Quick review: Seveneves (Neil Stephenson)

In this review, I talk about Seveneves, a sci-fi novel by Neil Stephenson, about a cataclysm that makes humanity finds its survival in orbit, waiting to colonise the Earth again. Great story, burdened by too much technical jargon and an abrupt end that it’s just there begging to be continued.

I took time before writing this review. I was wondering if I was going to do it at all. See, I don’t have much time to talk about everything I read or watch, so I try to focus on the works that I really liked, that I can recommend. But I really don’t know what to think about Seveneves. It was so different from what I expected that I still don’t really know if I like it or not. It took me several months to make it to the end⁽¹⁾, just because I really didn’t see if there would be an end at all. And in a sense, there wasn’t.

The back cover says that it’s the story of people who lived in space for several thousands years while Earth recovered from a catastrophe, and were then trying to make it back to the surface. That sounded really interesting. Maybe they didn’t know, or didn’t remember, what happened to Earth and were about to find out while they make the first settlements.

But that’s actually not what it talks about. It starts now when the catastrophe happens, and humanity have two years to find a solutions to send as many people they can to orbit before Earth’s surface gets utterly destroyed by a several-thousand-year moon rain⁽²⁾. And that’s two thirds of the novel. The story advertised is only the last third, and feels so abrupt that it seems like there should be another book following. In some way, this end looks like the end of the Cryptonomicon, where the characters find the treasure and scene. But at least the “quest” of the heroes was finished. In Seveneves, they have just met a new civilization and it’s the conclusion? Seriously? I want to know more. How the fuck did they survive? It’s not explained. I want to know that. Also, right before the meeting, they were that close to going into war with their arch-enemies. How does that go? Is it over? Do they make peace?

I personally find that disappointing. Building up the suspense for 600 hundred pages, to end up on a cliffhanger. But if there is something you can’t take from Neil Stephenson, it’s that he really does his homework. And he really wants to show it off too. At some point it’s an overdose of technical details that are really hard to picture because no such devices or technologies currently exist. So it’s sometimes nauseous and other times plain boring, turning pages of technical details before any action happens… And I get it, it’s hard sci-fi, but does it have to be so much detailed to be categorised as such? If the technical side makes sense, then it’s hard sci-fi, whether it’s explained down to the atom or just enough to understand the concept.

And I really feel sad about this situation, because it’s a very good story but hundred of pages are just dedicated to technical jargon in a level of details that has little to no effect on the actual story. It’s just there for the author to show that he’s not making shit up⁽³⁾, when he could instead focus on detailing some element of story or characters.

So in the end, I really enjoyed the story. It’s really well thought of, with a nice bunch of well-explored characters, but all this is burdened by technical details that tend to make the book more boring than interesting. And the story’s end is so abrupt I’m still wondering if I wasn’t missing another hundred pages.

 

⁽¹⁾ It’s a 850-page novel, but still.

⁽²⁾ They call it the “Hard Rain”. Basically, an unknown event breaks the Moon down into several parts, that subsequently break down into smaller and smaller parts through collision until a million rocks surround the Earth and end up falling on the surface, burning everything. Shiny!

⁽³⁾ Well, he is making shit up though, since it’s science-fiction. It’s just a very-well-researched shit.

Quick review: Patriot (Amazon Prime)

Review of Patriot, an Amazon program where an American spy is tasked on an international mission and messes up at every steps because his depression always comes in the way. An original writing and interesting directing choices makes it a show well worth seeing.

With the release of the season 2 of Patriot (that I have thoroughly binge-watched this weekend), I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about this astonishing program that came well under the radar but is full of awesome ideas. It’s one of the best depictions of depression that I know, and you can’t fail to understand how the character thinks and feels after seeing it.

The story is about John Tavner, an American spy who is tasked by his boss (who is also his father) to give money to help the presidential campaign of an Iranian politician. To do that, he has to get hired under a fake identity in a construction company, and get sent to Luxembourg to meet a man who will in turn bring the money where it needs to go.

But John hate his job, although he can’t quit. Why, you might think? John feels his job is too important to be done wrong, or at least the job is more important than himself, and he has a duty to his father. So he has to do it. And he has to do things that makes him fall every time deeper in depression, especially when he messes up. And he messes up, a lot. Essentially because he is depressed. And nobody notices. NOBODY! Well, until his wife, to whom he can’t say a thing about his job, and his brother, start to see that he isn’t “pretty good”.

One interesting thing about the writing is the atmosphere that gets even more absurd as the story goes. The script doesn’t care about a specific credibility of events. The point is not to make the investigation or the situations realistic, or to have logical dialogues between background characters, but to show that John goes more into madness as he commits crimes. But somehow he retains some form of sanity, he has this drive to see his mission to the end, even if the absurdity of the situation overwhelms him completely. Will he see the light in the darkness? Will his wife come to save him from his mission and his father?

So, if you have some time to kill and a Prime subscription, I would really recommend seeing this series, especially if you like some dark humour. Plus the main actor is incredibly good.