Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

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Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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68 Responses

  1. Avatar Glyph
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    Aw, I was hoping the homage was this:

    Or this:

    I didn’t care much for Anathem, but I may eventually give this one a shot.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Glyph
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      Anathem is one of my favorite books, and Cryptonomicon another.

      I loved the first two volumes of the Baroque cycle, the third was not a fun read for me. I still haven’t finished it, I keep plodding through a few pages at a time, and it will take about 10x to get through the last 200 pages what it took to get through the previous 2500 pages.

      I enjoyed Reamde, but it really derailed, going all guns-in-the woods instead of cybergames; but it works as a satire on real world games vs. virtual world games.

      I’m glad to hear Seveness reward the time reading, it’s on my list. But not until the gardens are planted.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic
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        Cryptonomicon is a favorite of mine, and I liked the Baroque Cycle (and Diamond Age and Snow Crash) all just fine.

        But Anathem just didn’t work for me for some reason.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Glyph
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          says:

          Anathem took me a couple of tries, bouncing off it at first. It was worth the effort. I consider it Stephenson’s masterpiece, and the hardest of hard science fiction I have ever read.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to zic
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        I very much enjoyed the cat-and-mouse of System of the World, but to each her own.Report

      • Avatar Guy in reply to zic
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        I actually really loved Reamde because of that derail. The scene where the Russian pauses mid-gunfight to wonder “how the frick did we end up here” struck me as a wonderful bit of self-mockery on Stephenson’s part; he’s got a tendency to let his books wander off-plot.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Guy
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          Given events last week, my favorite is the bikers in the bar, telling him they’d been reconsidering things. I think I typed the paragraph out in a comment here while I was reading it.Report

  2. Avatar krogerfoot
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    I’m with Zic. I loved Cryptonomicon like a parallel-universe Thomas Pynchon novel overstuffed with a worldful of characters and concepts, nutty jokes and sudden, unexpectedly emotion-twanging zoom-ins/outs. I stopped plowing through the Baroque Cycle after two or three novels where I never felt that way.

    I gave away my copy of Cryptonomicon but could almost quote from memory some of my favorite lines and scenes. I will certainly give Seveneves a shot as soon as I’m done with Pynchon’s Bleeding Edge, which I’m still not quite so sure about.Report

  3. Avatar Kim
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    Idea novels can be consumed slowly. Pulp fiction wants to be consumed as fast as possible — the best way to read GRRM is as quickly as possible, immersing yourself thoroughly and completely.

    But an idea novel? It demands lying back, thinking of your own implications, considering how well the author has done with the material…

    (Speaking of end of the world novels, did you see the one about the Housing Crisis that one of the commenters from Calculated Risk put together?)Report

  4. Avatar Chris
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    This is one of those times when I feel horribly out of touch. I’d never heard of Stephenson until he was mentioned on this blog, and now it looks like everyone has read multiple works of his.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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      I think you might really enjoy Anathem; but you’ve got to give it a long time to reveal its milieu; the way the world works is not obvious.

      I want me one of those robes.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to zic
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        [Reads through the Wikipedia page.]

        This sounds a bit heavy-handed in its intellectualism (I mean, the names!), but, er… wait…

        Stephenson cites the work of Roger Penrose as a major influence on the novel.

        Alright, I’m out.

        I’m sure it’s a very good book, and he sounds like an interesting writer, but that sentence can be reworded as “Chris will hate this book.”Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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          If you want to try one of his books, I’d suggest Crytponomicon. That one is a LOT of fun.

          I’d give Anathem another shot one day, based on the people here who liked it, but I was so irritated with it when I was done that I gave it away.

          It wasn’t any philosophical difference or anything; I was just annoyed at all the time I’d wasted reading something that never grabbed me.

          It was leagues less “fun” than his other books, which never stop being entertaining even as they are bending your brain and teaching you something obscure.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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            even as they are bending your brain and teaching you something obscure

            Oh man, I read this sentence and had one of those eureka moments in which you spot a difference that has been staring you in the face for a long time, and feel both relieved and stupid at the same time: This is not what I want out of literature, not even a little bit. If I try to think of any books I’ve enjoyed that could be described that way, the closest I get is Eco, and while I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed some of his fiction, I can’t say that I’ve gone out of my way to read it either. It usually stumbles into my lap (my mom is a fan). Maybe Doctor Faustus? But I can’t imagine anyone has ever read Mann for that reason, and besides, that is easily the most difficult book I’ve ever read, and while it is undeniably beautiful (it is a masterpiece, perhaps one of the greatest of that century), I can’t say that I enjoyed getting through it the few times I’ve managed to do so.

