Embracing my inner science nerd through sci-fi + Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves”

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As a younger version of myself, I was told by teachers and parents and coaches that the only limits in life were the ones I set for myself. True, when your young. As I get older, though, I realize there are things that I’m never going to do, to become, to learn — not because I think I can’t, but because there is only so many hours in a day and so many days to a life.

And one of those things I wish I could go back and learn is science.

I wasn’t a bad student, just one of those that had certain subjects that came really easily, making the ones that were harder feel like I was learning through cement. Math was like that, a bit, but science was the worst for me.

I had a pretty good physical science teacher early on, and I had a great biology teacher. I switched schools as a junior, and a great as most of my teachers were at both schools, I had an awful chemistry teacher. The kind that slept through tests and didn’t explain anything. And I didn’t get it at all. Because of him, I never took physics. And I feel like I missed out on a lot.

I want to understand that side of science–chemistry, biochemistry, physics. But there are many other things I want to do before going back to science school (read, raise my kids, read, hang out with my husband, read, work, read, and read. And write), so I take what I can get, science wise. And, since I can’t seem to put a book down, I get my science through science fiction.

I love science fiction in all its forms. Hard, soft, cyperpunk, steampunk. Time travel, alternate history, dystopian, utopian, apocalyptic. In space, on earth, underearth, on a different planet. Whatever it is, I get lost in the story, if it’s a good story.

I have to believe that reading sci-fi is me letting me embracing my inner science nerd, the one that never got to be. The part of me that never found its footing because of less-than-mediocre teachers and a mind that couldn’t grasp it on its own (this is the magic of a good teacher, helping a mind that wants to, learn–but that’s a column for another day).

So I read sci-fi (and so many other things), and I lose myself in alternative worlds and parallel universes. My wannabe science nerd self is released, and it is a beautiful thing.

The perfect example: Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves. Here are my thoughts on this one.


Note: I read Seveneves as an advanced reader’s copy prior to publication. The release date is May 19th, 2015. It is available for pre-order.

Neal Stephenson is magic for me. He is the best kind of sci-fi, describing science to non-scientific minds (like mine), but creating great fiction at the same time.

I fell in love with him while reading Cryptonomicon years ago. He took very complex subjects; code breaking in WWII and data storage in present day (although that day was in the late 90’s) and broke it down so completely that I felt like a genius. He became a favorite.

Much is said about his attention to detail, and it can get exhausting, but it is really like being taught a subject upon which I knew nothing. I liked Snow Crash, and all of his Baroque Cycle books, and even Anathem (which many didn’t), but I LOVED Reamde. And, as much as I loved that, I loved Seveneves even more.

The Premises

What would happen if the world was ending, but the world had a few years to get ready, to ensure its survival in some shape? That’s kind of the gist of Seveneves.

The moon explodes, thanks to a mysterious ‘agent.’ At first, it seems it’s not going to be such a big deal. But then the bright minds of the earth realize that the large chunks of the moon are going to smash into each other, and eventually the smaller pieces will rain down on earth, causing death and destruction.

But, the space station: and the bright minds decide that they can build onto it and save mankind.

Really, most on earth think that this is just something to keep mankind busy for the few remaining years; a selection, training, and sending of people and memories to space to restart earth someday. But they forget that they’ve sent some of the brightest minds up there. There is a chance that mankind can survive.

Set in a small setting of the space station, Stephenson puts many bright minds together, creating dialogue that has the chance to teach while propelling the story. It is brilliant!

I don’t want to give too much more away, but as soon as mankind’s survival is ensured (which is nail-biting thanks to politics), Stephen flashes forward 5,000 years, and the return to earth. And we find out if earth is habitable, or if it was all for nothing.

My Thoughts

In case you didn’t catch it earlier, I loved this book. I found myself reading slow so I didn’t finish it too soon! The characters are great and the storytelling is wondrous.

I loved that he took science and business and made them the heroes of the book.  And I loved that many of the best and brightest minds were women, and that the women characters were so adaptable and real survivors, but also could be narcissistic villains.

Stephenson’s story of the survival of humankind is phenomenal. With a lot of diplomacy and genetic experimentation (which Stephenson schools us on on exceptionally well), the human race does continue, with a nice mix of races and personalities and a lot of luck.

The last third of the book is dedicated to the future as Stephenson imagines it. The way of life that develops in space, and what was important to a civilization with technology but without the ability to mass produce, is truly thought-provoking and intriguing.

The book was incredibly thick, and I can’t think of anything that could have been left out of it. In fact, I wish there was more; those 5,000 years that were ‘flashed’ away, and the hows and whys of the space civilization and cultures.

I give this one 5 stars. FIVE STARS!!!!! Read it, and don’t let the science bog you down.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Spoiler  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One more thing, but don’t read past this if you don’t want a few spoilers, because I don’t want to make you scream like Sansa Stark.

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I wish we knew how the cave people and the sea people survived. There are whole books right there. What they knew or didn’t know about the end of the world, and what was important to their survival. 

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