I realize the article is about far beyond the book, but in case anyone has not read it yet, I highly recommend it as some good grade Sci-Fi.
I think my explanation still reflects my opinions on the book and might be relevant here:
> I didn't know it before I started reading it, but the book plot is divided in 2 (very different) acts.
> The first one just captivates you in a way that makes it very hard to stop reading or even thinking about it when you are reading.
> Little did I know when the second act started and oh man, it was a complete struggle. It seems that the pace changes completely to an almost stall and the book just became complete unreadable for me.
> While the first act took me days, the second took me weeks and weeks to go further in the book and even with my kindle saying I still had 15% to finish, I got so frustrated that I just quit and never even had the curiosity to know how it ends.
It's not easy: when you build "mysteries" into a well-built self-consistent world (and Stephenson's worlds are excellent in this regard), it becomes increasingly hard to reconcile them all. As soon as you allow yourself to explore emergent phenomena during a creative process, you run the risk of writing yourself into a corner. I tend to read most fiction with an approach of "imagine the stories you wish happened in this well-thought-out universe" rather than worrying too much about the way an author actually writes a plot.
Conversely in many of his other books he's having fun describing the world early on but drawing it back together at the end doesn't work as well - Diamond Age is probably the clearest example. In the end the experience is very broadly similar but it seems to come from different causes.
The Baroque Cycle trilogy is actually a counterexample, being an extended followup and backstory to Cryptonomicon. That's also one aspect of the Mongoliad trilogy. And even D.O.D.O., in a way. But I can't say how, without major spoilers.
Seveneves started off strong, but then turned into a real slog. It could have been a great 200 page book, but at 600 pages I was just glad to be done with it and expect it to be the last thing of his I read. The Baroque Cycle felt similar, even though it contained many of the characters I loved from Cryptonomicon, but I just couldn't make it through it.
I see there are people here who like or love it, which is great. I am not surprised to see others here echoing my feeling that it was quite a slog to get through.
Stopping at Act 2 is probably not a bad idea, though I feel like Act 1 is a lot of setup that pays off in Act 2 so I wonder what the point would be.
It's the book that shows how deeply the author understands what motivates knowledge geeks - be they active in science, technology, or any other field.
Reading it, nearly at every page I was like "wow, this guy gets it!"
Anathem and Seveneves are among my favorites. And I really liked the entire Baroque Cycle! (after consciously avoiding it for years).
It's not like Stephenson's other works but I found it to be perfectly competent historical-ish fiction.
Maybe there is more to the book than could be fit into 200 pages, but I also don't feel like there was enough to it to fit into 600 pages.
Not only does it paint an utterly depressing picture of the future and the Universe in general, but worse, the assumptions it makes about human nature basically imply this is a failed species.
The message of TBP is hopeful in that the US and China are ultimately locked together against a universe of unknowns.
It totally goes off the deep end there at the end though, but this would be a hard book to write while living in China. The CPC wouldn't allow this kind of propaganda to be sold to the West if it didn't basically follow their party line. I mean, the author basically telegraphs this situation with the subplot about how the Terrans learn how FTL travel works.
The chapters where people are treated basically like grass, letting them dry out when conditions are unfavorable, and just hydrating them back to life when things get better - that's some seriously puke-inducing allegory. That's a world I would absolutely refuse to live in. Something is seriously wrong with a universe that produces that kind of outcome.
My problem with those novels shows up anywhere someone uses "pure logic" to solve some problem, but the logic is totally insane and nobody ever calls them on it. In fact the entire universe follows the same insane logic for some reason, and it dooms the whole place.
It does get kind of funny near the end when the author decides that the big crunch is going to happen after all. But then all of the alien races have stolen too much of the mass of the universe to hide in their own little pocket universes so it won't happen. The protagonists at that point return their mass to the universe, but given the logic of the rest of the series there is no chance that the alien races will do that, the universe remains doomed.
For many life forms even on Earth, going into stasis during difficult times is a completely normal occurence.
I was also a bit annoyed that the Trisolarians could mass produce these godlike sophons and never thought to use them to find non-inhabited solar systems to colonize. The third book did slightly explain this by having regions of space that broke their connection to home, but if you can produce thousands or millions of these things it doesn't matter so much if you lose some.
