Hildabeast survives end-of-the-world

Novelist Neal Stephenson’s latest, Seveneves, uncharacteristically concerns contemporary scifi’s usual destruction of the Earth. Uncharacteristically because Stephenson is a technology-optimist. At least his destruction (which is not, thankfully, of the global warming, climate-change variety) leads to a greater future, albeit 5,000 years later.

Along the way his epic tweaks some contemporary politics, including creating a duplicitous Hildabeast-like American president. She, alone among the world’s leaders, contrives to survive, almost destroys the other survivors, and eventually claims a place among the seven Eves of the title who will reestablish humankind and the Earth.

And the restoration (with the indispensable aid of an Elon Musk-like private space entrepreneur and a science popularizer who almost mirrors Neil deGrasse Tyson) is more spectacular than most of the destroyed achievements.

Political Correctness has never been Stephenson’s hobby horse. The villains of his previous novel Reamde, for instance, were jihadist Muslims. So his Hillary (her husband and daughter dead and a Muslim woman sidekick her only initial solace) is every bit as untrustworthy and unlikable as the real one. Even her principal descendant in the novel is dishonest.

Stephenson’s stories generally are more about technology than writing style and Seveneves is no exception, though his characters are convincingly and usually sympathetically drawn. In the main, Seveneves is hard science fiction with some engineering, genetic and orbital-mechanics complexity. As usual with this author, however, it’s explained well and is worth the effort it takes to follow it.

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