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Books : reviews

Stephen Baxter.
Titan.
1997

BTW, folks would better off dipping their heads in a bucket of liquid N2 and battering them against a tree very very hard than reading Baxter's Titan. It would not surprise me if reading that book causes birth defects.
... This is the sort of book that justifies fatwahs. If WWIII occured right now, we could die happy knowing Baxter would never write again. If a dinosaur killing asteroid was headed for Earth and I knew Baxter had another book coming up, I would campaign for letting the rock hit, since it is obviously the work of a benovelent deity trying to save us from another Titan.

-- James Nicoll, rec.arts.sf.written, 1998

Stephen Baxter.
Traces.
Voyager. 1998

Contents

Traces. 1991
Darkness. 1995
The Droplet. 1989
No Longer Touch the Earth. 1993
Mittelwelt. 1998
Journey to the King Planet. 1990
The Jonah Mna. 1989
Downstream. 1993
The Blood of Angels. 1994
Columbiad. 1996
Brigantia's Angels. 1995
Weep for the Moon. 1992
Good News. 1994
Something for Nothing. 1988
In the Manner of Trees. 1992
Pilgrim 7. 1993
Zemlya. 1996
Moon Six. 1997
George and the Comet. 1991
Inherit the Earth. 1992
In the MSOB. 1996

Arthur C. Clarke, Stephen Baxter.
The Light of Other Days.
Tor. 2000

Stephen Baxter.
Deep Future.
Gollancz. 2001

Stephen Baxter.
Ages in Chaos: James Hutton and the discovey of Deep Time.
Tom Doherty. 2003

Stephen Baxter.
The H-Bomb Girl.
Faber and Faber. 2007

Stephen Baxter.
Proxima.
Gollancz. 2013

‘If you succeed, no, when you succeed in taming this wilderness, this world of Proxima Centauri, you will have proven that mankind can colonise this ultimate frontier, a planet of a red dwarf star. And because there are hundreds of billions of red dwarf stars, and because they’ll last trillions of years, suddenly mankind’s future in this Galaxy is all but infinite. And it will all be because of you.’

‘But there’s a catch.’

‘Everybody wants to be a pioneer, you see. The first on the moon, like Armstrong. The first on Mars, like Cao Xi. Or they want to be a citizen of the tamed worlds of the future. Nobody wants to be a settler. Labouring to break the ground and build a farm. Their children growing up in a cage of emptiness.’

‘Which is where you come in…’

Stephen Baxter.
Coalescent.
2003

Stephen Baxter.
The Wheel of Ice.
BBC Books. 2012

The Wheel. A ring of ice and steel around a moon of Saturn, home to a mining colony supplying Earth. It’s a bad place to grow up.

The colony has been plagued by problems, and there are stories of mysterious creatures glimpsed aboard the Wheel. Many of the younger workers refuse to go down the warren-like mines anymore. And then young Phee Laws, surfing Saturn’s rings, saves an enigmatic blue box from destruction.

Aboard the Wheel, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find themselves caught in a mystery that goes right back to the creation of the solar system. A mystery that could kill them all.

Stephen Baxter.
Mammoth: Silverhair.
1999

Oh and while Titan is so bad you will wish you had been swarmed by fire ants and consumed entirely, it is Tolstoy compared to his book about the noble mammoths struggling with the evil vodka swilling post-Soviet Russians ...

-- James Nicoll, rec.arts.sf.written, 2000

Stephen Baxter.
Time: Manifold 1.
1999

Stephen Baxter.
Vacuum Diagrams.
Voyager. 1997

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 6 June 1999

Stephen Baxter's ambitious Xeelee sequence spans the entire lifetime of the universe. This collection of short stories, some of which are extensively fixed-up from their first publication, highlights moments from that history. At the end a useful timeline helps to keep the reader oriented.

If you like your stories short on characterisation, but long on hard science, with the odd paragraph of lecturing thrown in here and there -- "A complex massive Klein-Gordon scalar field will be produced, with no self-interaction save through gravity..." -- then these are for you. I particularly enjoyed the early "hard biology" stories, set a couple of thousand years in the future, with humans exploring the Solar System, and finding bizarre life forms everywhere. (These to me felt like a cross between Stanley Weinbaum and Bob Forward.) The latter stories veer more towards "hard physics" tales, as the war between baryonic life and dark matter life results in some mind-boggling engineering feats.

I have a few small niggles: I find it hard to believe that in 3500 years' time, people will still have names like Eve and Jack, and that they will talk in terms of the Lynden-Bell analysis of the Jeans instability, and other 20th century physics concepts. But these are fairly minor quibbles: the stories are fun and interesting.

Contents

The Sun-People. == The Sun-Person. 1993
Sculptor 472 is born in changing times. The Sun People are destroying their way of life.
The Logic Pool. 1994
Godel's incompleteness theorem shows we will always be able to add new axioms to our mathematical systems: but which ones should we add?
Gossamer. 1995
Pluto and Charon are tidally locked -- which might allow an interesting evolutionary development.
Cilia-of-Gold. 1994
One crater on sun-scorched Mercury is always in the dark, safe from the sun.
Lieserl. 1993
There's something wrong with the sun, so Lieserl has to grow up fast.
Pilot. == ~~ Chiron. 1993
Anna Gage goes to Chiron, and then even further, to escape the Squeem Occupation.
The Xeelee Flower. 1987
How Jones made a discovery that helped end the Squeem Occupation.
More Than Time or Distance. 1988
A human and an alien discover a Xeelee instantaneous communication artifact -- who will get to keep this priceless treasure?
The Switch. 1990
Xenotechnologists are always on hand to look for Xeelee artifacts, but aren't always the most popular crew members.
Blue Shift. 1989
Jim Bolder is employed by the Qax to fly a Xeelee ship to the Great Attractor.
The Quagma Datum. 1989
Luce investigates the ancient Lithium-7 event, beating the Silver Ghosts to the race by using the new Supersymmetry drive.
Planck Zero. 1992
Jack Raoul discovers the Silver Ghosts are experimenting with quagma, which might bring down the wrath of the Xeelee on everyone.
The Godel Sunflowers. 1992
What is the secret of the giant Snowflake artifact?
Vacuum Diagrams. 1990
The strange human Paul is linked somehow to the Xeelee "Sugar Lump" -- a giant cubical artifact.
Stowaway. == (rev. from Raft). 1991
Rees is born a miner, seemingly condemned to a short harsh life in cripplingly high gravity. But he stows away on the strange supply vessel.
The Tyranny of Heaven. 1990
The enormous star fleet, the Exaltation of the Integrality, makes its way to Bolder's Ring, preaching a message of peace with the Xeelee to all it finds on its way.
Hero. 1995
Modified humanity has regressed after the Core Wars, but there is still a Hero with his suit to save people.
Shell. == ~~ The Bark Spaceship. 1987
Young Allel dreams of travelling from Home to the Shell overhead.
The Eighth Room. 1989
The Sun is cooling, dying. Teal tries to fix it, but fails. Then his grandmother Allel tells him of the fabled Eighth Room in the north
Secret History. 1991
The Xeelee project is complete, and Paul discovers what the Sugar Lump is for.
The Baryonic Lords. 1991
Erwal rediscovers the Eighth Room, and the waiting spaceship. But she doesn't know that the Qax are lying in wait.
Eve. == The Soliton Star. 1996
Linking story used as (very slight) glue to hold the rest together as a future history.