So I accidentally blew a hole in the plot of the book I’m reading last night, and I’m really annoyed with myself so I thought I’d complain about it on the Internet.
Let’s start with something else, though. Have you ever seen The Firm? The John Grisham book that got turned into a Tom Cruise movie? I’ve both seen the movie and read the book, and I’m pretty sure I read the book before the movie came out, although that was in 1993 and I haven’t revisited either since so my memory is gonna be a little bit fuzzy.
Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, here’s the deal: Tom Cruise is a young lawyer who gets hired out of law school to work for an insanely prestigious, high-paying law firm, only he discovers quickly that the reason the law firm is so high-paying is because they are POWERED! BY! EVIL!
Tom Cruise doesn’t wanna be evil. But, oh no! The evil people are, I dunno, threatening his friends and family if he doesn’t partake in the evil, or maybe he just doesn’t wanna give up the paycheck or something– like I said, it was 22 years ago and I don’t really remember the details all that well. The main plot tangle of the movie is how Tom Cruise will retain his heroic Tom Cruiseness in the face of lawyerly evil.
(This was before Tom Cruise was widely recognized as a crazy religious nut, obviously.)
And the answer is: fail the bar exam. Which he hasn’t taken as the movie starts, and which he still hasn’t taken after he discovers all the Evil. They can’t make you do evil lawyerly stuff if you aren’t a lawyer, Tom! Fail the fuckin’ bar!
Now, note: this is a plot hole, but it’s easily dealt with by inserting a single line of dialogue somewhere where the bad guys are all like “We know you’re gonna pass the bar, RIGHT?” in vaguely threatening terms, just enough that he realizes that that’s not gonna quite cut them off. But it never even came up, at least in the movie, and it annoyed me that someone as smart as Tom Cruise never thought of this perfectly obvious way out of his jam.
Which brings me to Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, which I’m reading (and, notably, enjoying the hell out of) right now. Note that I’m not yet at page 200 in a book that I think clocks in over 800 pages, so what we’re discussing here is less spoilers than the basic setup of the book. But if you really don’t want to know what happens in the first quarter of the book, I guess you should stop reading now.
The moon blows up in literally the first sentence of the book. It’s the greatest opening sentence I’ve read in years. Now, if you’ve been reading me for a while, you know we’re fucked already, and you might be wondering how the book gets past the first paragraph. The answer is that the moon breaks up in an odd (and possibly important to the later plot) way: it breaks into seven large chunks, rather than uncountable small pieces, and those pieces remain in roughly the same place, and continue orbiting the earth and chaotically spinning around each other.
It is quickly realized, though, that eventually those moon chunks are gonna start bashing into each other, and that sooner or later– in just a couple of years, actually– Earth will be subject to what they’re calling the Hard Rain, in which all those now itty-bitty chunks of Moon start falling into the atmosphere and onto the planet and basically scour the Earth of all life.
So right now what everyone’s doing is scrambling to get some small remnant of humanity off of Earth and into a sustainable space station before everyone else dies, and there’s been (again, I’m less than 1/4 in) a lot of engineering talk and politicking and generally the kind of thing that makes me love a book and this one is no exception.
It hit me last night that 1) the ISS at this point in the future has a captured asteroid attached to it, and 2) I just got to the point in the book where a small group of characters is dispatched to go grab a comet because they need water ice. Which means that the technology to do these things already exists.
Which means that we shouldn’t be trying to get half of a percent of humanity into outer space so that someone survives when the Hard Rain hits. What we should be doing is strapping ion engines to those big chunks of the moon, or at least the biggest ones, and pushing them out of orbit. And, as far as I can tell, this option has not even been discussed. Would it be complicated? Sure! But it wouldn’t be a book if the solution wasn’t complicated– the pieces are orbiting each other and spinning and the orbital dynamics to push them into a higher orbit much less out of Earth’s gravity would be complicated as hell, but so is the sustainable habitation in outer space problem, and this one saves all of humanity instead of literally leaving over 99% of us to die horribly. And, honestly, may well be cheaper.
And, at least at the point where I’m at, it’s not even been discussed. And it’s an obvious enough solution that it should have at least come up at the drawing board stage to be dismissed because Reasons. And I really like this book, dammit, and I have to potentially spend 600 more pages pretending I didn’t come up with a better way to solve their problem than what the supposedly really smart characters came up with. (For that matter, I’m completely certain that Neal Stephenson is smarter than me, too, so I keep trying to figure out what I’ve missed that makes my idea wrong.)
I hate it when that happens.