Note: There are no spoilers in this review.
A short review of this 861-page book might go: Life isn’t always fair, and sometimes people are really awful, but scientific knowledge and technology are very cool, and supremely useful.
But one could also go into a bit more detail without spoiling the plot.
The book begins with this astounding paragraph:
“The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designated A+0.0.0., or simply Zero.”
What would happen under such circumstances? Stephenson explores the answer in the rest of this often brilliant book which includes a lot of discussion of earthbound physics, orbital mechanics, and robotics, inter alia, in writing sometimes dubbed “techsposition” – i.e., technological exposition. Most of the action, at least for the first two thirds of the book, is centered on the space station which was orbiting the Earth at the time of the Event.
It seems that even Stephenson may have been happier with the technological aspects of this saga than the characters he drew. He spends a lot more verbiage on the technological whiz-bang aspects of this story, which are truly amazing, and about which he wants you to understand everything. As for the characters, we get to know most of them more by sporadically-spotlighted actions and decisions than by their internal thought processes. They are more aptly described as one-and-a-half rather than two-dimensional. And while some are brave and smart and wonderful, there are others I dearly wanted him to kill off in some way or another. Alas, the author is more realistic than I about the inevitable mix of good and bad in the human race.
There is a division between the first two-thirds of the book and the last third. The first section seemed entirely plausible to me, but I’m not so sure I found the last third convincing. Nor did I find some of the “surprises” of the latter section unanticipated. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to think about, and a lot to discuss if you are lucky enough to find someone else willing to read this very long book with you!
Evaluation: This is a masterwork of science fiction imagination. You won’t find the detailed character development and interactions one would get with, say, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, or Robert Heinlein, but you’ll get much more analysis of the scientific background for whatever takes place in the story.
Published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, 2015