Please help me stop reading Seveneves
May 22, 2016 1:37 PM   Subscribe

No, seriously. I keep on rereading the first two-thirds of Neal Stephenson's Seveneves, and I gotta get out of this place. Please make me aware of other things I should read.

I was inspired to ask by a question on the Blue today. I have been on a serious dystopian/apocalyptic sf/Dying Earth kick recently. I've found some good stuff, but since it's already on my phone I keep on going back and reading the first two-thirds of Seveneves, over and over again.

I don't think it's very good, either - I mean, it's mid-grade Stephenson, right? He's put brilliant technical detail into a mediocre story with p. deece characters and a crap ending. But something about the involved descriptions of the almost-eradication of the species really hits a dope spot in me that I need to hit with something - anything - else.

Here's how I got there: I read Seveneves. It was better than REAMDE, but not my fave Stephenson fiction by a long shot. Then, hoping for more spaceship survival fiction, I read Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora. It was okay, but I didn't love it as much as other works of his. I remarked to a friend "Neal Stephenson has a new Dying Earth novel out, but it was pretty meh. KSR has a new generation-ship book out, but it left me unsatisfied. What should I read next?"

He responded by saying "Hmm, people stuck in a bottle. Have you read Wool yet?" I hadn't, so I then went and devoured the trilogy. While I was still reading totally bleak short stories about a mysterious underground community, I was entranced. As the mysteries in the backstory were revealed, I was progressively disappointed.

So, what should I read next? Something post-apoc and bleak, with just a scrap of hope here and there? The most satisfying non-Seveneves thing I've read of late is a few nights ago I fell asleep re-reading Jared Diamond's Collapse.

P.S. I loathe zombie fiction. Thanks kindly in advance for your recommendations.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Last Policeman trilogy. The apocalypse is right around the corner, but some people are still trying.
posted by Etrigan at 1:42 PM on May 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

Best answer: I just finished Seveneves. Depending on how bleak you like things I might suggest Peter Watts' Rifters trilogy. It's grim as hell but doesn't have all of that endless "And then the spaceship rotates 32 degrees to the north and then it moved three inches until it was just parallel to the blabitbiybitbiyb'ioytljheijthleio" crap that plagues Seveneves. Tor can maybe explain what is so great about them. I also loved The Last Policeman trilogy and read all of Wool this summer. I also read every book indicated in this thread (similar but different) which you might like, specifically Shovel Ready. And did you read The Passage? I can't really recommend the second and third books but that one is good. Also if you like to just potato-chip eat this stuff, you might like the Nantucket and Emberverse series by SM Stirling. They're a little schlockier (and he's got that George RR Martin "can't write women for shit" problem) but they deal with a lot of fun post-apoc issues.
posted by jessamyn at 2:10 PM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Have you already read "On the Beach"?
posted by runincircles at 2:25 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It's in the "technically fantasy but written like SF" subgenre, but "post-apoc and bleak, with just a scrap of hope here and there" makes me think of The Fifth Season. It's pre-, post-, and mid-apoc due to the nature of the world, and it is definitely "bleak with just a scrap of hope here and there."
posted by wintersweet at 2:30 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Station Eleven might be a bit too far towards hopeful on the hopeful/bleak spectrum for your tastes, but it's about a troupe traveling a post-apocalyptic Midwest putting on Shakespeare plays and symphony concerts.
posted by bassooner at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2016 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Gene Wolfe got ya covered. The Book of the New Sun for your dying earth, Book of the Long Sun your generation ship. He's also about as far from Stephenson in style as one can get.
posted by rodlymight at 2:37 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You could get into some classics like Canticle for Lebowitz or Gate to Women's Country
posted by deadwater at 3:25 PM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Lucifer's Hammer is another of the classics of this sort, I think. Also: Earth Abides.

