On plot holes, and suspension of disbelief

This is emphatically not a review, because right now I’m less than halfway through this book, and I’m not going to actually type the title anywhere in this post or put it in the tags because I don’t particularly want this post to show up when people search for the book. A word of praise first: I started this last night in bed, at around 9:45 or so, and as of right now, just before 8 PM the next day on a day when I had to go to work, I’m 165 pages into it. I got home from work, went and got the book, and started reading. On a page-by-page and sentence-by-sentence level, this book that there’s a picture of on the right is a damn good read.

But here’s the thing: the book is set in the 2300s, roughly, far enough in The Future that there’s crazy technology: the caving suit the main character is wearing required elective surgery that rerouted her digestive system into the suit so that she could basically live in a closed ecosystem, just for example. There are two characters, the person in the Scary Cave and her handler, a disembodied voice Somewhere Out There. A whole lot of people who previously tried to explore this cave have died quite nastily. The book does paranoia and claustrophobia and Alone In The Dark very well, and as mysteries are unraveled as we go along it’s adding additional layers of palpable dread and creepy. In short, it does what it’s doing quite well.

And I turned to my wife on page six last night and said “This book had better give me a good reason at some point why there is a human being in a suit exploring this cave and not a drone,” and … well, nope. Now, there’s lots of book left, but in 2019 we can explore caves with drones. Especially the really dangerous and people-killy ones. I’m pretty certain that no matter what has happened to human civilization in the time between now and the events of this book– and it’s a very tight-focused book, so other than some hints about extrasolar colonization (the book does not take place on Earth) we really don’t have much of an idea of what regular human day-to-day life is like, but I am pretty sure we still have drones and robots. Probably even better ones than we have now! Why the hell would you risk even one human life, and way more than one person has died in this cave, to explore caves when you have robots you can send?

Ignore that detail, and this is a really compelling book. I’m gonna be insanely busy the next couple of days but this is gonna get read fast. There’s still lots of book left where my opinion might change, but the first 40% is good shit. Except for that one thing, and if you’re the type of person that That One Thing is gonna annoy, you probably shouldn’t even pick this up. Because, again: ignore that detail, and this is a really compelling book. With that detail, there’s no book at all, because the only reasonable way to explore this cave literally eliminates every single aspect of the plot and backstory as it’s been explained to us so far.

So, yeah, maybe don’t read this if that’s gonna be a problem.

The school year is officially one week old, and tomorrow is going to be a ten-hour day, and I haven’t worked a five-day week of any kind in a while and the first week of school is always hell and the first seven days are also hell and ten-hour days are hell and 140-degree days are hell and I’m so tired that I have crossed through tired and emerged on the other side, which is still tired but with more superlatives. It is deeply unlikely that there will be a post tomorrow, and Friday is my son’s birthday, and again I am very very sleepy, so do not panic if a few days elapse where you do not hear from me.

Which, in accordance with prophecy, means I will post every day, of course.


seveneves-usSo 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.

That’s bad.

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.