[The title of this questions is deliberately vague to avoid spoiling the plot]

In the second act of Seveneves, hilarity ensues because

Julia goes Machiavellian and convinces a large portion of the Cloud Ark to mutiny. The actual mutiny involves feeding false data to the system that allows the Cloud Ark to maneuver around incoming bolides, which causes a high death toll and the destruction of a very large portion of the Cloud Ark infrastructure.

However, this could have been avoided if

Markus and/or Ivy had placed Julia in isolated arrest, either upon her arrival at the Cloud Ark or as soon as her course of action became clear.

which was justified because

she had racked up an impressive number of severe offenses, namely: (i) her trip to the Cloud Ark violated the Crater Lake Accord that prohibited national leaders from joining; (ii) her trip, being unnotified and unauthorized, had endangered the integrity of the system and forced the launch of a dangerous rescue mission; (iii) during the rescue mission, she had tried to maroon Dinah in a crippled ship that was rapidly losing air (although she later claimed it had been an accident); (iv) Markus was aware that she had backdoor access to some of the critical systems of Izzy, and it soon became clear that she was actually using this power for personal gain (e.g., shutting down surveillance systems in her Arklet in order to have private meeting with her followers).


(v) by her own admission, she had zero training on the practicalities of living in the Cloud Ark; from personal experience, I can tell if you let an untrained person roam around freely in a regular lab (let alone a space station), they only two things they can do are break stuff and/or hurt themselves.

So, the question is

Why didn't Markus keep her isolated in a safe location?

If you are going to argue that

the Arkers would have seen this as a power-grab attempt on Markus' part

remember that

immediately after Julia's arrival, Markus resigned as the commander-in-chief of the Cloud Ark and embarked on a nearly suicidal mission to retrieve Ymir, taking Dinah with him; anybody willing to put his and his girlfriend's life on the line like that is clearly not seeking to remain in a position of power

  • 1
    I agree that reading through this section was horribly frustrating, and I kept seeking an out. But I think that's part of what makes the story compelling. As I was discussing with my wife last night when she said "turn that awful noise off!" while I was listening to one of the most beautiful musical pieces ever written (King Crimson's "Red"), "NICE art and BEAUTIFUL art are two completely different things, and the former is rather boring". Jul 7, 2015 at 22:07

2 Answers 2


Warning, this entire post is spoilers

Short version:

  • incarceration was not a viable option, and
  • any coercion would have had political/societal ramifications in a tiny society that needs to work together to survive

Supporting cites:

The Cloud Ark Constitution is on the light end when it comes to a criminal justice system. The issue is not so much finding a jail - any arklet would do - as having jailers (page 289):

But somewhere in [the CAC], a police force is mentioned. I grepped it. They will have to be citizen police at first - no professionals....

And, in the discussion of how to thwart Julia's plans on page 469, it's clear that even at the point of deciding to do something, they're not comfortable with their options:

"How can you put people in jail when they are already confined to tin cans?" Luisa asked. "How can you fine them when there is no money?"

"We will have to evolve solutions as we go," Sal said.

Tekla stared him down, then drew her thumb across her throat.

The text itself argues that a large concern would be the impression of a power-grab and the resultant negative effects on Markus' authority (page 297, although you should re-read 295-298 for the full treatment):

Sal: "When you give an order, what assurance do you have that it will be carried out? That is the essential question of power.

Markus: "Jawohl, counselor!"


Sal: "...it is [your] ability to physically coerce others that is the ultimate foundation of a leader's power."

Markus: "Now you're talking. And what is that for me, under the CAC?"

Sal: "You understand," Sal said, "that the more you actually call upon such persons to coerce, the less power you have, in a way. It is an admission of failure."

Now, as you point out, during the period of actual antiswarm conspiracy, Markus is not present. He's off on the mission to Ymir, and has left the reins in Ivy's hands. This actually makes the use of coercion more difficult, rather than less as you suggest.

Ivy has already been the subject of sufficient criticism (page 179, for example) that it would be ludicrously trivial for Julia's camp to draw her as John Lackland to Markus' Richard I, if she was at all heavy handed:

"What's your role on the reality TV show, Ivy?"

Ivy stared at her coolly. "I'm the uptight bitch who can't handle it."

Also illustrative is pages 240-241, which goes into some detail, culminating in:

New arrivals to the Cloud Ark, prepped by Internet comment threads and television pundits to see Ivy as a weak leader, began finding ways to make that into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And Markus, at least, is very sensitive to both Ivy's value and the need to not exacerbate the negative imagery people build up around her (page 258):

"Thank God for Ivy," Markus said. Since winning command of the Cloud Ark he had never lost an opportunity to praise her -- another skill that Doob reckoned must be inculcated into leaders in whatever mysterious Leader Academy churned them out. More likely it was an instinct.

