Know what you’re getting into, and a rant about climate change


What’s it about?
Seveneves is about the end of the world. In short: something very odd happens and the moon breaks into seven chunks. At first, no one really realizes what’s going on, until the Neil DeGrasse Tyson character figures out that those chunks are going to keep hitting each other, breaking up, hitting each other some more, keep falling to Earth and causing lots and lots of damage. Thus ending the human race. So how do we react? What do we do? How do we use our current space technology? How do we use our other technology?

Why should you read it?
The book above sounds kind of interesting and problem-solve-y, right? Too bad it wasn’t what I thought I was getting into. I thought it was: the world ends in the first two chapters, and the substance is going to be about rebuilding the world. Nope. Not in the slightest.

I would never have picked up Seveneves if I’d realized that it was about the breakdown of society instead of the rebuilding. I don’t like those kinds of books – society has all kinds of troubles already. It didn’t make me reflect on how the moon chunks hitting the Earth are like climate change and how people are (or aren’t) adapting to or planning for that. I read enough about the fights between countries and the politics of reducing carbon emissions and get frustrated by not being able to do enough.

Ultimately, it made me feel powerless and impotent. I wouldn’t be able to do anything if the world were ending (say, because of climate change). With the systems we have in place, with our old-school electrical grid and society formed around consumption (which still requires that we use carbon-based fuels to produce all that *stuff*), I can only do so much. The system needs to change – more electric cars, less consumption of stuff more of experiences and services, especially in the United States, communities need to be built around walking and biking, not around driving – and I can buy fewer things and get an electric car when my old one finally gets used enough to warrant replacing and maybe eventually move to a city where I don’t need a car. But that’s just me. There are over 7 billion people on the planet. I can only do so much.

I don’t like feeling powerless and impotent. So I put the book down. Maybe I’ll pick it up at a different time. Maybe not. We’ll see.

A sci-fi classic (in my world, anyway)

the diamond age

What’s it about?
The Diamond Age is a classic from 1996 (that feels so wrong to type – I was in college, for chrissakes). It’s a story about the future and a special kind of book – an electronic book before there were kindles or nooks or iPads. This is a book that helps a child learn. It’s personalized to the child – figuring out what they know about both academics and the world around them. It teaches these children how to function in the world, and the goal is not just to make them book smart, but also to give them the drive and the ability to succeed as things change. And not just react to that change, but create the change. Three bespoke versions of the book are made: one for a wealthy man’s granddaughter, one for the inventor’s daughter, and one that gets lost and ends up in the hands of a street urchin named Nell. They change the world.

Why should you read it? 
Disclaimer: The Diamond Age has been my favorite Neal Stephenson book since I first read it. I may have read Snow Crash first, but I like this one more.

Why? There’s the obvious: I’m female and I love reading. I’m generally tech-optimistic, even if I have doubts about our current technology. A sci-fi book about education and reading with women in primary roles? Sign me up.

But I also love it because of the world it creates. The characterization of China was off – Stephenson missed China’s meteoric rise over the last 20 years – but the Vickys (the neo-Victorians) and the other various sects play well together. And I can see a neo-Victorian strain in Silicon Valley, with its insistence on perfectibility – if we could only do x or figure out y, then we could make everything perfect!

It is a classic. Read it if you haven’t.