            Seriously, over the years I’ve been distressed, at times significantly so, by the fact that so many people whose taste I respect, even admire, have recommended and talked about books that I either read and didn’t enjoy or heard described and had no interest in reading, and I’ve been unable to find the precise locus of the disconnect between our tastes. Now it’s laid out plain before me.

            This is not, in case I haven’t been clear, meant as a value judgment. I recognize that is is merely a difference in preference, or perhaps personality, but man I had not been able to put my finger on it until just now and I feel more than a little bit stupid for that.Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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              Well, I am probably making it sound worse than it is. Stephenson at his best has a very playful, conversational style, and the “lessons” are often contained in 4th-wall-breaking jokey asides.

              In Cryptonomicon, especially, these sections are entirely-skippable if it’s just the plot/fiction piece you are after.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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                Oh, I have a pretty good sense of how the learning takes place. I mean, the Anatthem description makes it sound pretty over the top to me, but I get how these sorts of novels usually work from the few I’ve read.

                But the mind-bending part is the real issue. I mean, I like the occasional mind-bending movie, but for the most part, mind-bending isn’t my drug (unless it’s a drug that bends the mind, then maybe).Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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                I realize I am the outlier here, but I wouldn’t take Anathem as representative of Stephenson. In some ways, it probably tried to incorporate its ideas more seamlessly into its narrative than he has done in the past, but good golly I was bored.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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                If I want to read a good discussion of Platonism vs Nominalism, I’ll just go from Leibniz to Locke to Berkeley to Hume. This, again, isn’t a value judgment, it’s purely a matter of taste: I like to get my philosophical debates in philosophy (unless it’s philosophy of art, so that I don’t mind the digressions in The Unbearable Lightness of Being or the whatever it is that If on a winter’s night a traveler is trying to do).

                But I realize this is larger than Stephenson. It was a eureka moment because I recognized immediately something that had bugged me about some of the science fiction and, well, whatever category Eco falls in, that I’ve read. Something that I hadn’t been able to put my finger on.

                Calvino is actually a perfect example. He can be challenging, in a playful, even silly way, but there’s none of the “mind-bending” that I think draws people to a lot of science fiction and Eco-like stuff. And I love Calvino, I can’t think of a more fun author (a guy who lives in trees? a non-existent knight? two halves of the same knight clashing?). He’s a perfect example of a very late 20th century author (in style) that I appreciate greatly. Max Frisch too, or Günter Grass, say, both of whom are significantly less fun though (“Günter Grass is fun,” a sentence never uttered). I’m trying to think of authors who are “out there” without being “mind-bending.”

                I think it’s actually quite possible to like the sorts of books I like and the Stephensons of the world (Aaron David’s taste seems to overlap significantly with mine and with that of the Stephenson fans). My taste just isn’t that broad.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Chris
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                I do wonder what you’d find Doumei to be…
                I find him… succinct.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                On my walk just now, I thought of an even better comparison: Saramago. But I dunno who else here, if anyone, is a fan, so I’m not sure how much traction the comparison would get. (I have an idea of who might be.)Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Chris
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                Out of curiosity, what do you think of Tristram Shandy?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Richard Hershberger
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                I love it (and yeah, it’s full of philosophy, but in my defense, I find 18th century literature pretty much irresistible).Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to Chris
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                @chris
                Have you ever read Murakami’s Hardboiled Wonderland, or Blood Meridian?* I am sure you have read Castle of Crossed Destinies, what is your opinion of that?

                I was always of the opinion that If On A Winters Night… was Calvino saying “this is PoMo. Therefore ought it to be PoMo?”

                *I am asking about these books in specific.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to aaron david
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                I haven’t read any Murakami, except his bizarre tweets. I haven’t read Blood Meridian, though I keep meaning to (I loved the border trilogy).

                I have read Castle of Crossed Destinies.

                And I think of If on a winter’s night a traveler as extremely playful, which fits within a certain postmodern tradition.Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to Chris
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                @chris
                My point with those two novels in specific is that they could both be thought of as “mind blowing” or they could be looked at as “the only way to get there was to break a few things, but that wasn’t the point.” Castle could be looked at the same way, at least in my view.

