Elderly BASIC programmer yells at moon debris
May 22, 2016 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Bill Gates blogs his reading list at gatesnotes.com -- usually just a quick summary of what he found interesting. For Seveneves, he and author Neal Stephenson went for burgers and recorded their (admittedly brief) conversation in VR and in-browser 360 video. (Gatesnotes previously and previously)
posted by postcommunism (35 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
[Fixed typo]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 9:14 AM on May 22, 2016


I did not care for Seveneves as much as some of his other books. The whole thing was a screwy thought experiment that was a return to form for Stephenson writing bad endings. But the part that bugged me most of all was (spoiler) how much water they had left at the end of their epic journey in the first half. My copy came from the library, so I can't recall the exact figure, but I seem to recall there wasn't enough water to even make the number of humans they were talking about much less make rocket fuel.
posted by fremen at 9:28 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


...here wasn't enough water to even make the number of humans they were talking about much less make rocket fuel.
posted by fremen at 9:28 AM on May 22 [+] [!]


I don't normally like to do this, but, eponysterical
posted by thelonius at 10:05 AM on May 22, 2016 [20 favorites]


Yes - if you are going to read some good Stephenson, sevenseves is not the place to pickup after Snow Crash, I would recommend Cryptonomicon, REAMDE - but the most amazing IMO is Anathem.
posted by jkaczor at 10:22 AM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I was deeply disappointed by Seveneves. There's some great macro-scale space tech in it, but I didn't care for the story or characters one bit. Close to the bottom of my Stephenson power rankings, right next to REAMDE.

SPOILERS...



I particularly detested the bit where Stephenson makes social media responsible for the downfall of humanity, not to mention the introduction of cannibalism to boot. How about you tell us how you really feel about Twitter, Neal?
posted by adrianhon at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Derail: I didn't know David MacKay had died! I have a copy of his book, Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air. I would recommend it to anyone really interested in understanding energy consumption and saving explained in everyday terms. The entire book is online, www.withouthotair.com.

Back on topic.
posted by KaizenSoze at 10:30 AM on May 22, 2016


If you're coming from Snow Crash, The Diamond Age seems like the logical next step.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:30 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I never expected to find Bill Gates so charming.
posted by cudzoo at 11:08 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Try looking at him from the worm's eye view of Africa. The man thinks of the continent as his private philanthropic playground. No, not always a good thing because money talks, money talks so loud it drowns out any other opinion or option.
posted by infini at 11:11 AM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't understand why The Diamond Age doesn't get more attention. It seems to be mentioned about as often as, say, Zodiac, but it's still my favourite novel of his by a long shot, crap ending and all.

As for Seveneves, I found the entire second half of the book unsatisfying bordering on mildly offensive. I completely disagree with Gates about Stephenson's success in exploring how civilization would work in the second half, given its origins. To me it felt like broad stereotypes used in place of nearly any sort of characterization, with the origin story used to explain away nearly everything about how society was setup and how its players interacted (to go into more depth would be a spoiler). As an answer to "what happens when the world has two years to live," it was occasionally interesting but ultimately unfulfilling.

Kim Stanley Robinson came out with Aurora around the same time, and I think it explored some of the same concepts as Seveneves in a much more satisfying way. I'd definitely recommend it over Seveneves, especially if you enjoyed the Mars trilogy.
posted by chrominance at 11:50 AM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Kim Stanley Robinson came out with Aurora around the same time, and I think it explored some of the same concepts as Seveneves in a much more satisfying way. I'd definitely recommend it over Seveneves, especially if you enjoyed the Mars trilogy.

which illustrates the ideological range you get with "hard" scifi: libertarians wearing birkenstocks to libertarians wielding swords...
posted by ennui.bz at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm sure I'm the only person on MeFi who enjoyed SevenEves (no, not his best, but still a good read). But I'm looking forward to reading Aurora anyway.
posted by lhauser at 12:24 PM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I thought the last part of Seveneves was a sort of icky and unrealistic pro-eugenics screed, rather than a thoughtful exploration of "how much you are shaped by your genes." It made me sad because I enjoyed the first part.
posted by surlyben at 12:29 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I thought the first part was a setup for the pro-eugenics second part, with a big ideological (but not logical) thumb on the scales. And it deeply offended me that all the people we learn much about in the first part survive, undercutting the pathos of learning to like some of the billions of people unjustly doomed.

