Seveneves was an intensely frustrating book because it had so much going for it and yet, at the same time, had so much going against it.
The initial premise is utterly fantastic. It certainly falls within the genre of sci-fi disaster scenarios, but instead of the usual impending asteroid collision, the threat is something totally different and much, much more interesting.1 And so the first 2/3rd or 3/4th of the book is dedicated to a kind of hyper-realistic, hard sci fi save-humanity-from-disaster plot line that is full of interesting physics, emotional highs and lows, and human bravery. So far, so great. This is Neal Stephenson at his best.
But there are also some major drawbacks. For one, the characters—ordinarily so intelligent—make unbelievably stupid decisions when necessary to move the plot in the direction that Stephenson needs it to go. There is one scene where a pathological narcissist2 is welcomed into an incredibly tight-knit, vulnerable community without anyone so much as suggesting that perhaps they might want to keep an eye on her. Or, you know, search her for weapons and contraband. It’s only, you know, the fate of humanity at stake. When she manages to foment a misguided, scientifically ignorant revolt that exterminates a good chunk of the surviving humans, you are so frustrated that you only wish they had all died. This might seem bad enough, but it gets so much worse. Later on, the leader of a self-acknowledged band of literal cannibals (who have been eating a significant fraction of the remaining human survivors) asks for permission to come aboard and the crew—based on nothing other than her promise to be well-behaved, without the slightest attempt to verify her claim about how many people are with her, and in the utter absence of any self-defensive measures whatsoever—decides to open the door and let her on board. Sure, why not? Again: a sizable chunk of the tiny number of living human beings are killed and again, this particular reader was so exasperated that I wished humanity’s much-deserved fictional demise upon them. Clearly, there is no hope for this species.
At about this point, it becomes clear that the entire disaster scenario that you have been reading is actually nothing but backstory for the actual premise that Stephenson wants to write. You have essentially just waded through back story world-building notes masquerading as a novel. Instead of a near-future disaster story, the real story is a far-future first contact story. This explains why such atrocious plotting was required to get all the ducks lined up, but it doesn’t justify it. First, because the new premise (for which the book is named) is actually less interesting and second, because all that backstory should have either been treated with the dignity it deserved or cut and left for exposition. For the last 1/4th of the book, it doesn’t matter exactly how or why humanity was reduced to just 8 women (7 of whom could reproduced, thus Seven Eves). It only matters that it happened.
Seveneves is positively stuffed to the gills with cool ideas and a frequently awe-inspiring vision of the future. For this alone, it will be a hugely influential book on sci-fi that follows. Thus, it is certainly an important book and very much worth your time. I’m glad I read it. However, it’s not necessarily a very good book, because of how deeply flawed the plot and characters are.3