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The Day the Moon Blew Up (gatesnotes.com)
173 points by JacobJans on May 18, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 113 comments

Seveneves is one of my favorites, even though it gets mixed reactions from a lot of others who've read titles like Anathem. I can't compare it to Anathem (the only other Stephenson book I've read so far is Cryptonomicon; looking to change that), but I can say I love the technical depth. Perhaps it's because it helps me suspend disbelief much more easily, though Bill's point that "if you’re the sort of reader who doesn’t care how such a thing might work, you will find yourself skimming parts of Seveneves" is probably true for most lay readers.

The only thing that somewhat frustrated me about it, as I suspect is the case for most people, is the fact that the last third of the book feels like it could (should?) stand on its own. That being said, there's enough room for Stephenson to explore in more depth some of the events leading up to the third act in subsequent novels... so here's hoping. I figure explaining why I feel this way would be a bit of a spoiler. Bill does enough to allude to it.

Anyway, thumbs up from me. I enjoyed every bit of it, and Bill's review does a good job of selling the book without spoiling it.

> The only thing that somewhat frustrated me about it, as I suspect is the case for most people, is the fact that the last third of the book feels like it could (should?) stand on its own

For me that last third part feels... rushed? I can not really explain it but the first two thirds of the book were awesome and then when you reach the last part you feel like Stephenson had to meed a deadline for printing and that part is just tacked onto the main story. It is way too short for its content, I feel like Stephenson could spend a good two or three books exploring this new story arc.

Stephenson tends to rush his endings - Cryptonomicon basically wrapped up in about 30 pages. But what got me was the abrupt change in view on that last third of Seveneves. I needed more transition time, as he's introducing a whole new society.

Isn't it the case for most notable scifi books? Enders game wrapped up pretty quickly in the final few pages.

He was world building, you basically read a book setting up for what could be turned into an RPG/MMO or series of books or TV/movie properties. The last part of the book is just setting up this world, the first two books were explaining how it all came to be. If you read up you'll see he's been sitting on this concept for some time and shopped it around for those puproses.

I look forward to more books based on the world in the third book/part, an MMO seems like a cool idea too.

Like all Stephenson, this book is full of ideas that are just...huge. The frustrating thing is the feeling that it should be merely the first book in a long, rich series, like Niven's Known Space. But the guy has so many ideas he just has to crank out this giant book and move on to the next one...

Doesn't the Baroque Cycle and Cryptonomicon count as a "long rich series"?

Only in the loosest possible sense. Having the same (or similar, or related) characters does not necessarily imply a "full rich series". The Baroque cycle, sure, because the characters share arcs. Cryptonomicon is a completely different story though.

Stephenson said this about the relationship between Cryptonomicon and its different-timeline "sequels" (not yet written at this point): " I'm trying not to give the idea that it's a tightly locked together set of books... There are always a few strange little corners of the story that may not make sense outside of the context of the full series, but 99% of it can stand on its own reasonably well, I hope."


> the only other Stephenson book I've read so far is Cryptonomicon

Absolutely recommend "Diamond Age" and to a lesser extent (but more fun) "Snowcrash". I started "Cryptonomicon" right after reading Singh's "The Code Book", and it just felt like Stephenson did a sub-par job with the subject material (perhaps especially because "The Code Book" isn't fiction, but almost reads like it).

Did start "Seveneves" when there was a free teaser out, but haven't gotten around to it yet -- it's on my list. I'm hoping it's a bit tighter than most of the stuff since "Diamond Age".

Snow Crash and Diamond Age were my introduction to Stephenson in the late 90's. So far, of the ones I've read they are probably the most accessible and, as you mention, fun.

Even though it's not essential in any way to read them in that order, The Diamond age is hinted to take place later on in the same world as Snow Crash so if you've got no preference for which order to read them, you might as well go that route. There a couple of winks to Snow Crash readers in The Diamond Age.

The only references I remember are the smart-wheel wheelchair and the old woman who remembers the "chiseled spam" advertisement for them. Any other hints you can recall?