                I am not a big fan of Mind Blowing and therefor dislike Pynchon. I never liked weird for the sake of weird, even thought I love a lot of the Lovecraft/Howard stuff. For me that genre is mostly a method of exploring massive social/tech change.

                I am working on something re: Murakami right now, I think you would hate some of his stuff, and love others for the same reasons you like Calvino.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to aaron david
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                Hmmm… I would have to think about Castle as mind-blowing. I suppose there are mind-blowing elements in much of Calvino, though usually absolutely over the top and not meant to be taken seriously enough to actually blow anyone’s mind.

                Oh, have you read much Kundera? Because now I’m thinking of a pretty mind-blowing book that I really enjoyed, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

                I am frequently tempted to check out Murakami, but have never gotten around to it. I get a similar endorsement from other readers: sometimes great, sometimes blah.Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to Chris
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                I have not read any Kundera, though I have a copy of Immortality? kicking around somewhere. I am (as usual) knee deep in books, but which one would you recommend?

                But go read Blood Meridian. I read the first half in a single sitting, and at that point was so overwelmed by it that I had to regulate my reading of it. I wouldn’t want to spoil any of it, but sufice it to say that the within the relentlessness of the text is a work of pure awe, and that is the mind blowing portion. In many ways I am still wrapping my head around it 15 years later. It is on a level with Master and Margarita in many, many ways.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to aaron david
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                The Crossing is the best American book I’ve read in some time, so I will definitely have to read it.

                With Kundera, I’m thinking of Slowness, but I wouldn’t recommend starting there.Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to Chris
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                The Crossing is fantastic.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to aaron david
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                Man is it.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Glyph
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                “I wouldn’t take Anathem as representative of Stephenson. ”

                I think that Stephenson has different modes, which he combines in varying amounts in any given book. Anathem is heavily on the geekery exposition side, down to having appendices laying out logical arguments. Reamde is on the other side, being more plot-oriented, and occasionally within shouting distance of the word “action.” I am only 22% of the way through Seveneves. It seems so far to be on the Reamde side, but that might change.

                So Anathem is not representative of Stephenson in that it represents one extreme of his writing, but it is representative in that these elements are present in his other books as well, albeit at lower concentration.Report

          • Avatar zic in reply to Glyph
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            The ending is not what it might have been.

            Same with another rather incredible set of books, Tad Williams 5 Vol. River of Fire series. Amazing books, ending like so far off of potential.

            Best ending ever is Perdido St. Station by China Melville, and maybe Iain Banks The Algebriast, which is probably my take on the value of hero worship more than anything.Report

            • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to zic
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              Stephenson’s endings are notoriously abrupt. Cryptonomicon was no exception. He attempts a soft landing in Seveneves and while he doesn’t quite stick the landing, it’s a much better dénouement than, say, Diamond Age.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Chris
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          Ha.

          I didn’t know about Penrose; sounds like an intriguing person. Is your discomfort with his take that the known laws of physics can’t explain consciousness?

          If so, I’d say he’s right, but the shortcoming is the set of known-laws-of-physics, and the stuff he might make up to fill in those gaps are science fiction and speculation; but that’s just an off-the-cuff from reading his wikipedia page and zero real information, which reflects the state of the laws of physics we don’t know. We can make our educated and intuitive guesses, and bias together all sorts of evidence for utter bullshit.

          I’m generally pretty tolerant of bullshit so long as one doesn’t cling to it too closely, it’s best use is as a fertilizer for growth, and it should give way to green shoots.Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to zic
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            Don’t get me wrong, Penrose is not bullshit, and he is much, much smarter than I, but I can’t stand his writings or his theory of consciousness. The only way it would have been less appealing to me is if it had been heavily influenced by Jaynes.

            I certainly agree with him, and you, that the known laws of physics have trouble when it comes to explaining consciousness, freedom, etc. It’s just his particular quantum consciousness stuff that drive me batty.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck
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    I read, it, it was okay. I kind of think that the entire back half of the novel could have been rendered as a single chapter of a few paragraphs. I know that it’s really cool to think about orbital mechanics megaprojects but that part read a lot more like Neal Stephenson’s Notebook than anything else.

