-- James Nicoll, rec.arts.sf.written, 1998
‘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…’
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.
-- James Nicoll, rec.arts.sf.written, 2000
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.