Thursday, August 06, 2015


In Neal Stephenson’s 2015 novel, the Human Race does its best to deal with an oncoming planetary catastrophe, a 5,000 year bombardment of Earth. Most of the page count is spent on a desperate effort to preserve a fraction of humanity off the Earth’s surface in space. We are repeatedly forced to follow the Gimli Philosophy of Risk Management: "Certainty of death, small chance of success... What are we waiting for?” Because when those are the options, the answer is obvious. You play the cards you are dealt as well as you can, and if you lose you go down fighting.

Stephenson does a pretty good job of sticking to known science, with, he admits, a few places where he wrote himself into a corner. It follows that settling space with today’s technology is shown as the kind of desperate enterprise that is only attempted because an unknown Agent destroys the fricking Moon. And the settlers barely survive by the skin of their teeth, passing through the narrowest of genetic bottlenecks after terrible casualties.

Early on, the alert reader will notice Stephenson introducing Checkov’s Survival Plans B and C. 5,000 years later he takes them down off the wall. Because, even for this planetary catastrophe settling space isn’t the only option, or necessarily the best one.

It isn’t explicitly stated, but is logical to assume that there were other iterations of Plan B, and Sonar Taxlaw’s people are just the one that we meet before the end of the book.

Also, Sonar Taxlaw is the best character name since Leelo Dallas Multipass.

No comments: