What a great first sentence.
Neal Stephenson offers a suggestion for why the moon broke up, initially into seven pieces, but his novel Seveneves is about the aftermath. It’s really two stories.
The first, about 447 pages in my Epub edition, follows the horrific couple years after the moon blows up and the pieces continue to collide, shatter, and fall to Earth. This first book takes place in our near-future, mentioning Twitter, #hashtags, and Batman. The book provides a tour of the Soyuz spacecraft and the International Space Station – though an expanded ISS with an asteroid attached at one end and a rotating torus section at the other. There are familiar cell phones: As the moon breaks up, people call each other and “a large number of telephones were singing their little electronic songs. Including his. The birth cry of a new age.”
The second story, 232 pages, is about the distant aftermath, 5,000 years in the future, with a new set of characters, technologies, and problems. The book’s title is realized in this story.
This is not a book I could sit down and read straight through, it’s just too long and the descriptions require attention. But, science fiction fans, take it on vacation or a couple long plane trips. Or stage it on your bedside table over the rest of the summer.
972 reviews for the hardcover edition on Amazon, 73% four and five star ratings. NOTE: Any SPOILERS that follow are no worse than what you’ll find on the back of the book and the first few dozen pages of either story.
This epic takes its time, shows us the moon’s explosion through the eyes of five different characters, and offers discussions of orbital dynamics, ham radio, space stations, robotic swarms, etc. – be prepared for mini-seminars, tales of preparing for doomsday, and where and how humanity will survive.
My favorite character is an astronomer who popularizes science. I can’t even recall how Stephenson described him because I’ve got the image of Neil deGrasse Tyson stuck firmly in my mind – I can hear Tyson’s voice as the character explains the coming apocalypse to the US President: trillions of pieces of the rubblizing moon will, in two years’ time, rain annihilation on the Earth. (I went back and looked – I think Stephenson had Tyson in mind, too.)
Stephenson never gets maudlin about the billions of deaths in his story – some people will find that a bit cold.
With the destruction of life on Earth as its driver and familiar characters, the first story (divided into two parts) feels more exciting. The portion set in space can be read independently of the portion set on Earth. The second story builds a new world, and hypothesizing the future a decimated humanity might create is interesting. You could easily read one story or the other by itself, depending on your tastes. Personally, I skimmed quite a few sections. An Ebook edition, where you can search for a name, makes it possible to track the story of a favorite character if you get impatient with Stephenson. If you really get impatient, there’s a plot summary on Wikipedia. The summary won’t hurt your reading experience and may help you decide which parts to read in full, because the point of the book is Stephenson’s broad and deep descriptions. If you can’t get enough of Seveneves, you can buy a Summary and Analysis and unofficial fan sidekicks.