Sunday 13 September 2015

Seven Eves - Neal Stephenson (2015)

Part 3

It was with some relief that I went back to reading Seven Eves after enduring nineteenth century Italian decay and decadence as portrayed in The Leopard. Set five thousand years after the events in parts one and two, the decedents of the survivors of humanity’s dash into near Earth orbit now number in the billions and have established a ring of habitats around the still recovering Earth. What Stephenson offers here is a compelling portrayal of humanity reborn; a humanity capable of manipulating the environment like never before, but typically still displaying all the flaws of the ‘old Earth’ humans five thousand years ago.

Whilst the first two parts of Seven Eves were rooted firmly in near future hard science fiction, the third part is more speculative and it is very entertaining indeed. Stephenson describes a near earth orbital habitat ring that is every science fiction junky’s ultimate fantasy. Also impressive is the fascinating history of the five thousand year exile from the earth, which is gradually revealed throughout the third part. The surface of the earth is now habitable once again and efforts are underway to terraform it with organisms created in the laboratory using DNA data saved on thumb drives by the survivors of old earth. Stephenson makes it all seem perfectly feasible and takes great pains to explain the science behind the amazing hardware and bio-tech on display. Basically once again he can not contain his inner geek and floods the narrative with detail about how everything works and why, however this tendency works better for him when his imagination is allowed to escape the confines of near future technology.

As with the first two parts the characters are well rounded enough to not detract from the plot arc. As with most epics there are a plethora of characters, most being descendants from those who survived in space after the ‘hard rain’. Stephenson goes into great detail explaining the genetic diversity behind each of the main seven races of humans, but fortunately it’s fascinating stuff. Kath Two, a Moiran, is in ‘survey’ and is prone to being epigenetic: able to change her body under the influence of new environments. Beled Tomov is a Teklan, a muscle-bound hero type, and so it goes. Special mention must be made of Longobard, a ‘Neoander’ - that’s right, you guessed it, the future human race went and brought back Neanderthals.

Although the speculative science fiction of the third part is impressive, I found the end game of the novel to be slightly disappointing, however the overall impact of the novel, which is epic in every sense of the word, makes up for this slight flaw. In many ways the ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, or even a series of books. The cynic in me feels that this is certainly likely, but that will not stop me from reading it if it does eventually eventuate.

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