Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

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Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jun 17, 2015 6:01 pm UTC

I'm having a hard time putting this down, because Stephenson is wildly entertaining and I'm playing a lot of KSP. It suffers/thrives from the same set of Stephenson style writing quirks, but I'm definitely in the mood for it now.

Plot is the Moon blows up (yup) and humanity has ~3 years to get it's shit in order to set up a life boat, so to speak. Shit does and does not go according to plan.

Some good -
Spoiler:
The '5000 years later' cut was amazing. I absolutely love the long view sci-fi that plays with the notion of history and making your mark on the tapestry of humanity. The plotting and planning has been great, though Julia's interference had me furious.


Some bad -
Spoiler:
I'm actually kind of uncomfortable with how 'IT"S ALL NATURE' in the 'Nature vs Nurture' side of things Stephenson is with the second half of the book. I get that we're supposed to view the seven races of humanity as basically just continuations of the characters he spent ~600 pages telling us about, but I disliked how he described these offshoots of humanity as basically the Eve Mothers they came from. Also, the emergent society 5000 years down the road doesn't seem particularly reflective of the fact that 5000 fucking years of human events happened to them!

There's a brief scene where Kath Two goes to a museum, and I thought we'd get a glimpse of what happened in each Millenium, but the scene felt incredibly broken up (typical Stephenson actually) and just sort of told you about the genetic heritage of the first and second millenia, and then cut to a different part of the story. I think his handling of the second part of the book is a little wonky so far with respect to pacing and information delivery.
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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby EdgarJPublius » Mon Jul 06, 2015 11:14 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Some good -
Spoiler:
The '5000 years later' cut was amazing. I absolutely love the long view sci-fi that plays with the notion of history and making your mark on the tapestry of humanity. The plotting and planning has been great, though Julia's interference had me furious.


Agreed completely the last part is easily my favorite, if I had one complaint about the book, it would be that the middle part was too long and the last too short.

Spoiler:
If I had two, the other would be that Julia was a terrible character, to the point of being practically one dimensional.

If I'm not being rhetorical about the number of complaints I have about Seveneves, there were a lot of different idiot-plots throughout the first two parts of the book, but once Julia came on board, she kind of single-handedly eclipsed all of them.


Izawwlgood wrote:Some bad -
Spoiler:
I'm actually kind of uncomfortable with how 'IT"S ALL NATURE' in the 'Nature vs Nurture' side of things Stephenson is with the second half of the book. I get that we're supposed to view the seven races of humanity as basically just continuations of the characters he spent ~600 pages telling us about, but I disliked how he described these offshoots of humanity as basically the Eve Mothers they came from. Also, the emergent society 5000 years down the road doesn't seem particularly reflective of the fact that 5000 fucking years of human events happened to them!


I didn't really get that sense
Spoiler:
I mean, there was definitely some of that, but we are at least told that not all of the members of the seven races are direct expy's of the original eves, and we're probably seeing some form of selection bias at work due to the main characters of the second part having been selected to form an important 'Seven'. I also wouldn't discount the level that Nurture is involved here. I mean, 'The Epic' is pretty creepily ubiquitous, and members of Blue society are expected to be well versed in at least the parts relating to their Eve. There appears to be significant cultural pressure to conform to the Eve templates, it's not just biological.


Further thoughts-
Spoiler:
I have so many problems with the whole 'Ark Swarm' concept that it's hard to put them into words.

Any space-based plan is significantly bottle-necked by launch capacity. Even with all the resources thrown at it, we see that pretty clearly. It's not just that most of the 'casting of lots' chosen couldn't catch a ride, but within the Gen-pop we see important roles critically under-filled. The prioritization of that launch capacity was really poorly thought out too. Whats-his-face is apparently the only guy who thought that the Ark-Swarm's fundamentally constrained resources might be a problem to be solved sooner rather than later. Other characters recognize the problem when it's pointed out and even consider that the oversight might be indicative that the Ark-Swarm isn't meant to be more than a put-on to distract and placate the masses.

