Inspiring Book: Seveneves
Recently I was inspired to try and come up with a huge vision for myself. A video I saw talked about taking inspiration from books. So, I have decided to start talking about books I’ve read that have made an impression on me.
My intent is to share what I found interesting or inspiring about these books, and in the process maybe discover something that I could do that I would find really exciting and energizing.
The first book I’m going to talk about is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.
After the moon mysteriously shatters in to pieces it becomes clear that Earth is about to get pummeled by the debris. Humanity races to preserve itself by using the International Space Station as an ark. Things get real bad. But the ending, its pretty nice and optimistic!
What is awesome about this book
One of the things I like about hard science fiction is that because it describes situations that aren’t too far from real life, there might be a good chance of the book being true.
This book is one of those that you hope never comes true.
Spoiler alert: the earth is more or less wiped clean once the fragments of the moon begin to fall.
The book shows a pretty logical (given the situation) approach to a bunch of space and engineering problems. The author delves deep into some of these with a level of detail that makes me feel like I am part of the crew. He uses this talent to also show the “political” side of the dilemma, specifically how would the world’s governments react to a looming extinction event.
The last 3rd of the book takes place 5,000 years after the moon breaks up and is really interesting. Humans are getting ready to re-settle the earth after being in orbit for thousands of years. In that time the population has rebounded nicely, but the growth of technology followed a different course. For example, the book mentions the information storage density never matches what was being done on earth, but that seems to be because there’s a different emphasis for the surviving population.
Its an interesting thought: what if we stopped pushing the edge of the envelope and instead worked on improving our existing technology?
And as a side note: the book is pretty long and I happened to get it a day or two before I came down with the flu. So as I laid in bed recuperating this was the perfect story to keep me occupied for days.
What captures my imagination
As a programmer/space nerd, this book checks a lot of boxes for me:
- Lots of talk about orbital mechanics and the ins-and-outs of working on orbit
- Although there’s obviously politics/emotions involved in something huge like this, the characters are engineers at heart and as a result use first principals and other practical actions to solve a lot of their issues.
- The solutions to some of the problem are… big. But in the context of the story they seem really on the edge of being possible. (Specifically getting the chunk of the comet to help with the water supply of the ISS)
- The mining robots, both from a technical standpoint and from the “how they are developed” view. So often major plot devices in sci-fi are just a given and are rarely explained in any depth. The many robots in this story are integral to the story in ways that aren’t apparent until the end. And that was really cool, we see their development in the beginning as more of a typical “Yeah, this is my day job” description, but they evolve to be critical to the story (and humanity) in a really interesting and natural way.
- The optimism. Yes, this is a story about the earth getting scorched and burned to a crisp. But humanity comes back from the brink. These days people are so negative for (what I feel are) unfounded reasons. The characters in this book clearly have a good reason to be negative, but even in the darkest hours they keep going.
- There’s a computer program that is written in the middle of the crisis and at the end of the book (5,000 years in the future) that program/algorithm is still being used. :) That just made me chuckle a little bit.
One curious thing that struck me about this book was the lack of Artificial Intelligence. There was clearly some AI at work in some of the technology in the book, but it was never a central tool or crutch. Once I realized that, it struck me as a little bit refreshing: in real life pundits are always pointing to AI as the solution to (or cause of) all of mankind’s problems.
In this book, AI is just in the background. Humans still have to do the hard work and make the difficult choices.
What I’m taking away from this book
- When there’s no other choice, it is amazing what a group of people working together can accomplish
- First principals. Use those as the basis of your solutions to huge problems.
- Simple is better than complicated
- Taking action is always better than talking about taking action (the comet and water for the ISS)