SevenEves by Neal Stephenson

seveneves
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22816087-seveneves

SevenEves is a near future story about how the human race would survive a sudden extinction level event (which is never really explained how that even came to be, but that’s not really the point). Not by wandering around a post-apocalyptic landscape, but how they would actually survive it in a cobbled together space program. And how they survive the near extinction of the human race (the Seven Eves a clear echo of the the Mitochondrial Eves which gave birth to Homo sapiens), which still results in the same type of social issues that trouble us today. Some things: tribalism, need to grab power, come to us from our primate ancestors and they are not going to be easy to shake, if ever. So in the backdrop of the best of mankind applied to trying to help the human race survive, you have the worst of mankind’s Machiavellian machinations that you wish, with great frustration, that characters were not so stupid to engage in, but you’re not surprised that they do because humans would so totally do that.

It had good, well rounded characters (and if one of them bears a slight resemblance to a popular physicist that is purely coincidental 😉 ). It was a good “the great will, intelligence and creativity of humanity surviving penultimate disaster” story. Complex, realistic and believable,  it included humanity’s greatest strengths as our salvation and our greatest failings as being the monkey wrench that kept being thrown into the best laid plans of mice and women for 5,000 years. So the plot kept you on your toes. There were lots of very edge-of-your-seat gripping moments and believable plot twists with a satisfying end.

The problem.

Neal Stephenson has become famous for “info dumps.” Not exposition, but page after page of related-but-unnecessary-to-the-story information he finds fascinating. And his fans love him for it because reading his books is an educational experience.

(Though I really could have done with the torture/experiment on the live dog in Quicksilver. Between that and reading through 50 pages without a plot showing up, that was one book I never finished.)

Cool. He is a genre writer writing for a fanbase to leans towards hard SciFi. But, he is at a point where he could take a page from Andy Weir.

the-martian-cover.jpg

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18007564-the-martian?from_search=true

Excellent book! I loved it! Very fun and gripping read. Weir’s take on the “resilience of human nature” involved more in-character humor. I think humor would be necessary in a survival situation, but I digress…

The Martian and SevenEves have a basic theme in the same basic setting: A survival story set in the near future where the primary mode of transport and survival is space exploration/flight. The Martian is simpler in that it’s one guy trying to survive and SevenEves is the human race. The Martian being confined to the space program does not allow for the personal conflicts which crippled the efforts in SevenEves. But Weir could tell a space-based survival story without diverting the reader for page after page of scientific technical data that had nothing to do with the story.

SevenEves would stop for an science/technical info dump for eight pages, have half a page of dialog, then go on a further info dump for five pages. It was especially bad in the beginning as it severely stalled the story out which made wading through the first 400 pages (out of 750) a slog. Once you got past where Stephenson thought he had explained everything he possibly could, then the story really got going. The Martin got the tech across without slowing down. Or at least it was not brought to a grinding halt. Repeatedly.

If they can’t cut the info dumps in SevenEves, the least the publisher could do would be to highlight the pages for people who want to get on with the story so they know to skip them.

But despite the slog, the book is worth it. I give it four out of five stars because all the other aspects of it are done so well.

SPOILER ALERT!

Addendum: As someone who has studied physical anthropology, I don’t buy that the “Pingers” were a matter of “selective breeding.” What would become cetaceans branched off from that would lead to primate a looooong time prior, so there would be very little, if any, of their code in our DNA. It would be helluva difficult thing to bring those traits to the surface just by making babies.

Yes, homo sapiens evolve to can adapt, but not like that in 5,000 years. The comparison is made to dogs, but dogs can start breeding when they are 18 months old (they shouldn’t but they can) and have at minimum two liters a year. The average dog lives to 14, has an average litter of five puppies, that’s 125 dogs produced in it’s life, with the youngest producing as soon they hit 1.5 years. That is a LOT of generations in 5,000 years.

Meanwhile humans can’t start reproducing until menarche (first menses), sometime between 10 and 14 years (again, like dogs they should not as early pregnancies are dangerous) but they can. They can also only have one kid a year, with 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. If a woman is doing nothing but pumping out babies, maybe 20 if they are lucky, in their lifetime. So far fewer generations and fewer members per generation to play around in the genome.