Snowcrash and Diamond Age are also great, relatively short introductions to the Stephenson plot style which mostly seems to be "amazing intro, great ideas in world building, then anticlimax and eventual abrupt stop or slow fizzle to the end". The fact that his books only get longer with time makes that pattern more and more confounding for me, at least.

The one reversal of the formula I felt was Anathem. It's a very, very slow build of world building (still fun, if you don't mind academic puree), but then I felt had perhaps one of Stephenson's strongest, most climactic endings.

It's an amazing book, but I agree regarding the last third of the book.

I'm hoping it's a springboard for sequels.

I want to hear more about the Pingers and the Diggers.

The first third of Seveneves is a real gut punch. The only other world-ending story that comes close in terms of emotional impact for me was Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End".

Stephenson manages to show humanity in all its realistic messiness but still leave you proud -- on balance -- that humans mostly get our act together in a desperate attempt to preserve a seed of life and culture.

I found Childhood's End an extremely unpleasant read, and so that comparison makes it hard for me to even think about reading Seveneves. It was just so depressing, taking the concept of isolation to such an extreme it felt abusive. Or maybe I shouldn't have read it while isolated myself (literally living and working in the middle of nowhere without transportation and minimal contact with anyone I was close to).

Maybe if I'd read Seveneves without ever having heard this comparison, I would have made it through to the part that makes you proud, but at this point I doubt that's possible.

Going to skip this one, and I'd suggest everyone else skip Childhood's End.

It's been a couple yeas since I read it, but I recall it being a pretty interesting read that didn't trigger any of the above feelings (just as a counter experience, that I wouldn't suggest people avoid it).










was it the guy's experience going to the alien planet that triggered you? I actually didn't realize that might have been the reason upon first reading your comment.

I read Childhood's End over 20 years ago but from what I recall I felt it was just an awesome book. I do not recall it being particularly depressing.

It's an awesome book either way, but it can be read very much either in a hopeful vein, or a very depressing one:

(Spoiler warning; for various works for the rest of this comment - assume that if I mention a work, there'll be a spoiler later in the sentence...)

Humanity stagnates before ending as the last of humanity's children transforms and are isolated from their parents. The parents generation slowly or not so slowly die out and no more children are born. The transformed children become one single collective intelligence, and that too is subsumed into a greater mind. In the end, the last actual human stays on an earth that evaporates.

On one hand humanity has "ascended" to a higher stage. On the other hand what is left bears no resemblance to humanity.

It belongs to a peculiar and I think quite rare strand of scifi where humanity abandoned humanity and was in the end entirely gone (as opposed to e.g. post-apocalyptic settings where there are still humans left, and where most of the stories tend to end on a hopeful note for repopulation), set in the near-ish future (as opposed to e.g. books like Stapledons Last and First Men, which also describes the end of humanity, but where the end is set millions of years into the future). I don't think that strand is seen very often any more.

There's been plenty, both then and later, where Earth has been abandoned and forgotten by a human diaspora that lives on elsewhere (e.g. Asimov's Robots/Empire/Foundation universe goes there), but that tends to have a very different feel to the stories where humanity just "fades away" or transforms.

My other favourite equally definitive end would be Clifford D. Simak's "City" which is told in the form of legends told by talking dogs of how humans left to transform into something else and eventually disappear.

Another, of sorts, would be Clarke's "City and the Stars", where there are still humans, but only two cities left on Earth after everyone else left and likely ascended. That difference, though, gives it a very different, more hopeful feel (but the last few pages of City and the Stars is the only book to have ever given me the chills), similar to the post-apocalyptic stories of small groups that endures.

Many others have gone with the "humanity almost wiped out, but not quite, oh and here's redeeming factors" theme, such as the various incarnations of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where one becomes increasingly callous about the repeated destructions of variations of earth as the series progresses to the point where it's more of a regular event to cheer on safe in the knowledge earth will pop back into existence somehow sooner or later (even Douglas Adams attempt at getting his publisher to shut up about another sequel by ending Mostly Harmless with the destruction of Earth in every reality in the entire multiverse and then going ahead and dying on us didn't stop another sequel from being written ("And another thing..." by Eoin Colfer; surprisingly good for falling in the "lets try to repeatedly murder this story with Vogon death rays" category)).

