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.
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.
I look forward to more books based on the world in the third book/part, an MMO seems like a cool idea too.
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."
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".
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 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.
I'm hoping it's a springboard for sequels.
I want to hear more about the Pingers and the Diggers.
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.
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.
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.
(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).
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.
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 , not an actual loop.
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.
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.
Oh, those season finales!
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.
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.
But Bill being Bill, he might be collecting them. :)
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.
And this is the exact reason why Stephenson is one of my favorite authors.
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.
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.
(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)
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
The character of Peter is largely based on 3ric Johanson, who just happens to have been in the news this week:
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.
(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.)
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.
The survival of both the other two groups seemed pretty far fetched to me.
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 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.
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.
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...
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... ).
> "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."
I think they would eventually be able to pick out the hotter bits out of the ice as well.
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.
Keith Robison has some thoughts on it:
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.
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.
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'd rate Anathem and Snow Crash much higher than it.
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.
You could probably remove anything that had onscroll functionality defined, and just accept that it would break some websites.
Tsk. Old enough to know that you read SF, watch sci-fi. Card, please.