Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Seveneves, begins: “The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” Scientists realize humanity has roughly two years to come up with a survival strategy before millions of lunar bits start hitting the Earth and ignite the atmosphere in a biblical rain of fire. The first half of the novel concerns our frantic efforts to launch as much stuff and personnel into space as possible, turning the International Space Station into a jury-rigged ark. But it’s not all heroics: The ensuing dickering, wasted effort, and celebrity cameos make it clear that this world is more or less our own.
The harrowing story of the early years leaves us with just seven survivors to propagate the species from the relative safety of orbit: seven eves who each make major decisions about what to keep and what to tweak in the human genome. From there the novel leaps 5,000 years into the future, when humanity’s descendants are just beginning to recolonize the battered surface of Earth.