Titan A.E. is another of the modern dark-ish depictions that gets close to finality, where humanity for most of it is depicted as just a few scattered remnants, but there is hope and not a definitive line drawn under it that in the end makes it quite a hopeful story.

Battlestar Galactica (both incarnations) falls in a similar category where the impending doom starts, gets nasty, and then you reach a steady-state of sorts (though the regular updates on the dwindling number of colonists does help to keep it dark), but then is never drawn to its conclusion, and that fails to make it as solemn.

There are of course other "nearly but not quite the end" stories.

Iain M Banks last Culture novel - The Hydrogen Sonata - has a similar theme, but set on an alien planet where the civilization has decided to ascend. It's a great book, but it too doesn't feel as dark, I guess, because it isn't the end of humanity.

The solemn feeling that this is the end, and not an end set in a very far distant future, but not that far from now is present in Childhoods End and City. The atmosphere in those are also aided by describing the aftermath, including descriptions of the pain of many of those who feel left behind.

I'm sure there are others that I should remember, but I'm too tired to think of any right now. And I'm sure there are some I'm entirely unaware of. I'd be very interested in similar stories, and especially if there are any modern ones that are as "final" (as in: conclusively end with the end of mankind in the near future, instead of copping out with the existence of some small remaining group, or dragging it out into the far future).

Actually there is a bit at the end of The Hydrogen Sonata that does make me tear up a bit - where the Minds are being a bit self-congratulatory and it mentions about all of the adventures that they will go on to have....

Of course its not the content of the book that does that to me but what happened to the author and knowing that there won't any more adventures for the Culture, it's crazy and wonderful Ships and the great Minds.


The second Battlestar Galactica series does reach a conclusion, sort of. It ends with a loop backward in time, through a black hole. Surviving humans and humanoid Cylons interbreed with protohumans. So history is cyclical.

I don't think that description is right. They never fall into the black hole - they jump away. Unless I'm badly misremembering, it's pretty clear that the Battlestar Galactica crew's ancestors "earth" is a different planet.

At least the characters believe it is, and the Baltar and Six that appears in the epilogue also talks about it as a different planet and a new cycle.

While the theme of cyclical history is recurring throughout the series, that is about recurrence of a similar set of events, as in hinduism [1], not an actual loop.

[1] http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/h_time.asp

Maybe so. But the city in the epilogue does look very 21st century. That might just have reflected budgetary constraints, however. As in Caprica.

That's because the epilogue takes place on our Earth in the 21st century. But the "real" Earth they found earlier and left again was not. In-universe "our" Earth is named Earth because they named it as a reference to "their" Earth (which had been reduced to rubble).

OK, I need to go back and watch the last few episodes. I know that they had found a destroyed Earth. But then they went to that Cylon base, in orbit around a black hole. And then they fell in, as they were fighting their way out. And then they ended up back on the Earth, ~50 thousand years ago. Or at least, that's what my wife and I remember :)

Childhood's End was one of the best books I've read last year, maybe your own isolation created this and I don't think it's fair to suggest everyone else to skip it, it's a really great book around an interesting concept.

I haven't read Childhood's End. I really enjoyed Seveneves, though. But there's just a lot of cool stuff in the story that is worth the exposition. As others note, the book is written in sections; if you really don't want to go through the triumph and heartbreak of the outplaying story, it wouldn't be awful to jump to a later section. I may be a bit heretical saying so, but some ideas later in the book are just wonderful. You'll lose out fast forwarding, but I'd recommend that over skipping it :)

> The first third of Seveneves is a real gut punch.

I found the first two thirds of it to be pretty depressing to the point where I didn't really enjoy the whole book that much. I wish he'd just kind of jumped right into the "future world" bit and made some references to what had taken place when the moon blew up.

For me, it had a touch of "Alas, Babylon" or "Earth Abides".

Stephenson can really bring a world to life, and apparently, snuff it out too.

