The moon splits apart for an unknown reason, unleashing a meteor shower that pummels Earth and forces a small group of humans to flee into space. Millennia later, their progeny return to rebuild the planet. That’s the premise behind Neal Stephenson’s new book, Seveneves, a “space-arc” epic spanning 5,000 years. Stephenson, a Hugo and SF Locus award-winner who's also the author of Anathem, Reamde and Cryptonomicon, will be at the Tattered Cover Colfax Friday for a book-signing and Q&A. In advance of his trip to Colorado, Westword caught up with Stephenson to talk about his latest work and how he approaches his craft.
Westword: How do you go about researching for your novels? How do you acquaint yourself with the technologies that feature in your work?
Neal Stephenson: It’s a different process in each case catered to the requirements of the specific book. I tend to reinvent the process each time, depending on what I’m writing. In this case, I’ve spent a lifetime being fascinated by rockets and space and space travel, and I've gained knowledge about those things since I was a little boy. And I’ve actually worked a bit in that industry, so in the first part of the book, to get the ball rolling, I didn’t have to do a lot of research. And then later on, when particular topics of questions, I’d head there.
Five-thousand years later, how does the refugee civilization compare to ours currently, technologically speaking?
It’s taken them many centuries, thousands of years to bounce back, to get back to where we are now. They’ve gotten really good at making enormous structures in space, and building robots... but they’re not super-advanced, or radically different from us. They’re kind of like where we are today, but in some ways they’re less advanced than us: With some electronics, they’re less advanced then we are.
Does the novel’s apocalyptic flavor reflect contemporary concerns about ecological destruction, such as climate change?
Message novels tend not be very much fun to read, so the last thing I wanted to do was make it seem like I was writing a message book. But if you write a book that’s fun to read, which I’ve tried to do here, then people are free to go through it and draw their own parallels and connections if they so choose to things that are happening in the world today.
What do you find pleasurable about the writing process?
Anytime I get to sit down and be by myself and quietly focus on writing for a few hours, life is good. Just to be able to do it at all is nice. It’s satisfying, to be able to sit down and put some words on paper, on the screen, and feel like you’ve accomplished today.
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You’ve worked with other media such as graphic novels, and you have an interest in gaming. Have you ever thought about transferring any of your novels in to other formats?
It’s something that’s been under discussion for over thirty years. So I’ve been having conversations with Hollywood people about adapting the books, [and] there’s always at least one of the projects that’s in the development process or being talked about. To date, none of them has actually been adapted to screen. But that’s a really normal statistic.