Nthing Station Eleven, Last Policeman, and Canticle for Leibowitz.
posted by Medley at 3:33 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think that you will really like The Southern Reach Trilogy.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:46 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood trilogy should scratch this itch.
posted by dizziest at 3:54 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I came to recommend Octavia Butler as well - her Lilith's Brood trilogy is excellent, plus her Patternist series (aka Seed to Harvest) is also very much up that alley. The Parable series was a little too bleak for me.
posted by bookdragoness at 4:26 PM on May 22, 2016

Best answer: A Canticle for Leibowitz and Lucifer's Hammer are fine if you're OK with "old-fashioned" Sci-Fi stories. The Last Policeman trilogy is a solid recommendation.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:31 PM on May 22, 2016

Best answer: In terms of mostly-bleak-with-some-hope, Jennifer Marie Brissett's Elysium fits what you're looking for. Its post-apocalyptic angle is revealed slowly, however, so if you need that frontloaded, this recommendation might not work.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 4:50 PM on May 22, 2016

Best answer: Book of the New Sun is technically exactly what you are looking for. However, I agree it's written completely differently than most sci fi. Be prepared to take your time reading and rereading each chapter. It does fit everything you asked for, including not explaining everything (or for that matter, not explaining anything explicitly).

Seconding Canticle for Leibowitz as well. It's a fantastic book. It may be a over 60 years old, but I would not consider it "old fashioned" -- it has very modern sensibilities and is far more intelligent than most contemporary sci fi.
posted by bittermensch at 4:58 PM on May 22, 2016

Best answer: "False Dawn" by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro is a nicely grim post-apocalyptic novel. It was published in 1978, set in 2014, so some details are a little dated. The woman lead is fiercely determined to survive and mostly does it by herself. And the apocalypse isn't nuclear/war based, it's ecological. One reviewer said it blew "The Road" off the road (which wouldn't be too hard, in my personal opinion, but I get his point.)
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2016

Best answer: Read the article linked in this FPP currently on the blue. Ditto George Stewart's Earth Abides. Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon is also quite good.
posted by limeonaire at 5:30 PM on May 22, 2016

Station Eleven is weak, so be warned. Most of the other rec's in this thread are far superior.
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is pretty good (but Blood Meridian is much better).

The Expanse books are pretty good (Leviathan Wakes is the first, you may be familiar, as they made tv out of them this year). the thing that i liked was that they give a pretty realistic idea of the physics of being in space, something that the first 2/3rds of Seveneves did as well.

The Martian is obvious if you want to overload on brilliant technical detail.

I loved the first part of KSR's 2312, but couldn't finish the book after they left mercury.
posted by OHenryPacey at 7:33 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just finished Bird Box by Josh Malerman and it fits what you're looking for to a T.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 7:55 PM on May 22, 2016

Well, I have a high tolerance for odd apocalypse fiction, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt. I am just throwing a few ideas out there so you will have variety.
  • Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Daemon and Freedom by Daniel Suarez
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

posted by forthright at 8:02 PM on May 22, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks a heap, folks. I have already read a lot of these, but all of these suggestions are very welcome. Don't stop!
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 8:06 PM on May 22, 2016

Best answer: _The Gone-Away World_, Nick Harkaway.
posted by clew at 8:16 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had Seveneves stuck on my brain for months after I read it too. I can recognize that it's a pretty mediocre novel but the concept is utterly compelling. The only other book I've recently read that was as captivating for me was The City and the City by China Mieville (which, as an added bonus, is actually well written).
posted by miyabo at 9:32 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really liked The Girl With All the Gifts it is not super bleak but as someone who was recently on a similar kick, I had also read many of the other books mentioned on here and found it a nice alternative. I also really liked California which I also read during this kick.
posted by z11s at 10:28 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding The Fifth Season if you haven't read it yet--one of the best SF books I've read in years.
posted by karayel at 10:44 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've long meant to read On Such A Full Sea. It might fit the bill here.
posted by salvia at 11:45 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I got so upset at Seveneves too. I totally get you.

Go read Blindsight by Peter Watts if you haven't already. It's SOOO GOOOD in a way that Seveneves just isn't. Please PM me if you do, I so want to talk about about that novel with someone!!

