In this book Baxter tells the tale of the rise and fall of human kind as a series of snapshots into the lives of various members of the human evolutionary lineage. From Purga, first of the primates, scurrying between the legs of dinosaurs shortly before the Chicxulub impact through to Ultimate, the last, scratching out an existence on a neo-pangea, 500 million years hence.
I found this a thoroughly entertaining read, if not a terribly uplifiting one (there are no happy endings here), and is one of the best books I have come across in a long while. If I were forced to level criticism I might suggest that it is in places overly anthropomorphic. Also, that some of the themes, from the first half of the book in particular, are slightly repetitive, but I guess one could argue that the fundamentals of life generally boil down to a handful of criteria; eat, don't be eaten, reproduce etc...
Overall though I would thoroughly recommend this. Great storytelling from a great storyteller.
on 2 February 2003
Evolution is one of those books that causes you - weeks later -to stop and ponder your entire world. Yet again Stephen Baxter manages to educate as well as entertain the reader, as is often the case with his books you come away humbled in your existence.
Sadly many people may give up on this book as it does start a little slow and is a big read but you will be gald of that by the end so stick with it!
The story starts in the time of the dinosaurs and follows the evolution of the life forms of the time - especially the development and decendancy of one, ours. This book is fasinating to follow the many diverse forms our ancestors may have taken and may yet take.
I'm now working my way through all Baxters books, and if you also enjoy enjoy science fiction take a look at his "Manifold" series, more great reads!
on 15 January 2003
Stephen Baxter, author of the satisfyingly ambition The Time Ships, demonstrates his mastery of science fiction in this novel about the path of primate evolution across the eons. Beginning with a small, timid rodent-like primate in the late Cretaceous, we are guided beyond the great catastrophe that ended the dominance of the reptiles into the stream of mammalian development that will culminate in the emergence of our own species. Baxter takes us into the worlds of the pithecines, the Neanderthal, early Homo sapiens, and provides lavish descriptions of the environmental factors which result in growing intelligence and consciousness of life on Earth. It is in this rich background that Baxter reveals his firm grasp of the sciences and he fairly revels in speculation that is entirely plausible.
Not content with leaving the reader hanging in the early 21st century, Mr. Baxter proceeds to "run the clock forward" and takes the story of the human family far into the future, offering a window into some of the possible scenarios of life's journey across the changing Earth. All in all, Evolution is an intriguing, absorbing, and compelling look at the saga of life, the struggle of the gene, and the many possibilities of our past and future. One comes away with an intensified appreciation of humankind's heritage and the need to protect our species' home and hard-earned gains.
Baxter - one of the most inventive sci-fi authors writing today, does it again with a novel of mind-boggling scope and vision.
There is something viscerally gripping about this tale, because it is humankind's tale. From the limited consciousness of our far distant ancestors, who eventually battled their way to bloody dominance at the top of the food chain, then into a bleak and unimaginably distant future, Baxter gives the reader a scarily plausible feeling of "being there".
Through a series of vivid tableaux, set millenia or mega-years apart, Baxter illustrates with astonishing skill, the developing sentience of our species. Some of the episodes are more gripping than others, and one or two did feel a little over-long (I found chapter 15 - Rome, somewhat laboured), however, the sense of growing excitement is such that I defy any reader not to yearn for the next development in this astonishing saga of one family's lineage across the ultimate family tree.
Whilst most of the material is based on sound archaeological/anthropological knowledge and toes the traditional evolutionary line, Baxter does flirt with some delightfully speculative creations, such as tool-making sapient dinosaurs (rather like Professor Michael Magee's postulated anthroposaurus sapiens) and the air-whale. I personally would have liked Baxter to have explored this avenue a little more, with some examples of ooparts (out-of-place artefacts) or anomalous fossils, but, what the heck, let's not get too picky!
These almost 600 pages just fly past and leave the reader yearning for more. In particular, the episodes describing the adventures of "Far" and her love of running, and of the human survivors, awakening from suspended animation long beyond their own time and agreeing to meet once a year at Stonehenge, were deeply moving and will remain with me for a long time.
on 6 April 2005
The story takes you through a long journey from prehistoric times to a distant future, describing important glimpses that plots important steps in a Darwinistic evolution through short tales from individuals' lives.
It can be a bit long-winding at times but presents an interesting read and gives some clues to why we are what we are and why and what we may become. If you're a bit interested personalized stories and in evolution theory and enjoy projecting into a very distant future, I would recommend this read. If you're very deep into only "hard" SF or even evolution theory, this book might not be for you at all...
on 19 September 2003
The scope of this book is amzing, from millions of years in the past through to the end of the Earth itself millions of years in the future. Along the way we meet Purga a shrew like mammalian creature who survives the comet impact that wipes out the Dinosaurs and Purga line carries on through the ages, through early apes, tree dwelling hominids, the first humans and across the millions of years to the present day - and beyond.
The book is by nature episodic and we move through the eons meeting new characters in different ages but the book rarely fails to grip the reader.
The theme throughout is of the humans impact on the environment, hunting species to death, destroying forests and generally wiping out everything it comes into contact with. Baxter almost yearns for the teeming savannahs of bygone ages.
The book is perhaps weakest when it moves ahead in time, we witness the fall of our modern civilisation (caused by a super volcano)then jump ahead 30 million years where mankinds decendants have returned to the trees and lost their intelligence.
I don't share Baxters pessimistic view that humanity will fail, even though we are plundering the planet and wiping out species daily i think humanity will survive - but we need to get off this planet.
Overall a gripping read - i read over a few days in several sittings and had trouble putting the book down. Baxter is an excellent writer the bright hope of British SF even though his characters tend to get a little wordy at times. Excellent read.
on 9 June 2014
The cover acclaims Mr. Baxter as the heir to Arthur C. Clarke. Sir Arthur was renowned for writing science fiction that was firmly grounded in science or relatively predictable extrapolations thereof. In this book, Mr. Baxter tries something similar on a massive canvas - no less than the evolution of the human race from prehistoric past to distant future. It's a salutory reminder that we humans have been on the planet for only a tiny proportion of its life, and that evolution marches on regardless. What will humans be like in the far-distant future? WILL there be humans then? Mr. Baxter gets first prize for imagination, both for the entire concept, but also for what might be to come. The latter is not comfortable reading, but it is stimulating to reflect on the subject. We all tend to assume that we homo sapiens will always be homo sapiens. It ain't necessarily so...
Where the book falls down, in my opinion, is in its presentation. Although Mr. Baxter insists that this is not a textbook, it occasionally reads like one. This is unavoidable to some extent, as he has to provide the background for his various scenarios, but somehow I think Sir Arthur would have managed it better. In addition, the various scenarios can be a bit repetitive. Moreover, it's a very long textbook, which makes it a bit of a chore to get through, and it requires determination to see it through to the end.
Nevertheless, full marks for a respectable effort.
on 14 October 2009
This is without doubt a superb piece of work, but beware, its not a book that will fill your heart with joy. Instead we are treated to a 500 million year tour across the fight for life following the strands of the human genome from their origins at the time of the demise of the dinosaurs through to their ultimate conclusion in a depressing far future.
Bearing in mind that the protagonists for the majority of the book are unaware, it has the potential to drag, but the author has instead captured the breath taking moments that have shaped and will shape our destiny.
A fusion of solid science and captivating speculation (the tool making dinosaurs, the pocket of dinosaurs slowly dieing in a freezing Antarctica 50million years after the rest of their kind, our species imminent demise) the book never fails to captivate.
It is uncompromising, reminding us that life is tough, and is not a Disney movie, the book is exciting and interesting throughout, unless you prefer to think of humans with arose tinted hew, i would recommend starting this book immediately.
on 20 May 2006
As the other reviewers have explained, this book tells the story of humanity, starting 65 million years in the past and moving on into a distant future. We see the change through several vignettes, most following a predecessor of modern humans, providing a snapshot of a chaotic world and the slow transformation from small shrew-like creatures into...well, you and me. Some chapters also show the dead ends that mankind could have fallen into--one chapter posits that a species of dinosaur began to grope their way towards civilisation in the Jurassic, but lost their chance through nothing more than bad luck. Another follows the slow and painful extinctions of creatures trapped on Antarctica as the world cools. Yet another shows proto-humans who never had any incentive to invest in brainpower, and were lost with their habitat. The adventures of the 'protagonists' can get repetitive, but the real star in the early stories is the world in which they live.
A problem with the book, ironically, is the modern human characters, who came off to me as being either talking heads or weak stereotypes. I found that the narration was better when the exposition on what is going on was in the third person. Also, the pivotal part of the book, the total collapse of modern civilisation seemed less than convincing--all of humanity reverts to a feral state within a thousand years, somehow abandoning even basic concepts such as fire, the wheel, agriculture and language. Such a radical change really needed a chapter to itself to make it convincing.
That aside, this book has some parts that honestly qualify as mind-blowing. The presentation of the comet impact that (supposedly) wiped out the dinosaurs is presented in a way worthy of any disaster movie, conveying perfectly the global nature of the catacylsm, to a day in the life of the last human ever to exist, half a billion years from now.
It's not a comforting book--it ends with the extinction of humanity, though the humans do leave successors after a fashion. It steers clear of nihilism, though, and if it has a 'moral', it is that our actions now can influence the world more than any other time before.
Overall, a great read with some minor flaws, that works as a scholarly introduction to how humankind got here, an entertaining read that makes you want to see what happens next, and a philosophical examination of the meaning of life in a world that so often snuffs it out. Worth a look.
on 28 November 2004
Joan Useb, a primatologist, attends a conference in mid 21-st Century Australia; one that could change the future of humankind. However, she is only the middle link in a chain of beings that stretches far into the past and future. As she prepares to make her stand for what she believes, the book delves into the line of primates from which Useb has sprung, and then travels into the future to see what consequences, if any, her actions will have on humanity in the millennia to come.
I always find it a cause for reconsideration when something is described as 'epic'. What 'epic' usually translates as, in modern times, is 'long'. Epics also tend to be packed with detail, a richness of imagination that extends to a full realisation of the world being described - in other words, 'long and full of pointless, dull bits'. Shame on me for thinking such a thing. Now you know I'm a philistine, and we can move past that.
Stephen Baxter is a man of preoccupations, which crop up time and again in his work. Here, his fascination for the history of life on Earth, and the possible stories of our ancestors resurfaces. It feels like Baxter's last novel, 'Origin', was a forerunner for this tome - a testing of ideas to be more fully explored here. Indeed, this is a tremendous undertaking - trying to dramatise the history of the primates from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the end result is best described as an impressive achievement, rather than a gripping novel.
Feeling more like a collection of short stories rather than one long narrative, this is a book primarily about animals, and thus almost void of dialogue, which can take some getting used to. The separate story-bubbles floating down the river of time are linked together by the theme of cause and effect, which struggles to the surface throughout - Baxter portrays man's intellectual development almost as a quest to fully comprehend the chains of cause and effect that can save us or doom us. A turning point for the book is contained in the chapter 'Mother's People', portraying one of the first humans to understand that actions have consequences, and her actions themselves reverberate through the rest of the novel.
Whilst impressive, it is difficult to truly immerse yourself in this book. Too much of it is too similar - there is too much primate in-fighting, head-smashing, and unsolicited love-making. The time in the light with cognisant humankind is too brief. All in all, the effort that has gone into writing 'Evolution' is all but wasted on people like me, who can't help but see it as almost 800 pages about nothing but monkeys.