Any novel consists of three basic elements: setting, characters, and plot/storyline. Stephenson has conjured up a moderately interesting plot and some unique characters that fill about 100 pages of this 800+ page book. The rest is setting, and that’s way too much. Stephenson is determined to share with us an elaborately imagined post-apocalyptic world (and exo-world) in almost infinite detail. There is no denying that he is a skillful and prolific writer, but his obsession with writing epic-length novels simply doesn’t work here. It was actually a fairly quick read since I was able to skim and skip a great deal of it without missing anything important so far as I could tell.
I had to strain to give this a three-star rating. I was expecting science fiction and got fantasy. The characters and story are more akin to Tolkien than to something like The Martian. The richly imagined world is too silly, too tinkertoy to be credible or even slightly plausible. Even the apocalypse itself doesn’t make sense from a physics standpoint. It was only the author’s skill in narrative that held me to the end and then only barely. I loved Cryptonomicon and enjoyed Reamde but I’m afraid this book has put me off the author for a while.