Apart from a triffling complaint about a cookie-cutter villain in the second act, I thought this was fantastic. It’s no surprise that it was nominated for a Hugo in 2016. And it’s a wonderfully unexpected direction for Stephenson.
His ideas in the past have always been so far “out there” that I would never have predicted that he would write a novel centered around something as mundane and boringly current as the International Space Station. Indeed we do get a glimpse of old Stephenson form in the last third or so of the book. But mostly he works the subject like it’s something right out of vintage 1970s hard-SF classics. This is very much in the territory of Larry Niven, Frederick Pohl and Philip K. Dick.
One New York Times reviewer seemed to misunderstand the reason for the narrative-heavy tech descriptions. To me, Stephenson was not saying, “Here’s a bunch of nerdy stuff for hard-SF fans to wallow in.” He was saying, “The society this event would create is so alien that we can barely understand it. The technical descriptions give us a common basis for making an attempt to comprehend who these people are and what drives them.”
Good stuff. 5/5 stars.