I've yet to read "Seveneves", but I felt the prologue to Alastair Reynolds' "Blue Remembered Earth" was very moving too. It involves our protagonists coming across a left-over AI tank, long buried. A sort of futuristic take on land-mines disguised as toys.

There's also some rather nightmarish scenarios in Richard Morgan's series about Takeshi Kovacs (I enjoyed beginning in the middle, with "Woken Furies") involving weaponized nano technology.

Neither are world-ending, but touches IMHO on some of the same things.

I kept thinking Seveneves would adapt wonderfully as a three-season television series, with one season for each part of the book.

Oh, those season finales!

A couple of fun things hidden (or not exactly) in this video:

There's no missing a couple of Neal's swordfighting buddies at 1:07.

Wondering where the camera stand is? Look for its reflection in the window behind Bill at 1:52.

What car did Bill drive to the meet-up? Probably not the Model X. My money is on the Porsche 959 shown at 2:17.

(It's also a safe bet that the meet-up actually began at the Burgermaster, since that's in Bill's neighborhood. That way Bill only has to make one round-trip to Seattle instead of two.)

I'm totally failing to get the joke with the shovels and pickaxes at the corner of Boyer & Howe at 2:40. (Surely not a macabre gag as they cross towards Lakeview cemetery...)

And of course the gaggle of kids in Madison Park at 2:54 are observing the moon through a telescope.

The Model X in the video has a WA license plate "7EVES", the title of the book. Since Neal lives in Washington, it makes seems to reason that it is his.

Why wouldn't gates drive a tesla x?

Bill might well drive a Model X and any number of other cars -- his daily was an armored mid-90's Lexus LS for many years -- but if there's a Porsche 959 parked at the south Kirkland Burgermaster, the odds are overwhelming that it belongs to Bill.

This because only 345 Porsche 959's were ever built, and none were eligible for import into the US. That is, until Bill made himself instrumental in the passage of the show and display importation exemption* so that he could buy one.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Show_or_Display

Gates owns a silver 959. This one:


The silver one was presumed his, but not confirmed as such.

But Bill being Bill, he might be collecting them. :)

It looks like Bill drove that dark-blue Model S that you could see around 0:50. You can tell that it's not a Model X from the interior seat configuration.

Bill is a known 959 enthusiast [1]. Considering that only 345 were ever made and only a handful of those were imported into the US, I'd say that car is very likely his.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porsche_959#.22Gates_959.22

The timeline looks like they started in Seattle, drove through the arboretum, over 520, went to the Kirkland Burgermaster, drive by his office by the Bluetooth SIG, endeding at Houghton Beach Park in Kirkland just north of Carillon Point.

Perhaps just a space-mining gag?

I used to work at that BurgerMaster when I was in high-school!

"If Stephenson wrote Huckleberry Finn it would be 4,000 pages long and mostly about paddlewheel design"

-- https://twitter.com/baconmeteor/status/663076130077802496

I have heard good things about this book, but it has been a while since I could get into Neal Stephenson's work. My favorite is one of his earliest, Zodiac. It's the only book of his I've read that doesn't just...end.

> "If Stephenson wrote Huckleberry Finn it would be 4,000 pages long and mostly about paddlewheel design"

And this is the exact reason why Stephenson is one of my favorite authors.

I greatly enjoyed some of Stephenson's other works, but I was actually a bit disappointed with Seveneves. The narrative is well crafted, but unfortunately I just got stuck on the whole space ark concept and couldn't suspend disbelief enough to continue.

Maybe someone else can explain why it made sense to focus on an orbiting refuge, right in the path of the Moon's fragments, rather than dig a bunch of underground cities that would have saved many times more people.

Midway through the first unit, I basically decided they should have dug tunnels ten miles long, one mile deep at bottom, lay tracks, and just go full steam carting rocks out while digging massive caverns. They could move entire hospitals, schools, factories, labs, etc. into these places, store tons of food and supplies, lay pipes to connect to underground water supplies, set up parks, farms, and animal preserves using artificial solar lighting. Makes so much more sense to me than this nutty space station idea. And with gravity, access to minerals, oxygen, etc.

