on 6 September 2001
It is difficult to review a book that spans almost 9000 years of future history. Baxter has revived Malenfant, the old NASA astronaut, and has placed him next to a strange Japanese woman who cant seem to die.
Baxter's ideas are phenomenal though and the book is evenly paced with action to give an excellent read for a space buff but not for a romantic novel reader. His scientific knowledge is great and this book seriously makes you think about the future and what would happen if there were alien contact. He also tries to answer the question of why there has not been contact as yet.
Some parts of the book seem to have been added in order to make a story out of a string of pseudo-facts but it is a good attempt and quite readable. You do sometimes wonder after reading a few tens of pages - now what was that for?
I could not put the book down and enjoyed it right up to the final page which reveals and excellent twist to the whole tale.
on 2 March 2008
"Space" is the second book in Stephen Baxter's Manifold trilogy, and a sequel of sorts to "Time", although it can also be read independently. Once again the central character is Reid Malenfant, an ex-NASA astronaut and failed entrepreneur. Obsessed with the search for extraterrestrial life, Malenfant seeks a solution to the Fermi paradox: given that the universe is billions of years old, if life exists out in the cosmos, why don't we see the evidence of it all about us? Thus when alien intelligence is detected out in the asteroid belt, Malenfant takes it upon himself to investigate, to make contact and ultimately to follow them back to the stars, through the mysterious blue portals through which they came.
The action unfolds over no less than 1,800 years, from the present day up to the thirty-eighth century, with the final, epic conclusion set another 5,000 years after that. In this way Baxter lays out a compelling vision of the possible long-term effects of Earth's contact with aliens. Unlike in "Time", where he employs an interesting mix of faux newspaper articles, blogs and journal entries to tell his story, in "Space" he sticks to a more conventional third-person narrative. The story is related through the perspective of four or five main characters, all of whom use the portals to travel to the stars and see life beyond Earth, and who, over the course of many years, become witnesses to the gradual decline of human civilisation.
The story is episodic in nature, and has the impression of a number of short stories loosely linked together. This can be frustrating for the reader, as there are enough intriguing ideas packed in this book to sustain half a dozen different novels. Each successive world is imaginatively drawn - from Earth, Io, Triton and Mercury to Alpha Centauri and far beyond - but Baxter tends to pass over them all very quickly, which does become tiresome. There comes a point about two-thirds of the way in when one wonders what the ultimate point is. Another result of the disjointed nature of the novel is that is difficult to feel fully engaged with the characters or get a sense of their development in these extraordinary circumstances. It is disappointing, too, that Malenfant - in principle a fascinating character - does not feature more, despite his centrality to the story. However, it is clear that this is not meant to be a character-driven novel so much as one based around ideas. Indeed "Space" has at its heart themes of human ambition and determination, consciousness and identity, self and soul, and the will to survive in a hostile universe, all of which are explored in depth.
In "Space", the author shows an imagination and consideration of the big questions of existence which is not often seen in most modern SF. It is true that there is less hard science and more scientifically-informed speculation than there was in "Time", but Baxter delivers it with such confidence that it hardly matters. This is truly a novel for the twenty-first century.
on 10 May 2007
If you like hard science fiction then this is for you. If not then look away now. Hard science fiction means degree level physics and beyond, philosophy and free ranging imagination. It often also means paper thin characters and wobbly plot, and I'm afraid this isn't really an exception.
The story is about ET intelligence, why it isn't there and what this means for the way that the universe is. Lots of first contact stuff, both good and bad. Lots of ideas about how to colonise the galaxy given all the physical constraints of getting from a to b, and making the best of b once you're there. The vision stuff is great - rolling out the future development of mankind, imagining the real grit of living on another world and extrapoloting text book ideas into real life. But it comes to something when the stone age cave men have as much depth and personality as the modern world heroes. And the plot falls over towards the end, as the vision gets stretched right out into the far future.
This made me think about a whole load of issues, which is great. But it was a bit of a slog towards the end.
on 8 August 2007
Manifold is a series of books with big, visionary concepts, and Space is no different. This time the twist on the Fermi paradox has the aliens existing and actually quite near the Earth. Reid Malenfant investigates with a mysterious Japanese scientist Nemoto. The first contact is made and the truth starts to unfurl...