The Ark Swarm makes sense as part of a 'many baskets approach, and even as the public face of a many baskets plan (if for no other reason than that it's much harder for desperate people to mob Low Earth Orbit than a random salt mine) But when we see how other plans were implemented, they didn't have nearly the same amount of resources thrown at them, despite the bottle-neck to orbit indicating that there should have been plenty to go around even if the Ark Swarm was the main priority

And yet, it's clear from the Crater Lake accords and that the Ark is where Julia chose to make her escape to (in flagrant and pointless violation of the accords) that the ark is pretty much the basket.


Digging in makes a lot more sense. Making an underground colony self-sufficient and sustainable is basically the same problem as making one in space, but you have gravity, and air and water, and much less radiation, and it takes a lot fewer resources just to get there, so instead of (or even in addition to) focusing the entire planet's effort on one space-colony, everybody can pretty much build their own under-ground shelter and fill it however they want.

The book mentions that it would be difficult to expand the volume of the under-ground shelter due to the tailing taking up as much or more volume as is created, but that's not a real problem. You can process the tailing for volatiles and useful materials, and the slag can then be reformed into higher-density materials which can be used to reinforce the structure. The volume gains from such processing would be minimal, but by no means non-existent. However, while the surface may be inhospitable, there's no reason for it to be inaccessible. There's no reason you couldn't just dig a protected outflow, with an airlock if necessary, and dump the slag outside. As long as the living areas aren't too close to the surface, if an impact does bust the outflow, oh well, dig another one. Outflows can be tiny and cheap to dig, just a small bore-hole to the surface where slag material is melted and forced up via pressure. Once you can dig around and gain habitable some volume, the underground shelter would have basically unlimited resources and space to expand.
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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Jul 07, 2015 1:40 pm UTC

EdgarJPublius wrote:There appears to be significant cultural pressure to conform to the Eve templates, it's not just biological.
I suppose that's one interpretation... I didn't take that from it, because the story completely glosses over the 5000 years of cultural development that must have occurred.

That one scene when they're walking through the museum, and we get a snapshot of the first couple hundred years... then it... skips to some description of an orbital construct, then we get another description of some of the Earth recovery effort... and... then we get a shuttle description, and some more Earth recovery effort... Stephensons writing just felt all over the place in this sequence.

Digging in makes a lot more sense.
Ehhhhhh... Pros and Cons to be sure, but digging in for more than a few hundred years has a lot of cons. Especially considering these are miners, not crazy future tech laser drilling zero-point energy geniuses.
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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby EdgarJPublius » Tue Jul 07, 2015 10:44 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:That one scene when they're walking through the museum, and we get a snapshot of the first couple hundred years... then it... skips to some description of an orbital construct, then we get another description of some of the Earth recovery effort... and... then we get a shuttle description, and some more Earth recovery effort... Stephensons writing just felt all over the place in this sequence.


Sure, but 'The Epic' shows up all over the place throughout the whole third part, videos from it are always showing in the background of scenes and the characters constantly have conversations about or reference pieces of it. It is creepy and unrealistic, but it doesn't speak to me particularly of nature vs. nurture.
Actually, thinking about it some more, I suppose it could be a relatively recent cultural development, possibly a response to the red vs. blue tension like all the creepy shit going on in U.S. culture from the 50s and 60s in response to the Cold War.

Digging in makes a lot more sense.
Ehhhhhh... Pros and Cons to be sure, but digging in for more than a few hundred years has a lot of cons. Especially considering these are miners, not crazy future tech laser drilling zero-point energy geniuses.


