Archive for echidna

seveneves [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , on November 29, 2015 by xi'an

As the latest Neal Stephenson’s novel, I was waiting most eagerly to receive Seveneves (or SevenEves ). Now I have read it, I am a bit disappointed by the book. It is a terrific concept, full of ideas and concepts, linking our current society and its limitations with what a society exiled in space could become, and with a great style as well, but as far as the story itself goes I have trouble buying it! In short, there is too much technology and not enough psychology, too many details and not enough of a grand scheme… This certainly is far from being the best book of the author. When compared with Snow Crash, Cryptonomicon, Anathem, or Reamde for instance. Even the fairly long and meandering Baroque Cycle comes on top of this space opera à la Arthur Clarke (if only for the cables linking Earth and space stations at 36,000 kilometres…).

 The basis of Seveneves is a catastrophic explosion of our Moon that leads to the obliteration of live on Earth within a range of two years. The only way out is to send a small number of people to a space station with enough genetic material to preserve the diversity of the Human species. Two-third of the book is about the frantic scramble to make this possible. Then Earth is bombarded by pieces of the Moon, while the inhabitants of the expanded space station try to get organised and to get more energy from iced asteroids to get out of the way, while badly fighting for power. This leads the crowd of survivors to eventually reduce to seven women, hence the seven Eves. Then, a five thousand year hiatus, and the last part of the book deals with the new Human society, hanging up in a gigantic sphere of space modules around the regenerated Earth, where we follow a team of seven (!) characters whose goal is not exactly crystal clear.

While most books by Stephenson manage to produce a good plot on top of fantastic ideas, with some characters developed with enough depth to be really compelling, this one is missing at the plot level and even more at the character level, maybe because we know most characters are supposed to die very early in the story. But they do look like caricatures, frankly! And behave like kids astray on a desert island. Unless I missed the deeper message… The construction of the spatial mega-station is detailed in such details that it hurts!, but some logistic details on how to produce food or energy are clearly missing. And missing is also the feat of reconstituting an entire Human species out of seven women, even with a huge bank of human DNAs. The description of the station five thousand years later is even more excruciatingly precise. At a stage where I have mostly lost interest in the story, especially to find very little differences in the way the new and the old societies operate. And to avoid spoilers, gur er-nccnevgvba bs gur gjb tebhcf bs crbcyr jub erznvarq ba Rnegu, rvgure uvqqra va n qrrc pnir be ng gur obggbz bs gur qrrcrfg gerapu, vf pbzcyrgryl vzcynhfvoyr, sbe ubj gurl pbhyq unir fheivirq bire gubhfnaqf bs lrnef jvgu ab npprff gb erfbheprf rkprcg jung gurl unq cnpxrq ng gur ortvaavat… It took me some effort and then some during several sleepless nights to get over this long book and I remain perplexed at the result, given the past masterpieces of the author.

the Coorong wetlands

Posted in pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2012 by xi'an

During this trip in southern Australia, we spent a day travelling the Coorong National Park, south of Adelaide. This is a long stretch of coastal wilderness wetlands protected by seceral rows of dunes stretching inland for a few kilometres before hitting merino sheep and Angus beef grazing prairies, with a laguna and lots of wild animals: we saw a few emus, (dead and alive) wallabies, a flattened echidna, pelicans, and even a dingo (or lone dog?) while driving along the Prince’s Highway (not mentioning the many road-kills that we could not identify!). It is a beautiful area in which I would have loved to spend (much) more time, especially with our rented camping-car being available: the dunes are fantastic, covered with a sort of maquis, there is hardly anyone around, and parts of the coast can only be accessed by the 4WD beach track (in good weather conditions). The surf was pounding real hard at the place we stopped (42 Mile Crossing) and there were a few fishermen sitting on the sand there. The sand was mostly covered by thick layers of pink seashells and there were also shells in most bushes, captured as the plants were growing. A truly magical place of rugged beauty that beat the Great Ocean Road in my opinion (even though I also loved this part of trip, presumably because it was winter and there was hardly anyone on the road, alas missing the Twelve Apostles at sunset by a dozen minutes or so!)…. The Coorong Peninsula also reminded of this great spy novel The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, even though it takes place in the Dutch wetlands.