As I said, the ideas are big - seriously big. The flow of the story isn't always fast enough, it all gets a bit too slow at times. Still, one has to admire Baxter's vision and while parts of the book were slightly boring, the whole of the story was definitely captivating enough to get me through the slower bits.
Manifold: Space offers an interesting what-if scenario of the future of humankind in a world that has extraterrestrial life.
on 10 August 2010
Wow! I have been on a journey through the cosmos! I loved it so much I didn't want to come back. It was a shame that this book ended and I had to drop back into the 21st century.
Baxter sent me to the centre of the universe. I lived through thousands of years by jumping great expanses of time and space through star gates - `saddle points' that transported me light years from earth to experience the equation of life. Over centuries a story unfolded about how humanity evolved, stagnated, digressed and re-evolved through a complex relationship with a group of aliens known as the Gaijin. I truly felt part of that relationship on my journey with Baxter's characters, I bought into this possible future, where my comrades mission was to refine ancient alien technology to stop the repetition of the entropic destruction of the many universes we inhabit.
It's highly unlikely that I would be able to travel amongst the stars so this book gave me a unique insight of what it could possibly be like. Baxter supplied lots of scientific information to back up the story line and complex psychological plot lines that touched on the transpersonal aspect of the human soul and the meaning of life.
What would really happen if humanity was visited by a race of intelligent beings from another galaxy? How would humanity develop from this complex interaction?
This book has the answers and raises debate on how mankind's evolutionary biology can help us to realise greater potential and how it can also prevent us from seeing the bigger picture, here we experience the id, ego and superego battling each other and preventing humanity from transcending to greater heights.
Mr Baxter is a true visionary who foresees the pitfalls and the advantages of intergalactic interaction. He embodies the mystic character of Nemoto, the one human being in the book that has the ability to foresee the endgame, through her voice he attempts to bring wisdom to the reader and affect an evolutionary reprogramming - updating psychic templates - a mental reboot and a universal one. Many thanks a great read, can't wait to read Origin.
on 28 September 2008
This is the second book in Baxter's tetralogy "Manidold" the scope of which is to find answers to the Fermi paradox. But Space is the only one which really provides a propable answer (if we except "Time"'s answer that yes we are alone) while the third and fourth books (origins and Phase Space) give abswers that are interesting but scientifically not so propable.
But Space do give a propable answer: telling a story with a journey through thousands of years in the future the answer is yes there are many aliens in the universe but most of them are destroying themselves through war or ecological distructions (humans are a candidate for such a future!!). But some of them escape this fate and they finally make it to the stars as the expansion in space is the only means to sustain themselves finding new recources. But travelling in sublight speeds they need thousands of years to cover some hundreds of light years and so the possibility to meet eachother is rather small. It does happen but not everyday. But even they will be finally destroyed from cosmic events like supernova explosions or the collapase of neutron stars which can destroy life across many light years! To say it in one world allthough many life forms exist in the universe the is no TIME to meet eachother and even if they will meet others the most propable result will be the anihillation of one race from another in this continuing expansion for recources.
But Baxter also tells us another story embedded in the first one: the story of the continual fail of humanity to see in the long term to make longterm planning in one world the story of a blinkered humanity. And this is also, unfortunatelly, true.
All in all this a book that will make you rethink our place in the universe and our future.
on 14 September 2000
'Space' is the second installment in Baxters loosely linked trilogy, and far surpasses the previous book 'Time' in readability, characterisation, and above all, credibility.
The book attempts to address Femi's Paradox regarding extraterrestrial life (if they existed, they would be here), when mankind discovers that the universe is not only inhabited, but in fact teeming with life, a stark contrast to its predecessor. This time Reid Malefant plays a more credible role as the story unfolds rather than being the overly worked protagonist who takes sometimes unfathomable actions given the sometimes equally baffling circumstances. Other characters in the book are better developed than 'Time', and share a greater role in the overall scheme of things, making the reader think that maybe such events could be possible after all. (Why after all would the near future of the species revolve soley around 1 man?) Even the miscellaneous aliens involved seem within the realms of reason, and there are no overly enthusiastic references to '2001 A Space Oddessy' to make you cringe, although in fairness, Baxter was probably working on his recent collaboration with Clarke at the time.