Some commentary on the specific 'charges' you mention:

Issue (i) - Julia's trip violation of the Crater Lake Accord - is not really their problem (page 323) (and despite Ivy's speech on 341-342):

...all nation-states of Earth, and their governments and constitutions, no longer exist.... Oaths you may have taken to them, allegiances you may have held, loyalties you may have felt, citizenships you may have had are now and forever dissolved. The rights granted you by the Cloud Ark Constitution, no more and no less, are your rights. The laws and responsibilities of the Cloud Ark Constitution now bind you.

For your issue (ii), the concern is to correct the violations, not to punish based on them (again, without jails, the emphasis has to be on stopping bad behavior, not preventing potential future bad behavior through prophylactic incarceration) - on page 342, all Ivy does is tell Julia to Shut Up And Let Dinah Drive:

Your vehicle approached the Cloud Ark in a manner incompatible with our safety and security procedures, endangering the lives of everyone up here, and forcing arklets and Izzy itself to expend priceless and irreplaceable fuel to perform evasive maneuvers. We were sent here on an emergency basis, placing ourselves in harm's way and expending more scarce resources to clean up the mess that you created by your cowardly and dishonorable act. For all of these reasons I am commanding you, by my authority as the commander of this vessel, to remain silent until we have docked safely at Izzy."

For your issue (iii), the evidence is insufficient to do much with (page 349):

"...and then the force of the vacuum caught hold of the hatch, and to my horror I saw it slam shut right in front of me! ..."

Markus's eyes went to Ivy. He had been listening to Julia for a long time, and needed a break.

Ivy threw her hands up. "I was trying to fly this ungainly contraption. I didn't really understand what was happening even when Julia tried to explain it to me."

For your issue (iv), once sufficient information is available, Ivy does plan to respond, casting the response as a legitimate resource use/abuse issue rather than validating Julia's antiswarm plan on page 469:

So, our basic approach to this is going to be simple. We've identified the worst offenders, where hoarding [certain critical supplies necessary to the antiswarm] is concerned. I'm going to make an announcement in an hour, explaining how the Cloud Ark Constitution works when it comes to theft of public supplies, and I'm going to offer a twenty-four-hour amnesty during which anyone can turn in stuff that they have been hoarding. As soon as that time is up, Tekla and her team are going to move on one arklet that we know is being used as a storage dump for contraband, and they are going to restore order. And then Sal will step in, as prosecutor, and take whatever action he deems justified.

and the very next lines on page 469 take us back to the beginning of this post, and the fact that no one is comfortable with how policing will work:

"How can you put people in jail when they are already confined to tin cans?" Luisa asked. "How can you fine them when there is no money?"

"We will have to evolve solutions as we go," Sal said.

Tekla stared him down, then drew her thumb across her throat.

(Okay, well, Tekla is comfortable with it, at least. But she's the minority.)


I believe that part of the answer is that Markus and the other GP:s were still in the "pilot/astronaut/scientists on mission" mindset and not in the "pioneers forming a new community" mindset. On a regular space mission, the crew is carefully selected and trained together, and of a certain personality type, plus such missions are carried out in rather small groups. The likelihood of having to deal with mutiny or other deliberate breaking of protocol and/or regulations are infinitesimal, thus Markus and c:o more or less fail to take in the situation with Julia and take appropriate action since it is too far off from their training and previous experience. Also, under normal missions regular jurisdiction still applies so participants will be held responsible upon returning to earth.

So my belief is that even if the characters where intellectually aware of the Cloud Arc Constitution and the Crater Lake Record their mindset had not yet adapted to the new circumstances since the differences were so profound. Same for JFB, she was still following her old patterns as a politician rather than adapting to being an astronaut on a mission or a pioneer trying to save humanity. As I see it the turning point is the Council of the Seven Eves, that's when the short "mission" from the first part, to create a "cradle" or safe haven from where to repopulate Earth, ends and the long mission begins, to make it through the next 5000 years and expand humanity.

I think this aspect of the book is pure genius and raises a lot of interesting philosophical questions. At the stage where there is only 8 humans left alive (plus the Pingers and Diggers) the purpose of their existence becomes clear, to save humanity and inhabit Earth once again. As I see it, this mindset lives on and is integrated into the culture that develops in the Ring during the next 5000 years. So the biggest difference between the culture(s) that develops after Zero compared to ours is that there is no question of the meaning of life, this is not even considered a philosophical or religious question anymore since is clear to everybody and learned from childhood.

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