Firstly I should say I'm not a hardcore connoisseur of SF; I have never read Clarke before and my experience of Baxter extends only to Evolution and the Mammoth trilogy, so I cannot comment on how these compare (favourably or unfavourably) to the authrors' other similar works. However the more of these kind of books I read the more I am absorbed by them, so perhaps more accurately I am only at the beginning of a long journey into the depths of SF!
To get the negatives out of the way first, I do agree with some other reviewers that characterisation does not seem Baxter's strong suit, and that I certainly didn't feel much degree of emotional empathy for specific characters in the novel. I suppose if what you want is a hero character you can really connect with then this isn't your kind of book. However for me the distant characters detracted little from my enjoyment of the book. I didn't feel like rooting for the characters was really the point of the novel; I would even say that the authrors' treatment of them, intentionally or not, contributed to the wide-reaching view of human society he projected, rather than reducing it to something like 'the story of Kate' or one of the others. The presence of such characters, in my opinion, is merely as tools to add some background fabric to the novel and give it directionality; a point to return to as it progressed, like an anchor for the reader admidst the other far-flung contents of the book. I actually found this a refreshing change from books that try to reveal an epic concept via the blow-by-blow emotional experiences single character, which just makes the whole thing sound too egotistical and contrived for me. Perhaps what I'm trying to say is that in a book which at different times has you seeing human lives as tiny and insignificant and at others viewing humankind as a whole like a single entity, it seemed acceptable to me that no one character jumped out as more deep and attractive than any other.
The rest of the book I loved. I can understand why the style might seem too 'choppy' for some readers, jumping forward months at a time without warning and switching between different people, places, times, applications of the 'WormCam'... all seemingly at random. But I felt like this actually worked as a representation of the broad reaches of such a hypothetical technology. It gave the impression of a chaotic world in which the new WormCam technology was being applied in every direction at once, and it also represented how people's interests differ - what's the first thing you'd want to see? It probably isn't the same as the next person's priorities. In some ways it's like an analogy for the spread of the internet; once it took off and became public domain, its uses were applied in a million different directions at once. I'm not sure how else the authors could represent a similar phenomenon with the WormCam WITHOUT jumping from snippet to snippet to give this impression of chaotic advancement - to create separate books to delve into each of these ideas would ruin the effect of many things happening simultaneously, of the overwhelming flood of information and truth that would come crashing down all at once in a world newly introduced to their proposed WormCam technology.
The crux of my feeling is this. To me there are two kinds of great reads. First there are the 'can't put it down' books, which tend to be fast-paced, unpredictable, full of suspense and action - in other words, the page-turners you devour in one sitting because every chapter is a cliffhanger. And they are great, but once read the details are soon forgotten. Then there are the books with the massive concepts, the ones that broaden your thinking - slower, methodical, ones you have to take your time with to assimilate the ideas as if patiently training the mind to think in a new direction. These latter are the ones you find yourself thinking about at odd times during the day, and that you finish the very last paragraph of then sit in awe for a moment, and often return to in thought for weeks or months afterward. The books you feel changed by. The best compliment I could give this book is that for me it is seated firmly in the latter category. I gave me the feeling I have come to associate with Baxter's work of feeling saddened, small, humble, hopeless, yet somehow exhilirated and strangely at peace with the wonderful weirdness of humanity and its scary yet amazing potential at the same time. THAT is the emotional impact of this kind of novel for me, and it is more powerful than any passing attachment to an idealised fictional character.