The logic of "in order to prevent other species from using up the resources in our universe we have to destroy the universe" never really worked for me either. The third book had a low level flunkie in an alien race launch an attack that would doom the entire universe at the speed of light with only the approval of a low level middle-manager. I'd almost say it was a parody except that the books took themselves so seriously.
With that as your history and living memory, it's not surprising if your opinion of humanity's emotional maturity isn't as high as it could be.
I grew up in the "communist" Eastern Bloc. I can easily visualize that type of event.
I still don't buy it - neither the premises of that trilogy, nor its conclusions.
At the end I was like - there's got to be a better way, or else this is a pointless Universe.
1. Humans are bad at real long term (generations or more) planning.
2. Humans have been successful because of their ability to trust each other. This works okay on Earth, but if they live in a universe that is actively hostile towards this, it could turn us into a doomed species.
3. Conversely, an entire universe of species that go around destroying each other on a whim is also doomed for everyone.
The only resolution seems to be that maybe if groups of both species that want to peacefully coexist can find a third place to inhabit together, they may be able to find a compromise even if their original races end up wiped out completely.
a) Its probably either very far behind or very far ahead of you.
b) Civilizations that are very far behind you can jump to being very far ahead of you "overnight"
c) Civilizations that are very far ahead of you can launch a preemptive strike that is guaranteed to destroy you.
d) Civilizations can modify local space to put themselves in a "stone-age" from which they cannot escape, thereby proving "we are not a threat".
Rationally, the only thing to do is destroy any civ you can, or preemptively take yourself out of the game.
An example of (c) was that Civilizations living in a n-dimensional universe could, if advanced enough, figure out how to modify themselves to live in an (n-1)-dimensional universe and then convert the n-d universe into an (n-1)-d universe that only they (and a few other clever civs) could survive in. Harsh. But rational.
The logic that "if you see someone, you must kill them" is kind of like "the first country that develops nuclear weapons must immediately deploy them against every other country, even thought that dooms the world to a nuclear winter." It's super-villain logic that ignores all of the other potential solutions--like diplomac--and ignores the MAD component of being able to easily destroy solar systems.
The entire reason given that alien species can't coexist is due to limited resources, but the Dark Forest mindset means they'll never be able to use those resources in the first place and at the end of the day they end up destroying all of them anyway. It's self defeating, and logically they should be able to figure that out.
The book feels like it's written by some game theory nerd who can't look past the first order equations.
Except that they don't live on a planet, the weapons aren't nuclear, and they don't have spies or reconnaissance planes and satellites that can determine whether the other side really has them or not in near real time.
When we were looking at the SDI, some people argued that SDI was bad because it would allow us to launch a preemptive first strike without any consequences, while other argued that that was a good reason to build it, and then use it immediately. So even in the case where we actually all live on the same planet and share the risk, some in the USA argued for what you claim is super-villain logic. That's what I though the books got dead right: humans are fucking stupid.
So where are they? Either self-replicating interstellar probes are impossible, or we're the first or only civilization to approach the ability to launch them.
IMHO the answer is: Once you have the technology necessary to travel interstellar distances, you no longer need to. Species are stuck in their own solar systems because leaving doesn't make much sense. The resources (including available space) in our solar system are nearly unlimited at the human scale, why take a staggeringly expensive and hazardous trip to some distant solar system for just more of the same?
I really, really want to revolt against this law, if it's really a law. Not sure why. I just do.
Would we notice?
However, extending that argument to "...and the various probes will have then competed in a Darwinian struggle leaving only a few voracious survivors causing a galactic-scale grey-goo scenario." does not seem especially well supported.
End of book one: yay!
Beginning of book two: oh we're totally fucked.
End of book two: yay?
Beginning of book three: yeah, we're totally fucked.
End of book three: the universe and all possible future universes are totally fucked.
It was epic. Highly recommended. So good to read sci-fi without a happy ending. Liked Horizon: Zero Dawn for same reason.
And honestly, the cap seemed a bit contrived to me. I read it more that the Trisolarians headfaked all of humanity and three books later Humanity never realized it. There's more to science than smashing subatomic particles together. It would be quite the subversion of "Trisolarians suck at lying" meme that emerged later.