I mean that digging makes a lot more sense as an alternative to the Ark Swarm as 'the one big plan to save Humanity from extinction', not that the miners should have turned out better after 5,000 years than the spacers.
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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Jul 08, 2015 12:36 am UTC

'The Epic' made a lot of sense to me - it was turning one's history into myth to keep it alive. I can easily see a culture doing that, though thought it was subsequently funny (and oh so Stephenson) to turn it into an academic undertaking by describing the scholars that analyzed every recorded moment of the Ark's story. On that note, I also thought it somewhat gimmicky and unrealistic that they developed pretty advanced robotics technologies, but maintained pretty primitive personal computing technologies, though sure, evidently the Julians had better.

But the cavers were described as fairly dystopian to me. We're even ran through a brief synopsis of their history and it sounded pretty awful.

A rickity orbital ark is a bad idea in the midst of an asteroid bombardment, which is why they landed that puppy as soon as they could somewhere safe and stable. But space is vastly superior a location to inhabitant than what amounts to the opposite of space in a cave - didn't the cavers have something like 3,000 years of population bottlenecking at ~100 people? They had no control over their outside environment. They evidently after all that time hadn't developed any manufacturing capacities either, which is... very grim.
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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Jul 08, 2015 4:43 am UTC

I think the digger population was more than that, a few thousand maybe?

Anyway, they never expanded their livable volume, which makes no sense, there's a whole paragraph in my earlier post about that...

Also, remember that landing was never the original plan for the Ark Swarm, it was intended to be self-sufficient (more than that, redundantly self-sufficient) in place. Which makes even less sense than digging in and not expanding. It took someone not directly involved with the Ark Swarm project to think of all the problems with that idea and solve them with mostly his own resources.

Colonizing a stellar body makes infinitely more sense than what the Ark Swarm plan was meant to be.
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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby msilenus » Thu Jul 09, 2015 12:20 am UTC

Hi. Apologies for barging into this debate as a new guy. Hope that's not faux pax around here. I have a burning question that's been bugging me since I finished the book.

How the heck does the Eye work? At first I thought that you could do it by having the Ring moving at a slightly different speed from the Eye resulting in motion relative to each other, but that would mean they were in different orbits and on path to eventual intersection/collision, right? And how would the turnpikes cause it to "reverse direction" relative to the ring without ludicrous energies being involved?

I suspect I might be missing something because Stephenson is so thorough in general. Or maybe I just need to suspend disbelief on this one.

P.S. I think the surface was too violent for a spoil evacuation pipe to last, and they would have had to expend precious metal reserves to attempt replacement. So I buy that they were space-constrained.

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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby EdgarJPublius » Fri Jul 10, 2015 12:05 am UTC

msilenus wrote:P.S. I think the surface was too violent for a spoil evacuation pipe to last, and they would have had to expend precious metal reserves to attempt replacement. So I buy that they were space-constrained.


If they have an outflow for useless material and can thus expand, then their resources are essentially unlimited. The only question is whether they can expand to new resources before exhausting the currently accessible resources, but the outflow pipe would require very low investment for significant returns.


The Ring is in a geostationary orbit and the Eye is balanced around it. The Eye just has to move a little faster, or a little slower relative to the ring to move in either direction around it.

IIRC, the book actually mentions they were using the Cradle as a counterweight so that lowering or raising it would change the Eye's velocity relative to the Ring.
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Yes.

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Re: Seveneves - KSP meets The Martian!

Postby msilenus » Sat Jul 11, 2015 12:54 am UTC

Thanks. I think I recall that line now that you mention it. However...

I think it's still fundamentally the case that they're expending enough energy to invert the sign on the Eye's velocity difference relative to the Ring. The velocity difference has to be enough to move around ~2/3 of the orbit in a reasonable amount of time. That might not be such a big deal if the mass of the Eye weren't very massive, but it seems like it is. Net-net, I still think the Eye would have to be light enough to maneuver a bit for that system to work with turnpikes.

If there weren't any turnpikes, there might still have been a problem with a constant offset in velocities, because the two orbits would wobble w.r.t. each other. But maybe that just means the Eye has to be wide enough to accommodate the wobble.


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