Also, really annoying chronological layout carefully skipping most of the periods with resource restraints -- we open with the Chosen Survivors who can burn anything on Earth for the purposes of getting off it, and then there's a bit of exciting cannibalism and then we're in a mysteriously wealthy Podkayne-on-Mars flying society and have smarted our way into energy seeming free.
posted by clew at 1:09 PM on May 22, 2016


ennui.bz: which illustrates the ideological range you get with "hard" scifi: libertarians wearing birkenstocks to libertarians wielding swords...


I haven't read Aurora but I read Red Mars by the same author, and its brand of "libertarianism" is eco-socialism.

I believe Robinson is a self-identified socialist.

About libertarians, he gives one of his characters the following line: "That's libertarians for you — anarchists who want police protection from their slaves."
posted by grobstein at 1:34 PM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Oh my, no wonder he liked this.
posted by infini at 2:07 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Seveneves read to me like a decent novella with technical detail comparable with The Martian, bookended by a cinema-ready bunch of action sequences and degradation. (You need only to cast a POTUS and buy a stock earth exploding CGI, and that movie then films itself.)

Then he tacked half of a 70's era weird far-future novel on the end for good measure. I have enjoyed many such little slim novels with their trippy, now-flaking covers, but it's strange to see one published in 2015 in the back quarter of a doorstop.

Aurora was amazing, and far more hopeful in its way than most reviewers seem to realize. Anathem is the only Stephenson I've really enjoyed since Snow Crash.
posted by joeyh at 2:24 PM on May 22, 2016


I haven't read Aurora but I read Red Mars by the same author, and its brand of "libertarianism" is eco-socialism.

Aurora features a rather hostile take on a revolution against a hereditary techno-elite aboard an "ark", plus an odd concern about human genetic degeneration ie eugenics.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:56 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Seveneves is the first Stephenson book I put down after about 60 pages and will probably never bother to finish it. I thought it was just me.
posted by juiceCake at 3:23 PM on May 22, 2016


So Bill Gates drives a Tesla Model X.
posted by memebake at 3:56 PM on May 22, 2016


If Bill Gates really wants to get back into science fiction I think he needs to come to The Blue for a suggested reading list.
posted by Ber at 4:08 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I loved SEVENEVES, not least of all because all the POV characters were women and/or PoC, which is pretty cool for hard sci fi and I enjoyed it quite a bit. (I am also an engineer so I did actually enjoy the lengthy asides into orbital mechanics) So there's at least one other person on MetaFilter who loved it, lhauser.

I also absolutely adore Anathem. So basically my understanding is I am a Wrong Kind Of Stephenson Fan, but there you go.
posted by olinerd at 4:30 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I loved both Seveneves and Aurora. Cryptonomicon as well, though I think on reread it might seem dated. Didn't they do a lot in PERL? Reamde I didn't feel had much depth.

I asked my wife to read Seveneves. She's usually a Vampire and Katniss girl who reads to fall asleep but I thought she'd enjoy the main female characters, being a scientist herself and she did. It helped her enjoyment that Stephenson's characters tend to be slightly super human.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 5:05 PM on May 22, 2016


Yeah, if some wise editor had cut the last third of Seveneves to the floor, it would have been one hell of a good sci-fi thriller, but Neil has gotten too big for editors and his audience suffers for it.
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:05 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why The Diamond Age doesn't get more attention. It seems to be mentioned about as often as, say, Zodiac, but it's still my favourite novel of his by a long shot, crap ending and all.

As someone who really enjoyed Zodiac (I'm not going to claim it's good, but it's good fun), I feel like The Diamond Age is mentioned way more frequently. It gets recommended on AskMe a fair bit (more than anything else of Stephenson's I think).

Reamde I didn't feel had much depth.

Reamde was total brain candy. My mom listened to it on tape (well, mp3) while puttering around the house, which is strictly the domain of brain candy. I think she read Zodiac once upon a time, but she's totally not the sort of person who reads Neal Stephenson. She'd probably enjoy Cryptonomicon, but is probably never going to read or listen to it.
posted by hoyland at 7:02 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why Stephenson won't just publish small books one at a time. Seveneves would have made a great trilogy. When they republished it, they basically admitted that the Baroque Cycle was actually a long eight book series which each volume of the trilogy itself a trilogy.