> I read The Three Body Problem by the same author.
Information for future readers of this thread: those are the same books.
(Also, 11/10 great sci-fi; highly recommended.)
Everybody seems to love those books, and I can recognize their high quality - but they're so depressing. God, the ending just gutted me.
Part 1 & 2 are universe backstory. Like the Horus Heresy in 40k or the story of Lilith in Vampire.
Part 3 is just to advance the plot of the univers. Like the Dragonheart Trilogy in Shadowrun or when the clans get introduced in Battletech.
I hope you will finish. I understand the gap was both abrupt and left quite a bit to be desired. I was shocked and disappointed as well, felt like it was the easy way out of telling a storyline that was becoming increasingly complex.
In the end I very much enjoyed the great parts of the book and thought provoking dialogue between characters. That being said, I could nitpick on the parts I do not like but I prefer to celebrate the parts that were incredibly enjoyable.
I can tell Stephenson enjoyed writing Act 2 as an act of fun semi-hard sci-fi, but I think it should have been in its own setting, not tacked on to a dark hard sci-fi survival novel.
lol, then you missed the brief Act 3!
I don’t share GP’s opinion, I quite enjoyed both acts. I do agree that the pace of the two is quite different - the first being a bit more sci-fi thriller pace and the second is a bit more contemplative.
I agree, though. The first two acts were great, and the third fell flatter than the earlier two. But I enjoyed it nonetheless. It's nice to imagine what would happen, and it's pretty hard scifi throughout, albeit greatly accelerated.
Beautiful worldbuilding, but very much not like the rest of the book.
“[The characters] spend most of the third part literally doing nothing. They are assembled into a team of seven by a nebulous authority for some secret purpose; neither they nor we are told what it is. They go from place to place to investigate something or other, making several pointless stops and excursions and wondering, as I did, what was going on and when something was actually going to happen.”
But so much of my time was spent reading about those people going from A to B to C on their way to D, and for what?
There was a similar episode in _Anathem_, which I generally liked. But for some reason the characters had to go from A to B and the best way to get there was to go over the North Pole, and the book stopped for fifty pages until they got over the Pole and everything could continue.
In a different world some editor would have persuaded Stephenson to cut the whole thing out, and I used to hope he would one day meet that editor and we would live in that world, but by now I've given up.
I would have liked to have seen something like that in Anathem: two sentences along the lines of “Then we had to get to Siberia by driving an APC over the North Pole, but the less said about that the better” and then the book moves on.
Although in fairness, the person you're replying to is probably doing the same.
I liked it, but I can totally see the criticism.
After all of that resolves, it's pretty hard to emotionally connect with the rest of the story, since you are exhausted from all that came before. The final act is worthwhile and interesting, it's just a pretty big change in direction.
The second part is a war between humans for scarce resources in space.
The third part is about humans, who are largely doing fine, finding out stuff about the past and themselves.
There are some deadlines & urgency in the last part, but I think it's a tall task to try and create urgency when the previous sections were about the entire human races being extinguished.
The book can be thought of two big parts (the first is about 3/4 of the book), I don't really want to spoil, but the second part is much inferior to the first one and you won't miss much if you skip it. I know you won't but in any case...
I think Stephenson could also do that material justice, IF he rewrote it.
I largely enjoyed that part, but not as much as the first two parts. I would have been supremely annoyed if he didn't give some explanation of what happened after the first two parts, since he didn't really resolve humanity's problems as much as trade one problem for another. Some sort of extended epilogue was warranted, and I can see how deciding just the right length for it could be hard to get right when it needs to relay a lot of information to satisfy the readers. What we got was the third act which doled out the history sparingly but consistently over its length, but the story was lacking.
<Former Spoiler regarding my frustration with some DNA stuff here>
Still, i'll probably read it a third time one of these days.
Incidentally, GoT is suffering badly from the same problem.
If it had been split into two releases, both would probably have done better, but I bet they would have sold less as well. :)
There were parts of Seveneves that I thought were spectacular, and a lot that I thought was silly, and most of which I hated reading. ;-)