    Spoilers:

    (really, just have it be someone in the year 7502 look up at the sky, describe what they see, then look down at the ocean and say “and now, the last of the Lost Tribes rejoins us”, and the sea people walk up onto the beach, fade to black with triumphant music The End.)

    ********

    I did appreciate that Stephenson made it clear up front that this was not going to be about What Happened To The Moon, and that we were never going to learn what that was. It saved a lot of frustration on this reader’s part.

    ********

    The entire catastrophe in the middle part of the book–and I mean THE WHOLE THING–could have been avoided by closing an airlock door at a critical moment. I’m rather surprised that nobody in the entire novel mentions this, and that the characters don’t even reflect on why they didn’t close the door. Like, there is not a single point at which one character thinks “you know, we live in a world where The Cold Equations is not just speculative fiction, was it really worth saving that particular person’s life”. (And this is a character who definitely would be aware of that story.)

    **********

    You can see Stephenson’s then-current obsession with swordplay in the book’s opening, which has a lengthy digression about fencing that isn’t relevant to the rest of the story and is never mentioned again. (At the time he was working on a video game that was meant to be an absolutely perfectly realistic simulation of combat with swords. It turns out that an absolutely perfectly realistic simulation of combat with swords is of interest only to people who already engage in real combat with actual swords, and for that reason don’t need a video game, and the whole thing was really just an epic attempt to once-and-for-all settle the question of “Who Would Win, A Medieval Knight Or A Samurai?”)

    ***********

    I did like the large number of ways that Stephenson displayed that “if you do it quick and dirty then it gets done, but it gets broken and goes wrong very easily”.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to DensityDuck
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      Could you have closed that airlock door? In the moment? And lived with yourself afterwards? Knowing that these were all the human beings that were left in existence, and not knowing the trouble that would result from this particular person, who up until that point had been a reasonably admirable actor faced with tough decisions?

      And then there’s the question of whether even in the absence of the results of opening rather than closing the door, the resulting calamity would have happened anyway. The survival model they chose rendered itself inherently vulnerable to the sort of result that happened.

      The lesson for me was: small decisions that make so much sense in the moment they don’t merit a lot of thought can accumulate quickly into explosive and decisive phenomena. Washington hunkers down for the night instead of rolling the dice to make a charge out of Brooklyn. Fog rolls in the next morning. Result: an independent United States of America, expanding to the Pacific within three generations, rather than a squelched rebellion of colonial malcontents whose thoroughly British descendants desultorily exchange the Ohio River Valley with France until at least the twentieth century.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko
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        “Could you have closed that airlock door? In the moment? And lived with yourself afterwards?”

        What I thought was odd was how that question never even gets ASKED. As in, not at all. Not once do any of the characters say “hey, y’know, maybe if we’d just closed the door and said ‘Oh Darn, They All Died’ then we’d be a lot better off right now”. Apparently Stephenson didn’t even consider that question worth exploring, and I found that a little strange given that Do We Let Everyone On The Lifeboat is kind of a core part of these extreme-survival stories.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq
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    Is there any “we must save the human race” science fiction that doesn’t take a dim sneer at non-technical specialists? It seems to me that if your trying to rebuild human civilization from scratch or have humanity survive in harsh environments, it might help to have people who are knowledgeable in things that make it possible for humans to stick together without killing each other around. Lawyers, jurists, diplomats, accountants, and generic business people are all going to be necessary to rebuild civilization. If people want art, culture, and entertainment than it also makes sense to save at least a few people skilled in the fine, plastic, and theatrical arts.

    I’d like to see a “we must save humans” scenario that ignores the non-technical specialists only to get hit in the butt hard when they realize that non-technical specialists make civilization possible.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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      It’s been done, though mostly only with people cracking and going crazy on long voyages. (because you can pull that off with 5 people, which makes a crackling good short story).Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to LeeEsq
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      This is largely something that happens due to the hard/soft SF divide.

      If it’s hard SF, it’s often written by and for techies; it’s ALSO a hard fact of reality that if there are only a limited number of seats on the lifeboat, you and I probably won’t be the ones to get on.