I love space as much as the next geek, but if you want to save millions of humans, you've got to dig.

Well...... You'd clearly be right if you were looking at a timeframe of a few years, or a few decades, or maybe a century or two.

But if you successfully establish a long term presence in space, you've got access to a lot of resources. If you're stuck in a hole in the ground for 5,000 years, and the surface is considerably more hostile than space, I think there's at least a colorable argument that space is the way to go.

Spoilers for the end of the book follow.

As it happens, remnants of humanity survive in space, underground, and underwater. This was the part of the story that broke my suspension of disbelief. I just couldn't really buy the end-third societies. It's like Stephenson couldn't get his mind around how long 5,000 years actually is.

Just as a for-example, language: In 3,000 BC, there might have been an unknown language that we designate proto-Indo-European because we don't actually have any texts that reference it. Proto-Indo-European might have begat another language that is still so ancient that we can only guess at it that we designate proto-Germanic which begat a family of West-German languages that begat Old English that begat Middle English that begat modern English.

Meanwhile, in 7,000 AD, apparently they speak a light pidgin of modern English that's pretty understandable to modern English speakers.

I get Stephenson's argument for why his far-future cultures are so directly related to the action in the first two thirds of the book, I just can't quite buy it.

Humanity has little experience with the speed of language evolution in presence of audiovisual recording technology. The Quran did not prevent Arabic dialects from diverging, but it sure slowed down evolution compared to other languages that did not have their own religious texts or got translations only much later. I think it is quite reasonable to expect an even lower amount of change with a vast, well studied corpus of audiovisual material.

(My personal illusion breaker was thermal management of the off-screen survivors: I usually would not dare to nitpick on such a thing, but when the topic has been elaborated so deeply for the ark-dwellers, I just can't switch back to the default mode of happy ignorance that quickly, in the same book)

I enjoyed thinking about why language might not change as much in the next 5000 years as it has in the past 1000. For one thing, widespread literacy and a relatively stable canon of literature should keep successive generations mutually intelligible. In the case of the novel's space society, I find it at least plausible that media archives from earth and thousands of hours of The Saga being viewed by all educated humans would freeze the spoken language in its current state.

You might like Hugh Howie's "Wool" series...

I read this series right after I read Seveneves. The connections were impressive.

Yup, loved Wool.

The whole last third of the book makes waaay more sense when you think of it as an MMO backstory:

- Two factions (literally, red and blue) with mostly the same but kinda different everything

- Thirteen-plus subspecies of human, with their own unique racial bonuses and skills (chain whip thing!).

- Pristine, empty, Earth-like local, ripe for building...

- ...and with monsters! And treasure!


Or a fanfic playground, where writers are free to reuse the same basic cast of predefined stereotypes without interfering with each other's characters.

I think it's typical Stephenson: start with a clearly identifiable grand idea, get wildly sidetracked working towards it until the digressions are something much better, leave a skeletal version of the original idea for the end.

Note to future VR directors:

Don't do edits, and God don't change the default orientation of the camera! I know that goes against against 127 years of cinematic history, but moving the camera's default focus seriously confused my spatial awareness. I've turned so I can see them both, but oh no now I'm outside on the street, and now I'm back inside, but suddenly I'm rotated 60 degrees.

If this wasn't VR, it would t matter but in VR, it's putting the audience on teacup ride.

I believe I've read all of Stephenson's books (yes, even The Big U)

Seveneves is in the top 5, but only just -- the Baroque Cycle (though not sci-fi) takes up three of the first five spots.

In terms of can't-put-down-once-started, Reamde tops the list, but, again, not sci-fi.

People seem to want to compare the content to Anathem, even suggesting it may fit into the same universe - though I can't see it myself. For what it's worth, both his SF and non-SF works are enjoyed by my other half, who usually eschews anything SF - so despite the alleged 'science-heavy style', there's one data point that suggests it's not as problematic as some reviewers expect it would be.

