A Book And A Half: an audiobook review of Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

seveneves

At the turn of the New Year, I set a goal to read ten books this year. For us bookish types that isn’t a whole lot but when you have four or five huge life commitments and get almost zero downtime, let’s just say my to-read list was getting longer at an exponential rate, and I couldn’t see any way of reading that many books in two years, let alone one.

However, thanks to audiobooks, I just hit ten and we’re not even a third of the way through the year yet. It’s amazing how much book listening time I get while doing things like cooking, baking, cleaning, riding my bike to work and uni, etc.

Does this mean I stop reading books for the rest of the year?

Heck no! I have so much reading time I didn’t even know about doing other important things around the house and in transit; I’m still going to have to do all those other things anyway. The more books I can get read while doing it, the better.

I firmly believe that we, as authors, have a responsibility to read as widely as possible. Just like musicians need to always be on the lookout for new sources of inspiration, so too, do we.

It’s not that we read to steal ideas from others, but to have a better general picture of all the other ideas already out there in our genre. We get a picture of what other styles of authors and novels resemble our own. We realise that, hey, if I don’t change up this idea that I’ve had for ten years, it’s probably going to seem like I’m just copying this other author/novel/series.

In other words, we glean from all the other resources what ideas of our own are the freshest, most unique and potentially lacking in the genre. And even more than that, it makes a better and more diverse writer, being continually exposed to the prose of other great authors.

Now, as you may have already inferred from the title, picture and the above ramblings, my tenth book for this year was indeed Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.

It was enjoyable for many reasons, but I do have at least one huge qualm about it so, despite it being the exact opposite of the proverbial compliment sandwich, I might start with that.

This book is two different, if serially connected, stories. The first two-thirds of the book is this moon-blows-up, survive-the-end-of-the-world hard science fiction story that *SPOILERS* ends nicely with eight women and a tonne of human genome, biological, IVF technology safe inside the surviving iron core of the moon. *SPOILERS*

Then the final third of the book takes place five-thousand years later and is either the world’s longest epilogue, or such a short sequel that Stephenson saw no point in releasing it as its own book, instead deciding to tack it on to the end of the first. It’s like Orson Scott Card tacking the first half of Speaker For The Dead onto the back of Ender’s Game. Or like Brandon Sanderson tacking Alloy of Law onto the end of the Hero of Ages.

I understand enough about narrative to get why he ended it where and how he did, and honestly, I think it was a cop out. There was a greater finality in the end of Part Two and that would have been the perfect place to wrap a little bow on it. Whereas the way he’s done it, Part Three feels like an epilogue gone rogue with so many things to say about the future human races and cultures and what have you, which could have instead been put into a more fleshed out sequel narrative.

I’m sure I’m not the only one to think so. It’s reminiscent of the reveal almost halfway through Dan Wells’ I am not a Serial Killer, which utterly changes the whole story being told. ( You can read more about that in my book review here. )

As an author, I’ll be the first person to agree that hey, how we write our story is up to our own discretion, but I also think that we have a responsibility to our audience and fans to tell the best story we can. And it follows that audiences respond really well to the three-act Hollywood formula, especially in books that are fast-paced or read a lot like movies, in which all important characters and plot foreshadowing needs to happen in act one, aka the first 25% of a film/book.

But, I hear you raising your voices in complaint, this is a hard scifi epic, it’s not meant to be fast-paced or movie-like.

Ahh, but here is where you are wrong. Science fiction is such an intermedium-woven and visually striking genre that readers by default expect it to follow film conventions. If not so, Part Three of Seveneves wouldn’t feel like a drawn out epilogue that would have been better as a fleshed out sequel.

Either way, other than that one huge pet peeve about it, I thought the story of Part One and Two was pretty great, and that Part Three had great worldbuilding and characterisation, and potential for so much more in the way of plot, which felt kind of forced.

I’m going to throw in a content warning if you’re interested in reading it. There’s far more swearing in the book than I would have liked, but it was for the most part exclusively for characterisation, and therefore used effectively. It can just be a little more brutal hearing it in audiobook format than reading it, but you’ll obviously get more swearwords in a thirty-hour book than in a two-hour movie.

All in all, it’s a great story, especially the first part, but I’m only going to give it three Moirans out of five. I’m glad I read it, but I wouldn’t read it again.

QOTB: What’s something YOU really enjoyed but won’t ever read again?

Also, don’t forget that with the release of The Arthur Lien Abductions, Part Three: The Quest, earlier this month, Part One: The Secret and Part Two: The Mystery are now both down to only 99c (US) on Amazon Kindle!

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