A perspective on Seveneves

I’ll write my own review of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves soon, and it will have very little in common with this one:

As my co-reviewer discusses elsewhere: on page one the moon blows up for no reason, and Earth is doomed. All life on the surface will be dead within a year. There’s barely any hope – the only conceivable path forward is, basically, to start launching rockets as fast as we can, and that won’t be fast enough to put more than a few hundred people with minimal survival infrastructure into orbit. It’s a rough situation, but I’m sure we can trust that Humanity will all come together as one in the face of this disaster and put aside our petty ahahahaha.

This story more than any other features a direct, explicit conflict between characters espousing pro-freedom/democracy/egalitarian principles and others defending order/security/hierarchy/meritocracy. Two teams shall enter a nightmarish swarm of tiny orbital habitats, one shall leave. So where does the literary simulation lead us?

The authoritarians consist of scientists, engineers and ex-military. They’re the guys who you would want in charge of a risky space mission. Note that Red Team don’t identify as authoritarians, they just want to accomplish the mission – a dangerous rendezvous with the fragmented core of the moon – and they think doing it right is more important than achieving consensus. Humanity is at stake, after all.

The collectivists consist of everybody else who was shot into orbit for various other reasons. Their plight is understandable. They mostly lack the technical skills to contribute to the mission, but that doesn’t stop them from having opinions on what needs to be done. Many of them don’t agree with the lunar rendezvous plan, for example, yet that mission requires that all available resources be devoted to it. Would you like to be dragged along on a dangerous Moon mission when you would prefer to try burning for Mars instead? Don’t you want a vote?

So naturally the two ideologies can’t cooperate. The collectivists retreat into a scattered swarm of tiny habitats, the authoritarians take the retrofitted International Space Station up to the lunar redoubt.

Both teams do pretty badly at the task of survival. The odds are stacked against them. The collectivists fly off in one direction and the authoritarians fly off in another and when they meet again, neither group is really too far behind the other in terms of body count.

It’s interesting that in light of the reviewer’s statement that Stephenson’s “most interesting and subversive contributions lie in his sociological and political thinking” that he completely leaves the book’s very strong socio-sexual elements out of this review.

I have to admit, I have seldom been more interested in interviewing an author, simply because I cannot tell if Stephenson is writing with a straight face, or, as I strongly suspect, taking the piss out of Pink SF. I mean, if I wrote exactly the same novel, word for word, there would be no question of the latter.