Seveneves (2015) Neal Stephenson
First off there are two things you should know:
I like the writings of Neal Stephenson
This is a really long book
There is no way to give a truly detailed plot summary.
- Dinah MacQuarie – Roboticist working for Arjuna expeditions (a private asteroid mining company). Her robots specialize in asteroid iron mining. Her father is the leader of an effort to weather the hard rain underground.
- Ivy Xiao – Born in Los Angeles, California, Xiao graduated from the United States Naval Academy before obtaining a PhD in applied physics from Princeton University. At the start of Seveneves, Xiao is the Commander of the International Space Station. She is demoted after allowing Sean Probst to utilize ISS resources, but becomes commander again after the death of her successor, Markus Leuker.
- Julia Bliss Flaherty – Frequently referred to as “JBF”, Flaherty is President of the United States during the events of Part 1. In violation of an international accord, Flaherty saves herself by fleeing to the ISS aboard a Boeing X-37, along with Pete Sterling, her science advisor. Flaherty attempts to re-assert her leadership and persuades a large number of cloud ark inhabitants to abandon the ISS. Disaster and internal dissent lead to her being replaced by Aïda Ferrari. Her descendants are more attuned to and adept at social and psychological manipulation.
- Moira Crewe – A geneticist sent aboard to ensure humanity’s heterozygosity, Crewe was raised in London and obtained degrees from Oxford and Harvard, and had previously worked on the de-extinction of the woolly mammoth. Due to the loss of the physical Human Genetic Archive, Crewe’s talents make her extremely valuable. Being the only person understanding the changes Aïda requests for her descendants, she responds, through seven failures, by giving her only surviving child the ability to undergo epigenetic shifts in order to counter all the changes Aïda makes in her offspring.
- Tekla Alekseyevna Ilushina – A Russian cosmonaut, Tekla was a former Olympic heptathalete, and was sent in the initial wave of suicide workers to retrofit the ISS for its role as the cloud ark hub. Rescued by Dinah when her suit life support system malfunctions, Tekla became the head of security aboard ISS. Her descendants have increased discipline and physical ability.
- Camila – Student and activist (implied to be from Afghanistan or Pakistan). Earlier in her life Camila survived an assassination attempt that necessitated extensive reconstructive surgery, and she was granted asylum in the Netherlands. Camila was chosen as an arklet as a rebuke to conservative Muslim countries that refused to nominate women in the Casting of Lots. While initially a close friend of former President Flaherty, Camila grows disillusioned with her during the events of the novel, ultimately preventing Flaherty from murdering Tekla. Camila has Moira imbue her descendants with non-aggressive traits, in order to be better suited to living in the close confines of space for generations.
- Aïda Ferrari – An Italian “Arkie”, Aïda first appears after having lead a revolt against Julia’s control of the arklets that rebelled against the ISS. Deciding that future humans will look down upon her descendants due to the cannibalism she participated in while cut-off from the ISS, she gives each of her children markedly different qualities, to best counter the attributes selected by the other Eves.
This book attempts to answer that age-old SF question: What would you do if the world were going to end? The answer for most people (according to Stephenson) is to help give a small group of people a chance to survive and possibly continue humanity.
If you wake up tomorrow and the moon is in 7 (soon to be 8) pieces you had better get ready. Those pieces are going to rattle together and chip off so many little pieces then in a couple of years they will start to fall to Earth (Hard Rain) creating an unlivable environment for thousands of years. You must either find a way to survive way under the surface or get out into space above the turmoil.
This book focuses on the process of trying to build a sustainable space station in a short time. All of the political and technological barriers as well as the personalities and approaches to problem solving. One would think that cooperation and compromise might be the best approach but not according to Stephenson. For instance, the actions of Sean Probst to bring a comet to the party (dying in the process) had nothing to do with a committee but was essential for the success of the mission. On the other hand, poor leadership decisions by the former President of the US almost results in loss of everyone.
Most people will (like me) admire Dinah’s guts and bold actions which saved the whole effort. The others Eves each have qualities that are key but Dinah was heart and soul of the group.
I am not sure that Stephenson needed to add the Earth-based efforts to round things out. It makes the Eves solution seem less important and less dramatic. Also it is hard to understand how either of those gambles would have been successful. I do not think that they would have been. In any event, it is a thought provoking book – another one from Neal Stephenson who is quickly becoming one of my favorites – Try Cryptonomicon.