Friday, 25 December 2015

Neal Stephenson: Seveneves

It was only when I got Seveneves as a Christmas present that I realised I hadn’t blogged it when I read it back in May. Which was weird, because I had opinions about it, and it’s not like me to keep an opinion to myself.

The big obvious opinion to have about Seveneves is that it’s either two books which should have been one, or one book which should have been two, depending on how you feel about Neal Stephenson’s chronic digression problem. There’s one book about the disastrous attempt to preserve humanity after the moon blows up, and there’s a second book about the world long after the almost total failure of the attempt. Cramming them both into the same volume doesn’t do either of them any favours. I don’t know if it was down to Stephenson getting fed up with the project or the publishers saying “For God’s sake, just give us something we can print, whatever the size.” but Seveneves feels rushed to print. And what I said about two books - there could just as easily have been three, since a lot of the second half of the book is tied up in explanations of all the stuff which happened in the big gap between the climax of the first half and the events of the second.

Seveneves is, then, one of those books which has something to annoy everyone. If you like it, there’s not enough of what you’ll like. If you don’t like it, there’s way more of it than you’ll want. Being a guy who owns everything Stephenson has published under his own name, I’m in the first group. I’m not sure how many people are in the second group, since Stephenson’s been getting length wrong since Snow Crash made him another of those writers who can write whatever the hell he wants to and still get published. By now, I think SF readers have made their minds up about whether they want to risk his next book or not.

For them as take the risk, it’s Stephenson in typical form, chucking out ideas in all directions and only running with half of them. Because most of the book is the end of the world, there’s an awful lot of stuff in there which feels like it’s been ripped from bad movies and only marginally polished. Some of those bits wind up having a pay-off in the book’s overall endgame. One part of me says they would have been better left as a homage to doomed best pals in apocalypse movies, and another part says that the pay-off is interesting without having been thought out enough or explained properly - which brings me back to the general theme of this post; either don’t do it, or do it properly, but don’t half-ass it this way.

Still, what do I know? It did not occur to me that the title of the book had any real meaning at all until the chapter where the title is paid off in such literal terms that I sat there feeling as though a piece of the moon had hit me on the actual head.

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