Stephenson, Neal: “Seveneves”

I have an enormous admiration for Bill Gates. Legend has it that he was so dedicated to his craft at Microsoft that the cleaners frequently found him asleep under a desk in the office in the mornings. He worked himself to the bone in his quest to put a Personal Computer in every home in the world. He personifies why free markets work. Luckily for humanity, he now focuses on ameliorating poverty and eradicating some of the numerous diseases that kill an unnecessary amount of our species and my guess is that he will do more than a lot of collective governments. Gates is one of the great human beings of our time. Some years back, I began following him on Twitter and noticed his intermittent posts on what he was reading. So, when he put up Seveneves by Neal Stephenson, and I saw that it was a Science-Fiction novel (I am a huge fan of the genre), it was a no-brainer.

Seveneves is divided into three parts but the story is essentially split into two halves. The first begins when the moon blows up and Earth is given two years to survive before the “White Sky” demolishes everything. The second story starts five thousand years later. I found the transition tricky.

The crowning achievement of Seveneves is the world that Stephenson imagines. Specifically, the structures that underpin the universe. The concept of how the “Cloud Ark” is comprised of thousands of individual ships that coagulate into one gigantic one is pioneering. Similarly, the notion of the multi-coloured “Eye” with the “Socket” docking on Earth and the “Iris” being a transport system is jaw-dropping. It took me multiple readings of part three to really get my head around the concept of the “Eye”. Like all great Science-Fiction, it is a fantasy world that we can, in part, foresee.

Seveneves raises a myriad of ethical questions. Chief of which is how ethical the decision-making process to decide who gets to go on the “Cloud Ark” is. Is it as simple as picking our best and brightest? Is it justified using nuclear weapons against Venezuela? The sphere of epigenetics was not one that I was familiar with before I read Seveneves. Can we be multiple different people in the same lifetime?

I am intrigued by the way our successors in the future view our twenty-first-century social media habits. “Tav’s Mistake”, when he acts like a brain-dead lemming relentlessly posted away online not realising that his every regurgitation is being carefully observed and manipulated, is an excellent observation on where we are currently at. The very notion that a society would create a discipline of “Amistics”, to decide which technology is and is not required for our existence in the future, is thought-provoking.

There are no nuclear weapons in the future and the last gun is preserved as a monument to a more barbaric time in the past. Can this future be now, please? Skip the “White Rain”, mind. It does seem like it will take this generation to get as close to the precipice of complete annihilation before we begin to even question our ability to kill and maim each other. For example, why not ban guns worldwide? Imagine the type of world that we would have if this were the case. Most, if not all, the characters that save the human race are female. The seven people who decide how to genetically populate the earth are women. Men ruled the past. Women rule our future.

Stephenson critiques democracy in Seveneves: think of the lightning speed at which the new constitution in space deteriorates into Markus suddenly believing that he is God: “I didn’t want to be king of the universe. Nevertheless, now, I am”. When he stations guards outside his door, the transformation to autocracy is complete. Politics in space is an important factor. Consider Julia Bliss Flaherty when she begins to turn people against each other in search of furthering her own aims, “the perception of neglect by the powers that be on the Izzy leads to a bit of a chip on the shoulder attitude”.

Seveneves is an allegory of how we destroy the Earth. Granted, we never really know for sure who or what the “Agent” is. We do not need to. Seveneves is a stark reminder of the dystopian future in store for us if we do not treat our planet with respect. Stephenson’s gripping, supersonic, turbo-charged odyssey through outer space at hyper speed left a deep impression on me.


About Mick Gilbride

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