seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Joseph Stalin referred to writers and artists as engineers of the human soul. I can't think of a novelist more suited to that description than Neal Stephenson. He is the writer-as-engineer. Each of his gargantuan works of science fiction and alternative history pits a rugged cast of tinkers and technologists against challenges that can only be solved by the ruthless application of human ingenuity - and the occasional hastily-assembled kludge. To draw a parallel with crime genres, you might call his books engineering procedurals.

seveneves - a book that starts with the moon blowing up and proceeds a few hundred pages later to the end of the world - is perhaps the most clear example yet of this genre. Here is a scenario where the very survival of the human race depends on its makers, and the plot turns on the specifics of orbital mechanics, zero-g propulsion and genetic engineering that it takes to keep us alive, though barely; as well as on the inevitable emergence of politics among even the most rational group of human beings, when confronted by the ultimate scarcity of resources.

What might be missed amongst the satellites and thrusters is that this is a brilliantly humane book. It casts a cool and unsparing eye on the behaviours of people under pressure, but in doing so it reveals an optimism about the inherent goodness and tenacity of our species. Across its sweeping scale, over what becomes a 5,000-year timespan, this develops into a profoundly truthful book that I'd recommend to anyone who wants to understand how hard engineering nerds tick. 

Which is to say, how Neal Stepehnson ticks. His worldview is so strong it can't help leaking out through his characters. For instance, there's something of his own wry take on contemporary tech culture when he has one of our distant descendants think:

"The Old Earthers had focused their intelligence on the small and the soft, not the big and the hard, and built a civilization that was puny and crumbling where physical infrastructure was concerned, but astonishingly sophisticated when it came to networked communications and software."

Well, yes.