Since you're a REAMDE fan, I'll let you in on a secret:

The character of Peter is largely based on 3ric Johanson, who just happens to have been in the news this week: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11703350

I also loved The Baroque Cycle, and Mongoliad (which also, now that I think of it, features that immortal mystic). It's hard to explain the connection with Anathem without too many spoilers. So I'll just note that Earth does explicitly exist in the Anathem universe.

Oh, I've read both Anathem and Seveneves, and while I appreciate that Earth is referenced in the former, I don't recall anything that felt like it may connect (no hint of a multiverse in Seveneves, f.e.).

I think I read some interview with Neal a while back where he said he hadn't considered writing anything else in the same universe as Seveneves, but if there was interest, he may come up with something. Obviously there's quite a few ways such a follow-up could go.

Probably time, and a good excuse, to re-read Anathem.

It's the Purpose vibe. Plus all the mystery about the Agent. But then, I didn't get the Hitchhikers' Guide joke about that :(

Many of Stephenson's books have some hint of Purpose to them. Either the characters are working towards their own purpose a la Avi and HEAP + Crypt or are being guided by people with a purpose like Fraa Erasmas in Anathem or Hacksworth in Diamond Age.

I was just getting into Kerbal Space Program at the same time I started reading this book, and it's amazing how well they tie together. I would learn something about orbital mechanics in KSP, and then see it applied in the book, and I really enjoyed that feeling.

Seveneves is one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read. It was a hard emotional ride.

(small spoiler follows)

One of the interesting gems I remember: the surviving humans looked back at the recordings of their ancestors, in particular about how their behaviour was affected by social networks - and collectively decided not to pursue that aspect of the Internet.

(This may actually be a plausible in-universe answer for why there's no Facebook in Star Trek.)

Watching people fight on Facebook and Twitter, I frequently recall Stephenson's vision of the human race nearly destroying itself with flame wars.

Larry Niven was awesome at apocalypses. The short story Inconstant Moon is one of the greats, plus he did a couple of thick novels on the theme with Pournelle -- Lucifer's Hammer and Footfall.

My theory about the book, and the reason why there's such a tone change at the end is that this book is the kickoff to a much larger cycle.

If it is, I think there's an authorial question -- when do you shift gears to the far future, and how? It makes some sense to me that readers might find the style transition jarring between volumes. Also, some of the cool stuff starts to happen later.

So, perhaps -- hopefully -- we can look forward to more. There's plenty teed up in the novel; it seems like every group of humans that went out on their own survived in some way, (making me think the Mars folks are going to be around at some point), and we still haven't found out just who blew up the moon.

Stephenson created the Hieroglyph project, trying to get sci fi authors to inspire more science, and I suppose more faith in humanity. I would be surprised if we don't get more of this story aimed at inspiring us in a variety of ways.

A larger cycle would be outrageous! Maybe it's just my imagination, but I'm guessing that there's some connection to Anathem. Or even to that immortal alchemist/cryptographer.

> it seems like every group of humans that went out on their own survived in some way

The survival of both the other two groups seemed pretty far fetched to me.

Just wait for Mars.. :)

I had the same reaction at first. But, then I was thinking about dogs; dogs evolve really quickly under pressure. If that's not a high pressure evolution event, I don't know what is.

I'm curious to read more about everyone in any event. Here's hoping.


It's not even about evolution. Imagine if the 7 eves weren't playing some weird genetic metagame, but instead had one over-arching problem to solve.

The main dilemma of the Pingers was how to survive underwater, and they had as much technology (if not more, there's more submarines in existence than ISS modules). They also had tons of food (think of how many whales died, and how long whale fall ecosystems last). And a nice natural shield consisting of the ocean.

If the Aidans could bring back the Neanderthal, then the Pingers probably started their experiments early and often.

I devoured Seveness. The first third of the book - the consideration of what I might do if faced with such a reality - was perhaps the most I've ever felt reading a book. (The contender for that would be Wise Man's Fear)

I find that question waaay more effective than "what would you do with a billion dollars?". Everything you know and love will be gone, completely, with the barest chance that you can contribute to something surviving... But you have time enough left to love it. Or contribute to something surviving.

It's pretty intense.

boy-being meets girl-being beneath silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.

What do you mean? They thoroughly explained it -- it was an agent!

