No slim fables or nerdy novellas for Stephenson (Anathem, 2008, etc.): his visions are epic, and he requires whole worlds—and, in this case, solar systems—to accommodate them.
His latest opens with a literal bang as the moon explodes “without warning and for no apparent reason.” When the reason finally does become apparent, it’s cause to enlist steely-jawed action hero Dubois Jerome Xavier Harris, Ph.D., a scientist who makes fat bread as a TV science popularizer and sucker-up to the rich and powerful. Easy street gives way to a very rocky galactic road as Doob has to figure out why the heavens are suddenly hurling mountains of space debris at Earth in a time already fraught with human-caused difficulty. Ever the optimist, Doob puts it this way: “The good news is that the Earth is one day going to have a beautiful system of rings, just like Saturn. The bad news is that it’s going to be messy.” The solution? Get off the planet fast, set up space colonies, perpetuate the human race using turkey basters—well, a “DNA sequence stored on a thumb drive,” anyway—and multiple moms, whence the title. Stephenson takes his time doing so, layering on a perhaps not entirely necessary game of intrigue involving a sly-boots “dusky blonde” of a president. When the yarn moves into deep space thousands of years from now, however, it picks up both speed and depth, for while humans are more diverse than ever (“Each of the seven new races had embodied more than one Strain”), the gap between the haves and have-nots has widened, piles of gold and golden eyes and all. Stephenson does a fine job, à la H.G. Wells, of imaging a future in which troglodytes live just outside the titanium walls of civilization, and though the setup is an old one, he brings a fresh vision based on the latest science to the task.
Meanwhile, all those exploding planetoids make a good argument for more STEM funding. Wise, witty, utterly well-crafted science fiction.