Or City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff Vandermeer. New Weird FTW.
posted by ananci at 1:02 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might like the MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood
I really liked Oryx and Crake (1) and read it several times, and also The Year of the Flood (2) but I did not enjoy Nr 3, MaddAddam as much - but still it iwas a fine book and it is worth reading because you find out what happens to the people you meet in 2 and 3.
Also, nthing canticle for Leibovitz - yes, it is old but still a very good read, i read it many times in the last 30 yrs.
posted by 15L06 at 3:44 AM on May 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

My best recent reads on near- or complete extinction of the species (won’t spoil them by saying which!) are Peter Watts's Blindsight & Echopraxia. An exciting & pessimistic read, rich with weird technical detail. The dangers to humans are things we’ve made, ways we act, *and* external forces that have nothing to do with us. (His Rifters series skates similarly close to apocalypse but I eventually found them too bleak & violent to really enjoy. YMMV.)

Also: Greg Bear’s Blood Music (gray goo) & J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (gorgeous book about environmental collapse) might scratch that itch for you.
posted by miles per flower at 8:00 AM on May 23, 2016

Best answer: My vote would be for Cixin Liu's Three Body Problem and Dark Forest - the first book is more pre-apocalypse (with ongoing apocalypse on an alien planet) and the second is mid-apocalypse. Both books are very think-y and get a lot into the politics and philosophy of impending alien-induced apocalypse, in a way that I think might appeal to a Stephenson fan (but, in my opinion, done better).

Also, this is a sort of offball choice, but you might check out The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. It is a weird book, but involves an apocalypse-type event and is all around just AWESOME (but there is no space/spaceships involved). And it is definitely BLEAK but with some hope sprinkled throughout.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:32 AM on May 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

For things that happen in big, crazy artificial/engineered environments where the wheels are coming off and it's not immediately obvious how the world works, you might like Karl Schroeder. I haven't finished the series, but at least the first couple of Virga novels are good fun, and Lady of Mazes has a lot of interesting ideas in it even if some of the character stuff was frustrating.
posted by brennen at 12:10 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding runincircles' inspired suggestion of "On The Beach" - awesome book! In the same vein there's also "Alas, Babylon".
posted by duoshao at 12:15 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely read "Blindsight."

Then read the pseudo-sequel - "Echopraxia."
posted by Thistledown at 12:45 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was surprised not to see The Passage by Justin Cronin. Perhaps people were hesitant to suggest it because of your stated aversion to zombies. Strict speaking, there are no zombies in The Passage, but there are "virals" who are not zombies but something much more horrific. The post-apocalyptic world that Cronin creates is vivid and well-crafted. As a bonus, the final book in the series, City of Mirrors, is out tomorrow, so no waiting. (The Twelve is the second book.)
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:21 PM on May 23, 2016

Oh! Just thought of another one, Julian Comstock by Robert Charles Wilson.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 2:25 PM on May 23, 2016

Might be a little bit light hearted but Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey is a kind of fun post-a-thing-that-happened romp. Society breaks down into groups that can only see specific colors. It's a little silly like most of Fforde's writing but I enjoyed it, worth a borrow from the library.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 5:51 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, the golden recommendations keep on coming! 1000x thanks. FYI, folks, I read Canticle in high school. (And On the Beach, and Alas, Babylon, and GMed a long Gammaworld campaign, and so on.)
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 8:37 PM on May 23, 2016

How do you feel about short stories? I haven't read Seveneves, but based on your criteria, I think most if not all of the stories in Ray Bradbury's short story collection The Illustrated Man would satisfy this urge. It's been awhile since I've read it, but it's definitely pretty bleak. However, I found the stories to be bleak in a sort of satisfying (and engrossing) way. A couple stories in particular really stuck with me. Some of Bradbury's other novels might fit in with this as well, but I don't have any particular recommendations off the top of my head.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:42 PM on May 23, 2016

Nthing Octavia Butler. I liked the Parable series best, actually, but I like bleak.
posted by tully_monster at 1:23 AM on May 24, 2016

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell hits this at the VERY end, but the build-up is worth it. Based on your other interests, I think you'll like it.

Nthing Station Eleven. It is NOT weak, but not super bleak, either.
posted by Isingthebodyelectric at 3:33 PM on May 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm about three quarters of the way through Kim Stanley Robinson's Aurora right now. I find it weirdly detached and un-compelling but it is full of closed ecosystem breakdown doomsday thought fodder so I will plow on for a few more light years of interstellar travel.
posted by srboisvert at 2:32 PM on May 29, 2016

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