They have found that the Canis lupus genome has a dizzying variety of genotypes that creates a wide variety of phenotypes (as anyone who has looked at a picture of Great Dane and a Chihuahua can see) which makes Canis lupus one of the most adaptable species on earth. In the wild, there have been Polynesian island strains of dogs, Central and South American jungle strains of dogs, Australian outback strains of dogs, African Savannah strains of dogs. And of course Wolves and Coyotes of North American temperate zones to deserts. All very different than one another, all without human intervention.

Meanwhile Homo sapiens have been around for a 100,000 to 200,000 years. We have seen very little genetic adaptation to living in different environments. We’ve had civilization for over 5,000 years and almost no sign of physical adaptation to the very different living conditions than our hunter-gather ancestors.

So the “Pingers” with their grey mottled skin and webbed fingers and blubbler, their massively extended breath holding, etc. I can’t buy without genetic engineering. Which is possible without the “Diggers” not knowing about it. The Pingers came from a government funded alternate plan B for the survival of the human race. The Diggers were just a group of regular survivalists who adapted a mine. (Though the book should mention they there are millions of cave systems and mines all over the Earth so this group in Alaska can’t be only ones that thought of doing that.)

But this is total nit-picking with no bearing on the believability of the story. I guess we all have our niches.

It is a great story of the determination of the human race to survive at an individual and species level.

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How Not to End a Story

I finished The Plague Forge, the last book in Jason Hough’s Dire Earth Cycle. And while I am not angry and do not regret reading the series, for on all other points he scored very high, I am disappointed. I am reposting my review from GoodReads here because I know some of the people following this blog are writers and this is a good lesson of how NOT to handle resolving a story.

Warning: Spoilers.

>This final installment in the Dire Earth trilogy has many of the same good points of the first two books: The compelling mystery of the builders, the well-drawn characters, first rate action, great visuals, the tension and jeopardy of the race between the two factions trying to complete the puzzle in time with no idea of the outcome. And the outcome of the mystery is unexpected. I also give Hough points for breaking up the unlikely romantic pairing of the first book and keeping them broken up, allowing them to find mates with whom they shared more common ground. And for making a character that was a bastard in the first novel become more three-dimensional and redeem himself. And it was kicked off by him getting what he wants. That was an unusual character arc that Hough made work.

However…

The detail did become excessive. We do not need a map of every corridor the characters walked down, especially when some of the features did not factor into the plot. The action, specifically the fights, became protracted. More in amount does not necessarily equal “more intense.” By the end it had started to feel like a slogg to read.

But where the book really failed was the ending. The reader has been following these characters trying to unravel and fight to overcome the mysterious “Builders” who have destroyed their world for three novels. We get to the very end where the biggest mystery of “Why” is about to be explained…

And then we cut to a letter-form epilogue that explains, 50 years after the fact, in broad brushstrokes what the mystery was and what the results were. Really. I flipped the pages back because I thought I had missed some. It was that sudden. The reader is robbed of the climax of the story. They are refused the emotional resolution of the characters reacting to the reality of what happened, the thought-provoking, debatable morality of what the Builders did, the choice the characters are given, and the debate among them that must have ensued.

And there was no reason for it other than Hough just did not want to write it. And authors can’t do that. Just no.

So while it was an enjoyable read, in the end the book is a let down.<

Yeah, don’t do that.  It’s just lazy. Give your audience a real climax and real resolution.

(And this is another sign that publishing editors do not do their jobs anymore. I can’t imagine why any editor would have let such a glaring flaw go and not sent it back, asking Hough to write what should have been the final chapter. )

Book Review: The Exodus Towers

The Dire Earth books are a sci-fi adventure story; not deep, but utterly compelling page turners. It is well written with a satisfyingly complex, but not convoluted, plot, enjoyable characters and wonderful descriptions of the world Jason Hough has built. It is always a relief to find adventure stories that do not talk down to the audience and this is one.

This is definitely a middle book, covering two years between the successful secession at the end of The Darwin Elevator to the arrival of the next wave of the alien “Builders” plan. There is not much resolution, in fact in a way things become even less resolved, but it is still a satisfying read. Hough does an excellent job developing the further complexities and mysteries of the aliens’ plans with further complexities in the human race’s reaction to their presence, the stress bearing down on main characters on social and personal social levels. If the first book had a single weakness, it was the characters were a bit stock and not well developed. That weakness is gone in this book; the character development is very good and drives the plot.

And as before, the action is with intense with realism and nail-biting jeopardy.

I highly recommend this series for those who enjoy SciFi and Adventure.