It’s fun talking to Neal Stephenson about his books because he puts so much clear-headed cogitation into them — and he’s able to discuss not just what he says, but how he came to say it the way he says it. ‘Seveneves’ is a big book that reads like a gripping 300-page thriller. But it is first and foremost a science fiction novel of what Joe R. Lansdale called ‘big thinks." In other words, get ready to have your mind boggled. If Stanley Kubrick was around, we could only hope that he’d take up this one as a bookend for 2001.
I had a lot of very specific questions about this particular book. The doomsday scenario that Stephenson devises is just totally delicious, and I definitely wanted to explore the how and why of that piece of invention. Stephenson is a refreshingly pragmatic writer, really down-to-earth for a fellow who writes so much and so well about humans in space. I had to ask about orbital mechanics, which inspires some of the best techno-literature you’re likely to read in this decade.
Also on the plate was Stephenson’s unique take on the space ark. It was nice to know he sees it as a sub-genre, and just as nice to see him take that sub-genre in a new direction. He also has some fun with humanity at war in the future and competing schools of thought. For all the evil the science denial movement has wrought, there is this bright spot of literary compensation. It’s an accomplishment that is not to be underestimated.
Neal Stephenson is still having fun, and he makes sure his readers and listeners do as well. For all his invention and imagination, when you hear him talk, he sounds very much the scientist. He has a clipped precision to his speech. If doomsday is around the corner (it’s been there since 1945time immemorial, and hasn’t budged), here’s the man we want looking into workarounds. Stephenson and I talked about hi use of here-and-now tech in the book, a very deliberate limitation that plays out as giddy fun for readers.