It's a reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (In particular, what the band Disaster Area's songs are about.)

Some not-so-hard science fiction on the same topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Csj7vMKy4EI

360° video interview at the parent link (also works with mobile phone VR headsets - though didn't try it) is surprisingly pleasant, effective and amusing too. For example, when they are in the car, it's nice to be able to look elsewhere if you already get bored staring at the two of them.

The director was a bit quirky I guess: there is even a play sword battle between two anonymous dudes on the side of the road, early on in the video (!)

Edit: Someone did already post about the above.

>Seveneves belongs in the subgenre of hard science fiction, which means it emphasizes scientific accuracy. Everything adheres to physical laws, so unlike Star Wars, no one travels anywhere near the speed of light.

A pity then that a little basic chemistry eluded both the writer and the critic - there's no carbon on the moon. Rather difficult to support humans, and carry out feats of biotechnology, without it...

IMHO, "hard SF" has developed as a term for books that have "hard physics", everything else like biology, chemistry, sometimes even mathematics is usually lacking.

As an example: The Cheela, the microscopic intelligent life forms in the more famous hard SF Dragon's Egg, are described like eukaryotes with an eukaryotic life style, but they're so tiny that they don't need any of the complex "inventions" of eukaryotes, for example, they wouldn't need any "plumbing" in the body since they're small enough for diffusion to deliver nutrients. IRC their DNA is triple stranded; DNA is double stranded so that it's more safe from mutations as you can always read the opposite from the opposite strand, if you had a second backup in the form of a third strand you would have no stable chemical bonds between the bases. Triple helices exist but these doesn't help with stability and are implicated in transcription. Edit: Similarly, there should be massive problems in the later communication because the Cheela shouldn't have a base 10 mathematical system as they don't have 10 fingers, you could still display it as base 10 but there has to be a conversion (see https://www.quora.com/What-does-one-mean-by-Every-base-is-ba... ).

That was covered at least in passing. The comet they capture and use to reach the Cleft provides the sources of carbon and other elements that are hard to get. Presumably long enough to build and launch slow missions to capture and redirect other sources (happens 'off screen').

> "The black stuff has all kind of goodies on it. Carbon, obviously. But also nitrogen, ptoassium---" "Micronutrients," Markus said, "that the Cloud Ark will be needing."

but isn't it all poisoned by those pesky radioactive flea particles? Or was that problem only insurmountable due to the limited resources of the comet expedition?

The fleas caused a lot of problems even during the Great Ride but I imagine once they were in the Cleft they'd be able to figure out a way to process it to remove the contamination. it wasn't covered in the book though that I remember.

There was a passage where they had rigged the robots to pick out debris from the ice.

I think they would eventually be able to pick out the hotter bits out of the ice as well.

The book goes into great depth and makes "rather difficult to support humans" the focus of the entire first 2 parts of the book. Space is indeed rather difficult to support humans. The third part of the book is a 'what if they actually survived and continued to survive, fast forward 5000 years".

In reality, there would be no survivors in left space, but I appreciated the final third part of the book all the same because I enjoy the fiction part of science fiction just as much as I do the science part.

They did bring tons of comet with them. Which could theoretically be a source of carbon. It's a stretch, of course. But I think the story was that they kept the population in the Cleft down to a few hundred for many generations, only growing beyond that once people began venturing further afield. At that point, carbonaceous asteroids are not implausibly hard to get -- from high orbit, you've already paid most of the delta V needed to get elsewhere in the inner solar system, if you've got a lot of time to spend.

There's some carbon on the moon. Rock samples are reported as having on the order of 100 ppm carbon [1]. That means that the amount of carbon in a human body is found in 100 m^3 of lunar soil. So if you extract all the carbon from the top meter of regolith, you could cover the moon with humans on a 10 meter grid spacing.

[1] https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a15/LunarSampleCompendium15265....

Hard scifi usually has an unrealistic premise but everything else is constrained by real science that we know. If everything was exactly adherent to science and tech as it currently exists, it wouldn't be science fiction. It would just be fiction.