Baxters books, as always, have an interesting conclusion and point to make at the very end, which is both a credit to his storytelling skills, and realisation that his audience wants something more than "and they all lived happily ever after." Again we are not dissapointed, being made to feel both glad and dismayed at the climax, where the grand finale rationale is revealed (spoilers witheld).
Overall, if you enjoyed 'Time', you'll absolutely love 'Space', and be left hanging impatiently for the final installment of the trilogy. Go out and buy this now, and see why Baxter is by far one of the best science fiction writers publishing today.
on 15 September 2010
I read Flood first, and although I enjoyed the apocolyptic vision, I found the characters unlikeable and generally poor excuses for humanity. The author doesn't seem overly sympathetic to his cast, or indeed having much faith in peoples ability to pull together.
So, I gave Space a chance regardless and it seemed a lot less ridiculous in its premise, despite being much more 'out there' in terms of science fiction. Again, I found myself a bit disapointed in the characterisation. The main protaganists seem hand led along by the plot rather than making any concious or selfless choices and are grimly humourless at every turn. The main 'hero' is painted in a way that we are almost presumed to know he's a 'good guy', even though he doesn't do anything particularly selfless initially. He might be a fondly imagined hero in the authors own mind, but that isn't translated onto the page. Some fantastic ideas in here, but by God, he gives human beings short thrift.
Lets just say if I was catapulted around the galaxy at light speed, it would be with a whoop of excitement and no little wonder. These guys just seem a bit downtrodden and depressed by the whole thing, and not in the least concerned by what happens to our poor planet while they're away sightseeing for hundreds of years.
Space is full of stars, but not much heart.
on 26 July 2004
For my money, this is the best of Baxter's highly variable output. My main grouch is that the title is wrong. This is the book in the manifold series that should be called 'Time'! Baxter conveys a wonderful impression of the depth and strangeness of the future. By contrast, although there is plenty of star hoping, the book's main action centres on the solar system itself.
The chief challenge in any novel spanning centuries and millennia is to maintain a continuity of story. How do you sustaina point of view or the audience's connection with character? We could probably have a long debate on the different techniques used in science fiction: longevity, family trees, hibernation, even reincarnation (thanks to Kim Stanley Robinson), etc.
In Space, Baxter relies partly on longevity and a form of hibernation (characters go off-line while traveling between the stars) but he never really solves the problem. The story is episodic, like a collection of connected short stories.
Nonetheless, Baxter is endlessly inventive - an idea a page and many are highly original: a nuclear reactor manned by neanderthals, vacuum flowers, tunnels to the centre of the moon, trees in orbit, seas on triton, a galactic ecology ...
Space is also a thorough working through of the Fermi paradox. If life is abundant (which we would expect) where are they? The answer is a depressing and endless cycle of expansion, exploitation, collapse and sterilization. Sometimes this point is hammered home too hard and too frequently. But equally, and subtly, Baxter draws parallels between the earth-bound and intersteller histories. You're never lost in a stark, sterile 'future history' (a la Stapledon) but very much mired in the muck and blood of human life.
Space is eerie, evocative, thought provoking and, ultimately, depressing. Like so much of Baxter's work, it is a challenge to our sense of place in the universe. As such it can be a painful read, but it sticks with you.
on 13 September 2010
I've been appreciating sci fi books since the early offerings of Asimov and Clark to the excellent works of Hamilton but this rubbish from Baxter is truly awful. I gave it my best and read all three books in the hope that there would be some merit, conclusion, thoughtful speculation or even a reasonable entertaining romp, but you can expect nothing except vague ideas, flawed characters and some borrowed iteration from the masters. . The sporadic interesting bits (eg Nasa) and they were sporadic just gave the reader some hope that there would be an improvement, but no such luck... Do not waste your time with this "series" unless it's a dare or a choice between reading them or sticking pins in your eyes... Try Hamilton, Asimov, Herbert, Huxley, Clark, Ballard... anybody..