Being a longtime member of the congregation of Stewart Brand, I have been following the Long Now Foundation and its tentacles in recent years; one of these is The Interval at Long Now, the coffee shop cum bar cum thinkers lounge cum library in San Francisco (where I’m pretty certain I could set up a cot and never leave).
Long Now has a speaker series called The Conversations at The Interval that has included as interesting a collection of great minds as you’ll find anywhere; back in 2015, or 02015 as the Long Nowistas style their years, Neal Stephenson spoke about his then-recently-released book Seveneves (which, oddly but somehow appropriately, you can read here in its entirety). I’d known of Stephenson for a long time, but had never read anything he’d written. His talk was so compelling, however, that I put Seveneves on reserve at the public library.
In an uncharacteristic marathon of reading–more analog pages than I’ve read in years–I finished the last page this morning, over breakfast at Receiver Coffee.
I loved it.
Maybe you will too?
Here’s how it starts:
The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. It was waxing, only one day short of full. The time was 05:03:12 UTC. Later it would be designated A+0.0.0, or simply Zero.
An amateur astronomer in Utah was the first person on Earth to realize that something unusual was happening. Moments earlier, he had noticed a blur flourishing in the vicinity of the Reiner Gamma formation, near the moon’s equator. He assumed it was a dust cloud thrown up by a meteor strike. He pulled out his phone and blogged the event, moving his stiff thumbs (for he was high on a mountain and the air was as cold as it was clear) as fast as he could to secure the claim to himself. Other astronomers would soon be pointing their telescopes at the same dust cloud—might be doing it already! But—supposing he could move his thumbs fast enough—he would be the first to point it out. The fame would be his; if the meteorite left behind a visible crater, perhaps it would even bear his name.
His name was forgotten. By the time he had gotten his phone out of his pocket, his crater no longer existed. Nor did the moon.
When he pocketed his phone and put his eye back to the eyepiece of his telescope, he let out a curse, since all he saw was a tawny blur. He must have knocked the telescope out of focus. He began to twiddle the focus knob. This didn’t help.
Finally he pulled back from the telescope and looked with his naked eyes at the place where the moon was supposed to be. In that moment he ceased to be a scientist, with privileged information, and became no different from millions of other people around the Americas, gaping in awe and astonishment at the most extraordinary thing that humans had ever seen in the sky.
In movies, when a planet blows up, it turns into a fireball and ceases to exist. This is not what happened to the moon. The Agent (as people came to call the mysterious force that did it) released a very large amount of energy, to be sure, but not nearly enough to turn all the moon’s substance into fire.