My problem with fiction is either I have to make a series of unrealistic leaps of faith to follow a story or the book’s protagonist is undeserving of my sympathy…and gaining my sympathy through your writing is hard. Case in point…I loved Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye when I was in the 9th grade…what exploding of testosterone 14 year-old boy doesn’t love a sarcastic and foul-mouthed main character? Who didn’t identify with Holden’s resentment of the “phony” adult world? Sadly, upon revisiting Salinger’s Catcher later in life (reread it when I was 35) revealed that Holden was a typical know-it-all teen that had yet to experience life nor did he comprehend the daily compromises that adults face their whole life…Holden Caulfield had not aged well. Granted…I probably haven’t aged well either…but if a good book is going to be really good…then I should be able to reread a book 20 years later and be entertained. Salinger’s Catcher didn’t entertain me…it disappointed…I no longer had sympathy for Holden. I felt betrayed…and probably more betrayed by myself and my adult life…but I wasn’t reading Catcher at 35 to find some philosophical foundation…I was rereading it to be entertained.
Today, when I read fiction, I am not looking for some greater or higher moral or philosophy. Instead, I read fiction for two reasons…one is to be entertained, and two, to escape what Caulfield would have called my “phony” adult life. If I am going to read fiction I better be entertained and I better not have to make some unbelievable leaps to appreciate the story. I would like to say I have some genre that I prefer over the other when it comes to fiction, but I don’t. There isn’t a single type of fiction that I gravitate to over the other. There are, however, certain genres I usually avoid…and one of those is science fiction. Even though my academic nerdy adult persona may seem to indicate that I am a sci-fi fan…I am…in fact…not a fan of space travel, aliens, and tight-fitting space leotards…even though I will admit that I had been known to masturbate to Jane Fonda in Barbarella. What 13 year-old boy wouldn’t have “shaken hands with the unemployed” to this:
Overall, excluding my youthful desires for women in thigh-high space boots (even ones with a worn sole), sci-fi isn’t my genre for fiction. Too many leaps…too many aliens…too many lasers…too much bullshit. EXCEPT…every now and then a book grabs my attention.
About the time Holden Caulfield was becoming my philosopher…Paul Atreides of Frank Herbert’s Dune became my hero. Paul was strong, smart, and could read people’s minds! Paul became a messiah on Arakkis…aka Dune. This book too was revisted…and unlike Catcher…Herbert’s Dune didn’t disappoint. The political intrigue and religious mysticism still held up…actually, it showed more depth. Who knew that a 15 year-old Sublime Monkey would be able to appreciate the nuanced politics of men and their religions would make even more sense at age 45? Dune didn’t make me take any leap other than sometime in the far future men would still be acting selfish and religion would be used as a weapon to control other men…made sense at 15…made sense at 45. So when it comes to sci-fi…the bar is pretty fucking high. Neal Stephensen’s Seven Eves met that bar.
Seven Eves is a fairly new novel by an author that a lot of sci-fi fans know…I’d never heard of him…but a good friend who does know his sci-fi…and knows my reading habits…recommended the book to me and then sent me his copy when he was done…hat tip to Shawn “I want a monkey” Albertson. The book is huge…fucking 900 pages huge…and every single page is a turner.
None of this is a spoiler…basically as the jacket cover says…the moon explodes into a bunch of pieces for some reason…and now that Einstein’s gravitational waves theory has been proven…I’m gonna say that caused it…and then present -day science is used to make sort of a modern Noah’s Arc via the International Space Station (ISS). That’s the only leap of any real significance that one is compelled to accept and move on with the story. What Stephensen gets right is how he uses modern science and technology and then logically pushes that science and technology forward 5,000 years. As much of a liberal arts nerd I am…science and technology isn’t exactly something I am overly interested in…especially in how 7 female survivors on the ISS could propagate whole races…viola “Seven Eves.”
Admittedly, there are parts of the 900 pages that I skimmed…I mean one can only read so much about genetics before one says…out loud…”I get it…they know how to manipulate DNA!” Other readers may find this fascinating…but like Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm…after a while you have to give up and assume Larson knows a lot of minutia about fucking hurricanes…Stephenson proves he knows a lot about nanorobots (workers on the ISS aka Noah’s Arc) and DNA coding.
Fortunately, Stephensen’s Seven Eves is 2/3rds present day (sorta) and 1/3rd 5,000 years in the future. It’s believable…it’s interesting…and the questions of what would you do if you were stationed on the ISS and earth was destroyed? how would you survive? what specific characteristics would you choose for your offspring and their offspring if you got to manipulate your DNA for future generations? Seven Eves raises interesting moral dilemmas and causes the reader to wonder how exactly would mankind react if it knew it had approximately 3 years of warning before the earth would be destroyed. Seven Eves isn’t a sci-fi novel insomuch as it is an interesting thought problem about how would mankind react in the event of a monumental disaster that the author, Stephensen, considered and then presented in 900 pages. The story never wavers…the logical thought process never tangents…Stephensen digs in and shows you a realistic approach and then shows you a possible outcome.
Seven Eves could be described as phony…what piece of fiction isn’t? Many argue it doesn’t get more phony than science fiction…except of course for the magic and dragons and hairy midgets of fantasy literature…yet Seven Eves feels more like a long article in National Geographic that is written by a geneticist on meth who also is highly interested in space exploration…and to me that is compliment. Holden Caulfield and Barbarella held my interest as a teen…but it’s authors like Stephensen and his book Seven Eves that make me happy that I’m an adult and capable of appreciating science and technology…regardless of the countless ways Stephensen explained how babies can be made without a male sperm donor….and surprisingly…there are a lot of ways.