I think we're supposed to assume they went out and got more carbon somehow. It would have made more sense if they'd carried the comet parts into the cleft but I'm willing to forgive it. Of course the physics of the moon blowing up are totally wrong but I'm willing to swallow a single impossible thing and keep going.


What do you mean? In the book, the moon explodes and destroys the world. Pretty much the exact opposite of supporting humans.

My understanding is that the surviving humans shelter in "the cleft", which is a fragment of the moon. They then use biotechnology techniques to repopulate. Even when limited to the biotech operations, they would need a lot of carbon based materials.

Keith Robison has some thoughts on it:


I'm guessing you haven't read it then? I don't want the spoil the ending but your parent post makes sense.

The meeting seemed a little content-free, I wonder if there was some other discussion happening off-camera? Like, "I'll fund the movie version" or something. Or maybe Gates is really just like "Hey I liked your book, let's get hamburgers in VR".

Definitely one of my favorite books. I bought a hard copy and read through it immediately. Then I got the audio book and listened to it in my car while commuting. What a great piece of work.

The character identification bit is interesting. I had assumed the president was meant to be Hillary Clinton until I read someone angrily complaining about his take-down of Sarah Palin...

Well, the book was written in the age of Palin more than Clinton, so the parallel is inviting - but isn't JBF a pretty well read big city liberal, generally well respected in Doobs circles? It's a very subtle dig.

However, I read JBF as a catch-all figure for everything bad about politicians (generally useless, except to ferment conflict to serve their own path to power), so it's not surprising that people would project whatever politician they don't like onto her.

In other words, she's both Palin and Hillary.

When asked about the Hillary comparison at a book signing, Stephenson said that he hadn't wanted the character to represent Hillary and thought it was unfortunate that many readers would make that assumption just because there were so few alternative public figures to map the character to. He gave no hint as to there being anyone in particular she was supposed to be.

Was anybody else turned off by the author's approach to characterisation in this book? I feel like he's over-explaining their reasoning/motivation for doing the things they do to the point where it's irritating. It's like he's trying to tell you everything about a character in the shortest time possible. No subtlety.

Am I overreacting? I'm still within the first third but I don't think I'll be able to get through the book if it's entirely like this.

Characterization is not one of Stephenson's strong points.

Try an experiment: skip to 2/3 through the book, where it says "Five thousand years later..." and pick it up as though it were a new book. I think you might be happier.

I enjoyed Seveneves but thought it wasn't Stephenson's best work by far.

I'd rate Anathem and Snow Crash much higher than it.

Same here, plus The Diamond Age. I read them all as they came out, and the shorter earlier books (The Big U, Snowcrash) had much more impact on me than the longer later ones.

Or course, it's impossible to read Snowcrash today and feel anything like the same impact because ideas that were pretty far out way back then are commonplace today.

+1 on Diamond Age - awesome book.

I enjoyed Seveneves. I'd recommend Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald as another recent moon-based book that's enjoyable sci-if. Mega corporations rule the moon and the government largely ignores what they do as long as raw materials are still delivered to Earth.

I started reading Seveneves about 4 days ago. Been sitting on my nightstand for months. It's dry, but scary/sad as fuck.

I love how the book manages to tell just 1/3 of the whole story ;)

Actually, it's more like a quarter, or a fifth ;)

Hard to discuss without spoilers but do you mean story-time-wise or story-line-wise?

I mean story-line-wise. Specifically, group-wise.

Ah, so true! Thanks for reminding me.


Thanks, that's handy. I wish there was a complement to adblock that removed useless things that cover text, like email harvesting popups and other things that have to be closed manually.

The problem is that most of these things are hand-rolled. It's not like ads, where you can just block iframes that point at blacklisted domains. The ids and classes of those annoying things will be specific to each site, so it's hard to target.

You could probably remove anything that had onscroll functionality defined, and just accept that it would break some websites.

I love that Mr. Gates drives a Tesla :)

Talk about misleading titles.

> I should get back to reading sci-fi again.

Tsk. Old enough to know that you read SF, watch sci-fi. Card, please.

Dude! this is 880 pages long.

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