth as a division into seven races, based on the genetic profiles of the founders. The future cultures have both old and new social problems, but also fresh insights and resources with which to address them. 
The epic injury to Earth looms in the very first sentence: a masterful attention-grabber. Stephenson maintains tension and energy, as well as a remarkable technical complexity, both literary and scientific. I repeatedly found myself sketching parts of the dramatically scaled mechanical constructs that enable later stages of the story — such as whip-like machinery to capture high-flying gliders and transfer them to Earth orbit — to judge whether they were feasible. They were.
Plus, it is a welcome news that, along with its science, the characters are well developed in the novel as well:
This is hard sci-fi in a real and welcome sense, ruled by unremitting physical laws, unlike the negotiable rules of the action thriller. People die because their deaths are inevitable, and many pass unremarked because the disaster's scale is so vast. Their sacrifice is tied to the theme of engineering the survival of the human race. Science fiction often suffers from a disparity between the impressive scale of the scenery, and the size of the characters and how they are developed. Stephenson balances these aspects well, avoiding cookie-cutter scientists and the all-too-common characterization of technologists as brilliant but conflicted renegades.
Read the full review here (you may need subscription for full access). 


Blogoratti said...

Seems like a great read from the review.

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