      In soft SF, plenty of fiction deals with this. BSG had lawyers and teachers and etc. I was always amazed at how many news reporters managed to somehow survive the destruction of the colonies.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Glyph
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        If there are only a few seats on the lifeboat, I know who will be getting on, and that’ll end badly for everyone.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Glyph
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        Even in a limited life boat scenario, I imagine that there is going to be some necessity to have a few people that know about how complex human societies operate in order to get things up and running again. What happens when a murder or some other crime gets committed on the ark? What happens when conflicts develop that necessitates compromise and negotiation? Your also going to need people who know history and literature to keep some types of knowledge alive.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq
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          Your also going to need people who know history and literature to keep some types of knowledge alive.

          And paper-and-ink, or better. Unless we’re going to go back to oral tradition, which has a pretty poor track record at least as far as accuracy is concerned. Lots of science fiction stories about things that are the equivalent of the Irish monasteries, preserving history and literature (and tech knowledge, if not understanding and practice) until such time as it becomes “practical” again. Eg, A Canticle for Leibowitz.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Michael Cain
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            Yeah, I’ve mentioned before that the widespread move to magnetic storage worries me. Paper (or other imprinted/engraved media), properly stored by intent or even chance (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), can last a long, long time.

            Once located, mostly all you need is a literate person (and, OK, a translating key/Rosetta Stone) to decipher the information.

            Even if a magnetic hard drive were to somehow survive centuries with all its data intact, there are a lot of associated/ancillary technologies that need to also be re-created (power, and processing, and display), just to access the data; and/or multiple translations of the source data, instead of just one-one.

            The data is far more accessible to us now than simple print; but in a post-apocalypse world, it would be far less accessible. They might not even know what they were looking at, whereas a symbol is a symbol is a symbol.

            I worry that some far-future archaeologist will think we are illiterate, because we appear to have no books; and very very vain, because we spend all day staring into what appear to be palm mirrors.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Glyph
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        I’d save you Glyph. We need your record collection…..Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Burt Likko
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        Of course it’d come from the Master.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Burt Likko
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        Seldon wasn’t concerned with saving the human race. He was concerned with minimizing the length of the time between the inevitable (according to his calculations) collapse of the galaxy-spanning civilization and its recovery. One of the unstated assumptions that makes the entire story work is that smaller social units capable of supporting technology at least up to FTL transport would survive the “collapse” relatively untouched.Report

        • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Michael Cain
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          Seldon wasn’t facing an extinction-of-humanity kind of event, true, but he was facing 30,000 years of a dark age of ignorance, poverty, warfare, and violence before “civilization,” to his understanding, would reconstitute. 30,000 years of dark ages would be pretty bad.

          So Foundation is a pretty close answer to the question posed by @leeesq : “Is there any ‘we must save the human race” science fiction that doesn’t take a dim sneer at non-technical specialists?'” In Foundation and its progeny, a social scientist, rather than some sort of a physicist or doctor, is the hero of the story, the one who possesses the skill set, vision, and willpower needed to save all of humanity from The Worst Thing Ever.

          Foundation also suggests that ignorance and war are disasters as worthy of heroic efforts to forestall and recover from as are natural disasters like volcanoes and hurricanes. I’m down with that.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Burt Likko
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            In that case, I’ll still argue against Seldon because he fits the meme, popular at the time, of lone genius (and acolytes) saving the world. It wasn’t physical tech in Seldon’s case, but miracle math. Which is still technical. Under the relaxed conditions, but sticking to Asimov, I’ll take Elijah Bailey in Caves of Steel, where there’s clearly some pretty heavy stuff going on behind the scenes that he’s not aware of but at least culture-threatening, who wins the day by virtue of being a non-technical police detective.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to LeeEsq
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      Yes, but it’s often called fantasy.

      Perhaps The Peace War by Vernor Vinge is the opposite; I do wish this use of bobble (as opposed to waggle, as in bobble head) had caught on. Sigh.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to LeeEsq
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      “Is there any “we must save the human race” science fiction that doesn’t take a dim sneer at non-technical specialists?”

      Stephenson does include one bit where a human-relations specialist tries desperately to stop the NdG-T character from getting in a screaming match with the HRC character, and she fails, and the HRC character’s feelings from this argument are the source of major trouble later in the story.

      Also, in the future-world bit, the viewpoint characters talk about how they have a terrible time getting people to agree with them because they don’t place any value on aesthetics or performance, and therefore have no way to combat people who *do* value those things and are therefore much better at them. (It’s okay, though, because the people who value those things are also the Evil Jerks, and so their skills in this area are evidence of Perfidious Trickery rather than just genuinely being better at things.)Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq
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      Is there any “we must save the human race” science fiction that doesn’t take a dim sneer at non-technical specialists?

