It’s all too obvious to point out that science fiction is at the most fragmentary point in its existence it has ever been. The number of sub-genres so widespread, not to mention the works which hop amongst, interpret narrowly, or otherwise bleed into the many other genres and sub-genres. With Neal Stephenson’s 2015 Seveneves there is no doubt, however. Masturbatory in technical detail and endless in gadgetry, it’s as (die)hard sf as they come.
In the opening sentence of Seveneves the moon explodes. An extinction event, humanity has two years to devise the technology that will allow it to escape the doomed planet and live in space. A team of scientists coming together, they begin the process of planning and building the necessary devices, engines, ships, and all other manner of technology necessary to support human life between the stars. Their personalities individual, from daring to charismatic, a handful succeed in leaving Earth orbit, only to find real trouble awaiting them in the black of space.
Though relatively light (Seveneves is only 700+ pages), the novel remains in line with recent Stephenson novels. Like Reamde and Anathem, it digs into the details of the moment—with an excavator. Where Zodiac and Snow Crash were content zipping here and there with wacky and not so wacky ideas abound, Seveneves comes full circle: hard sf. Science fiction is not realism, but there are times reading Seveneves, with its intricate description, you will believe it is.
The level of detail is thus the main switch of the novel; it will either turn on or off the reader, no other option. The entire plot capable of being encapsulated in a paragraph, the reason to read is not so much the characters, their storylines, or the setting, it’s the religious futurism of technology. This makes my job as a reviewer easy: if you like exhaustive detailing of space and the inherent technology mankind would need to traverse it, look into Seveneves. If the word ‘exhaustive’ scares you, be scared. There is no better description for the unending descriptions of futuristic gadgetry and assorted technology than Seveneves - as clever as the palindrome is.