9 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars
Walking the plank off the side of science fiction, 9 Sept. 2006
I suppose it only made sense, after reading the previous two books, for Baxter to have wound up here. I mean, after Exultant, what was really left? I was hoping he would have tied things together, and continued the story. Instead, we fast forward from "now" to 500,000 years from now (whereas Exultant was 25,000 years from today, and coalescent was -1,500 years from today). Like the other two books, we have two plot threads. The nearer takes place in the near term future, in a somewhat contrived description of a pre-global-warming-apocalypse earth, with Yet Another Damn Poole taking the lead role (a bit like his Reid Malenfant in the Manifold series, which I grew to detest).
The other thread is what most irritated me. While I appreciated his grand tour of the possibilities of human evolution, I was put off by his wide-eyed speculation and what-if's. Many of the things he describes are fundamentally plausible, in the way that drag racing possibilities can be speculated on paper. But they ring hollow. Sure, you can described silicon-based life, but is it plausible? And the humans-made-dolphins (again, from Manifold) show up again, being equally silly this time around.
But, that's not really the worst of the book. Towards the end, the book lapses into navel-gazing, much in the way Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion does in the later part of the series. Sadly, it's just as hard to wrap your head around. The philosophical meandering doesn't make much sense, and seems to have very little to do with the previous books, or indeed the rest of the Xeelee Sequence. Certainly it's a departure from Ring, which was frankly an impressive epic set in the same sequence. But, really, what choice did he have by setting the environment half a million years from now?
The "contemporary" thread (set in the 2050's) is... "interesting," but also seems to borrow from the Malenfant stick figure he has developed elsewhere (and indeed the Peter character from Coalescent re-appears in this book with a different name, but the same physical description, neuroses, and agenda), as well as the notions in John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up. Sure, it made sense in Brunner's take on things, but we've _read_ that already. There's no sense in an educated engineer getting all misty eyed about global warming in a book set half a million years in the future.
So, sadly, the last book (although a fourth book, with short stories from the rest of the Coalescent books, has just been published) finishes the series by wobbling between "why am I reading this" and "this is just entirely silly."
Exultant is worth a read, but could probably be thrown into the Xeelee Sequence and read alongside Ring. Coalescent and Transcendant, I could do without.