      Yes, but usually set at some point after whatever the catastrophe was, when things have settled into some new normal. Certainly civilization (cities, let’s say) creates the need for a variety of non-technical specialists. But cities also assume that certain “technical” problems have been solved — sufficient surplus production of water, food, shelter, clothing, and tools to enable all of those to allow the existence of full-time people doing the non-technical things. Or even part-time people — traveling minstrels and tinkers and circuit judges were all a response to the problem that towns can only support a singer and pot-repair-person and a jurist for a couple of weeks per year.

      Stories written about the collapse itself tend to deal with producing enough water, food, shelter, clothing, and tools to enable all of those. Those stories lack the surplus production to support a dedicated portion of the population performing activities professionally that aren’t part of the basics. I’m intrigued by the idea, though.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Michael Cain
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        See my response to Glyph. People on the Space Ark/Lifeboat are going to run into the sorts of problems that require no technical specialists to solve at some point during the collapse. The people saved aren’t going to be perfect saints and there is going to be conflict or crime on the ark like the stealing of an essential supply. People on the space ark aren’t rustic humans rebuilding society. They are well-educated and civilized people trying to preserve what they can. This means that they should know the need for some non-technical specialists.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq
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          Not arguing, although the Space Ark/Lifeboat scenario assumes that the “surplus calories” and similar problems have been solved. James Blish’s Cities in Flight series fits that mold nicely — and the main characters are politicians who are knowledgeable about history, teaching is given considerable emphasis, the flying cities are all about being business people, etc. Cities in Flight is one of the oldest examples that I know of arguing that the classic sci-fi trope of high tech being maintained by a tiny group of people is silly — a civilization large and complex enough to maintain that will involve at least millions of people, and most of them won’t be technologists.

          But now we’re outside of the “99% of the human race and (possibly) much of the existing ecology is going to die in the next three years” kind of scenario.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq
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      says:

      “Is there any “we must save the human race” science fiction that doesn’t take a dim sneer at non-technical specialists?”

      Not quite the same thing, but consider “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart, from 1949. It is not much remembered today, but ought to be. It is an early example of the “plague wipes out nearly all of humanity” genre. (Were it written a few years later, it might have been a nuclear war. But a few years after that we get back to plagues with Stephen King.) I recommend it highly, so long as you don’t demand that a novel makes you feel happy about life.

      In it, the protagonist accumulates a viable band of survivors. They are surrounded by abundance, so physical survival is not at issue. There also is a refreshing absence of marauding Road Warrior-style bands. There are other groups of survivors, but they are far away and not inclined to the wearing of gratuitous leather. The protagonist’s concern through much of the book, then, is not the survival of his band, but of civilization. Over the course of the novel he concludes that this is impossible, and instead concentrates on creating a sustainable tech, at least the Neolithic level.Report

  7. Avatar Chris
    Ignored
    says:

    Like y’all are speaking a different language, I swear.

    I say this as a passive, outside observer, but I find it somewhat fascinating. Y’all know so much about the genre, about authors, about their worlds, the various sub-genres, and the sub-sub-genres, and the sub-sub-sub genres, the tropes, the meta-tropes, and so on. I’m genuinely impressed, but man it really is like y’all are speaking a different language.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Chris
      Ignored
      says:

      Consider: a group of people that are brighter than average, have better memories than average, are professionally heavy readers by necessity, and have been trained that it’s important to classify things, recognizing how this case is the same as that one, but also how it’s different. Who speak, professionally, specialized dialects for the subject at hand. Then give them entertaining stories a key component of which is the stuff that they spent years of their lives studying. Same sort of result as asking them about a bolt for a particular important job: what size? what alloy? will the machining be adequate?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        Right, it makes sense, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Chris
          Ignored
          says:

          A question that I occasionally ask myself is “Why has speculative engineering as a literature genre succeeded to the point that it’s possible to talk about sub-genres and meta-tropes and all, but not speculative-other-stuff?” For example, TTBOMK, there’s no broad “speculative law” genre. Why is “When do we decide that AIs are people?” which is legal question so often written from the engineer’s perspective and not from the lawyer’s?Report

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