Disclaimer: English is my third language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks. You can read this review also in Spanish here.
Neal Stephenson is one of my favourite writers, one of the few I have read all the fiction that he has published. I didn’t like his penultimate work, Reamde, and it left me with a bitter aftertaste that I wanted to correct. So I was waiting with a lot of expectation Seveneves, his latest novel, and thankfully the wait has been worth it. It's official: the master has returned.
I've said latest novel, and perhaps should have said latest novels, since the structure used by Stephenson in Seveneves is of two distinct and temporally separated stories, with sufficient entity to be published in two volumes. On the one hand I applaud him, because it goes against the publishing trend : great sagas with prequels and sequels and even sidequels, but otherwise I think it would have improved the final result. The main flaw that I see is that the novel has not developed enough the second part, and I think Stephenson has finished it too quickly, as if he were tired of writing about it.
Let's go to the plot: an unknown event has caused the moon to explode and fragment into several pieces. Scientists estimate that these fragments will cause in a couple of years a meteor shower so intense that will end up burning the atmosphere and so the earth will become uninhabitable for about 5000 years. From that moment an international project is created, and will consume all efforts and resources trying to get humanity to survive, building shelters and habitats in space leveraging existing structures of the International Space Station . Some of the astronauts who inhabited this station when the incident occurred on the moon, along with scientists who will be transferred later, are the main protagonists of this coral story of survival and wit in space (and solidarity in the surface: one part of the plot I was surprised to read, and I give it little credibility ... call me pessimistic).
Fortunately, after many problems, adventures, conspiracies and heroics the mission finishes successfully. A handful of humans will survive and will prevent the extinction of our species. I'm not spoiling... the information is on the back cover, and the title of the novel itself gives us lots of information ... This first part takes about two thirds of the novel. The last 50 pages are the best I've read in a long time.
In the last third we move 5000 years in the future. The survivors are divided into different "races" with different physical and psychological characteristics and with inevitable political conflicts. Humans live mostly in huge space habitats orbiting earth, each race in a portion of the equatorial ring, although there is some mixing. Some pioneers are living on the surface. The process of re-terraforming is very advanced, and lots of explorers check on the surface that the plant and animal species planted in the process are properly developing. An explorer makes a shocking discovery that will lead to a research expedition formed by members of the various races on the planet's surface.
It's a pity that this second part is so short. The scenario is very original and has lots of possibilities, but I think Stephenson has not developed it at its best. I also think that the ending is rushed, and that leaves many things in the air, but that is usual in his novels.
Seveneves maintains some of the most important features of his previous works, as the strong and charismatic characters, maybe with a little exaggerated features, and detailed account of the action scenes. His usual didactic explanations of scientific issues related to the plot of the novel, in this case mainly related to orbital motions, are also present (I do really like these explanations, although I know some moments of the novel will be heavy for some readers).
What else can I say? I can do nothing else but highly recommend the novel. Seveneves offers almost everything I like in a science fiction novel: technical aspects explained in detail without provoking boredom, action, but with measure, characters with charisma, big (very big) and original structures, speculation about biology, sociology, psychology, astronomy and engineering ... In short, imagination at its highest level. Only with the details on which Stephenson passes superficially there is enough material to fill 1,000 pages more. Too bad he has not done it.