Here is the first sentence of Neal Stephenson’s enormous, 880-page novel Seveneves:
The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
That, my friends, is a brilliant goddamn first sentence. Brilliant. I made a terrible mistake several years ago and let the Baroque Cycle be the first Neal Stephenson books I ever tried to read. That meant I didn’t touch him for years until finally picking up Snow Crash just for the hell of it, and he’s rapidly becoming one of my favorite writers, to the point where I might re-attempt the Baroque Cycle books if I’m ever feeling crazy.
I’ve already written one post where I talk about the premise of this book, but since y’all don’t necessarily read every single thing I post let me recap:
The moon blows up. That’s kind of a problem. Humanity has to, on a real tight schedule, move enough people into permanent life in orbit (starting on the International Space Station, but rapidly adding on significantly) before the wrecked bits of the moon scour all life off of the planet in an event called the Hard Rain.
For 500 pages, it’s basically The Martian, except instead of one guy on Mars it’s what’s left of the entire human race on a space station. The tone is very similar, though; lots of technical detail, lots of trying to be as realistic as possible given the circumstances, lots of holy shit this is gonna kill everybody if we don’t figure it out. By the end of the first 500 pages, rather a lot has gone wrong and we are down to eight surviving humans, all women– one past childbearing age and seven others, the titular “Seven Eves” of the book. One of them happens to be a geneticist, so it turns out that rebuilding the human race from seven women isn’t quite the difficulty one would expect it to be.
After those 500 pages the words “Five Thousand Years Later” appear, on a page by themselves. And then there are over three hundred more pages.
Close the book and put it on a shelf. It was a great book. Don’t read a single other word, because the epilogue, or whatever the hell I’ll call it– hell, it’s 300+ pages long, it’s an entire novel all by itself– and it is terrible.
It took me two weeks to read the first eight hundred pages of this book, and with thirty pages left this afternoon I closed it and put it away, because the epilogue was that ridiculous and nonsensical and just plain bad. Literally pages and pages of unnecessary description and backstory and nonsense in between individual lines of dialogue from time to time. A book that has been careful to establish scientific and cultural plausibility for its entire running length suddenly stops making any sense at all. It’s not just bad, it’s hacky, and it’s stunning that Neal Stephenson wrote it, much less that he felt it was a worthy add-on to the rest of the book.
I four-starred it on Goodreads, and the first 500 pages are good enough that you should buy the book anyway. Hell, the first 500 pages would be on my shortlist for the best books of 2015, easily, if it weren’t for the albatross at the end. Don’t get me wrong: I recommend you read this. But that’s because I figure once you’ve read 500+ pages you’ve already gotten your money’s worth. Just don’t touch anything past then, because I’ve never seen a novel go off the rails this badly.