By the way: the best early Stephenson is The Big U. It's like the sequel to Real Genius you didn't realize you needed.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:04 PM on May 22, 2016


Ok, I have learned today that people did not enjoy reading Seveneves, and not just because of the ridiculously rushed Stephenson ending that was honestly better than normal, if only because it was super weird and cold and...alien.
Y'all are rong on the internets!
That book made me go back and re-read everything from him I can bear to read (I had to stop reading the Baroque cycle in my first read years ago after a particular depiction of rape I couldn't stomach) and REAMDE has aged the worst of them all, though it was still pretty decent. There's some icky expectations about being the "right" type of lady that can't be waved away with mere characterization in that book. BUT!! Seveneves, that book I still love...given, however, that I've only read it once (as opposed to Anantham, which I've read 4 times and enjoyed only a very tiny bit less each read).
posted by zinful at 7:53 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Also, signal boost to more sci-fi from non-white, disabled female fictional character perspectives being an awesome thing. I was also rather pleased that the "seven Eves" did not like each other for totally normal, not-necessarily-catty-but-feminine-socialized-not-that-that-is-a-bad-thing Reasons. Like, women being assholes for complex reasons and not hating each other for just Pretty, Ladybrain reasons? That is one of my Things, which might mean I read too much Atwood but still.
posted by zinful at 7:57 PM on May 22, 2016


I'm realizing I need to retry Anathem. I only got about one hundred pages in and the whole monk thing wasn't working. But I trust you guys so will give it another go.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 8:38 PM on May 22, 2016


if some wise editor had cut the last third of Seveneves to the floor, it would have been one hell of a good sci-fi thriller

Ugh. If you'd cut the last third what you'd be left with is a low-grade Niven and Pournelle thing complete with the person who does politics and politics is bad so they screw everything up.

What Seveneves needed, besides having a voice, was to either expand the far-future parts or cut back the Earth-dying stuff until it's approximately as long as the far-future parts, and then weave them together. Because hot damn I have never read a book that cried out to be told in interleaved sections instead of just linearly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:18 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I also absolutely adore Anathem. So basically my understanding is I am a Wrong Kind Of Stephenson Fan, but there you go.

Anathem is clearly his best book, with all of his strengths, and at the same time it sympathetically portrays people who aren't atheist STEM majors, AND it has an actual ending, AND that ending makes fun of the fact that Stephenson's books tend to just stop right after the climax. Even if he forgot how a Faraday Cage works immediately after explaining what a Faraday Cage was three pages previously.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:01 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


hot damn I have never read a book that cried out to be told in interleaved sections instead of just linearly.

Stephenson can clearly write non-linear narratives, so I think he made a deliberate choice, and indeed the right one.

I found that the book was suspenseful in important ways because I did not know who would survive. (I didn't fully appreciate the significance of the title.) I doubt that interleaving would have preserved the momentum of the drama, though it might have achieved other goals and forced Stephenson to write a completely different kind of future story that might have been better.

In general I liked the far-future conflicts over adaptation style, and thus I liked the ending. "The road goes ever on..." and all that.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:02 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


OK first of all Zodiac is the best, period.

Second of all, what the fuck is this shit? I could not finish watching. Are they going to like, go shopping for toilet paper next or something? These are two super rich white dudes just like, riding around ordering burgers and having the most boring possible conversation about literature? There's one good moment though as I was playing around with the surround vision and saw someone in the park like, fall over all the sudden. Did he just get hit with a bat or something?

Sorry to be a hater, I'm glad you posted because well, I guess I'm enriched by knowing this exists, but seemed like the most weird self-indulgent pile of tedium with why the hell is this the worst use of like, surround video you could possibly imagine?
posted by latkes at 3:23 PM on May 23, 2016


For Stephenson that is not so Stephenson, is a bit dated, but totally topical for every presidential election: Interface.

I liked Seveneves. I loved the third act.

Fun for a lazy summer weekend: Get a paper copy of Cryptonomicon and an assortment of colored page flags. Use flags to code/index the sections by character and time period. Read in chronological order. Marvel again at how great the whole book is and how you find new stuff.
posted by monopas at 6:06 PM on May 23, 2016


And it deeply offended me that all the people we learn much about in the first part survive, undercutting the pathos of learning to like some of the billions of people unjustly doomed.

Survived what? They all died. And a lot of the people we learned about didn't even make the final seven.
posted by benbenson at 1:21 PM on May 24, 2016


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