31 Jan

Capsule Review: Seveneves & Aurora

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I just finished reading Seveneves by Neal Stephenson while I was sick and confined to either bed or couch the last five or so days.

It’s a combination of disaster-survival novel in the first third, with the last third being science fiction novel set five thousand years in the future.

It features things I would have loved when I was in my late teens or early 20s, and still enjoy reading now: competent engineers making hard rational choices! Space hardware! The concept that we can engineer our way out of anything! You can exist in a small, tight, closed ecological system by just engineering your way out of it.

Sciencing the shit out of it, that made me cheer in The Martian. A great line. And as a rationalist, seeing how much science does get ignored (99 out of 100 scientists are concerned about global warming, what toothpaste do you want to choose?) drives me nuts. So it’s nice to retreat into some competence porn.

Man, I do love me some competence porn.

In fact, I think that may be what I love about *Science* Fiction the most. But there’s this edge that comes with that, which is the belief that you can engineer your way out of any disaster that comes with a lot of rivet-heavy SF that I found less fun to engage with since reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora which really critiques that whole idea. I could have sworn I posted a review of Aurora here a couple weeks ago, but can’t currently find it. Gah.

Which is to say, had I read Seveneves *before* I read Aurora, I would have enjoyed it a shit ton more as it is designed to push all my buttons from my golden age of reading SF and my love of private space industry reading that I’ve followed so closely since 1998 (I used to have a column about space access attempts in my college newspaper, no less).

But Aurora is like this point-counterpoint of all the stuff that I love. It takes all that rivet-loving engineer your way out of it and leads along with it… and shows you how unlikely and devastating that outlook can be when pushed up against engineering realities.

Both books are science fiction thinkers at their most technical, thinking about complex systems. Both are incidentally favorite authors of mine. Both are fascinating reads. Both are worth reading. I just recommend reading Neal’s first or you might, as I did, feel as if Aurora is just reading over your shoulder.

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Clicking on either cover takes you to Amazon, by the way.

Any of you read these books? What did you think?

2 thoughts on “Capsule Review: Seveneves & Aurora

  1. I found Seveneves rather boring, to be honest. It seemed more excited about coming up with the ideas and proving how they’d work than actually telling a story. If the first part had been 25% of the book and the second part 75% (rather than apparently the opposite) I would’ve enjoyed it more.

    • I found Aurora a far faster read for that same reason. I wouldn’t recommend Seveneves to someone not interested in the rivets, but I felt Aurora I could give to anyone.

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