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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on 6 May 2010
This omnibus of some of Stephen Baxter's earlier novels: Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux and Ring is great value. If you are a fan of hard SF and/or Stephen Baxter, it's well worth it.

All four are standalone novels which are loosely bound as the Xeelee sequence.

The first novel, Raft, is also Baxter's debut. As such, it is a little rough in some areas. Mainly (and in fairness, he won't be the first SF writer to suffer from this) in that the characterisation is a little weak. In this, I think it's mainly that the hero looks too perfect next to the almost uniformly gormless people he encounters (not quite, but you get my drift). The story itself is pacy and fun. The ideas it has are clever and believable (Baxter is a scientist). The people in the story are trapped in a universe where gravitational force is much higher than it is here. This is handled in an interesting way. Great stuff.

Timelike Infinity follows on, but is, as I said, standalone. This one is concerned with cause and effect and considers the future of the human race and its subjugation and how these things happening. Potentially head mangling, but handled well. Characterisation slightly better in this!

Flux is my favourite for the ideas in it. It features a group of artificially engineered nano-scale humans that live below the surface of a neutron star. They are part of the fight the humans are engaged with against the mysterious Xeelee. This is in the background, though, given the smaller scale it's not necessary to know the rest of the story. This is, ironically, the one I found most convincing in its characterisation, given that the people aren't old-style humans! The story starts off looking like it's about saving the main character's family, but moves on to encompass their world and beyond. Great stuff.

Ring is the final book in this sequence. It seeks to wrap things up. It's even more ambitious than the other 3, great stuff. There are two plots, running parallel in this novel - following an AI left in the sun to examine it, and that of a "generation ship" with a number of different factions. Through these the novel seeks to wrap up the story of the Xeelee - the other novels have hinted at there being a wider conflict between the Xeelee and humans; in this we find what it is that the Xeelee have been up to all the time and learn some unfortunate truths (for the humans!) about what they have been involved with and what it means for the human race (and indeed, all life). There are more scientific musings on quantum physics and the nature of observable reality.

Apart from the sometimes weak characterisation, the one other criticism of this group of novels is that there is (much in the tradition of hard SF) a lot of info-dumping. I didn't mind, but watch out if you find this objectionable.

As I say, it's good value, and in spite of the criticisms (weak characters and info-dumping) it's worth its 5 stars. The stories are interesting and rollicking good fun.


Incidentally, if you like these novels, Vacuum Diagrams is an anthology of short stories set in the same universe.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 November 2014
A long, dry slog of a read in some parts. If you're not into very hard sci-fi with embedded lectures on theoretical physics, this book is not for you.

Raft: A good read, but slightly confusing. Where is this? Who are these people? Turns into a world-building exercise rather than a novel for a while, then goes back to a narrative.

Timelike Infinity: Makes more sense than the rest. Human-centric, easy to identify with most of the characters.

Flux: Confusing and hard to identify with. A segue in world-building, mostly irrelevant to the setting and long-term narrative. Lots of lectures.

Ring: Even more lectures. Has the feel of retcon to it in places. Makes some amount of sense, but tends to derail into long lectures about astrophysics, quantum physics, and black holes. Ties together the rest of the series somewhat loosely, and mostly in passing.

This makes good use of the Kindle's dictionary lookup feature. May also need to be interspaced with browsing Wikipedia to make sense of things if you don't have much of an education in physics.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 May 2011
I've always loved Stephen Baxter, who indeed reminds me a lot of the great Arthur C. Clarke, only with more energy than that great man had towards the end of his phenomenal career. I stumbled upon FLUX years ago when it first came out and loved the relentless merge of hard science and brilliant speculation with ferociously clear imagination. Only not until more recently did I note how it fits into the grand sequence of Baxter's extraordinary future histories. I'd also obtained VACUUM DIAGRAMS and not read it all--that had given me a foretaste of this magnificent volume... and a recent re-look at VACUUM DIAGRAMS led to further research on today's Internet.

So: I decided to methodically explore. RAFT reminded me initially of Niven's THE INTEGRAL TREES in that it takes place in atmospheric conditions without what we consider a planetary body... however, much as I adore the Smoke Ring and all, this is another sort of bid. At any rate, Baxter's superb story-telling, clarity, and remorseless sense of plot, irony, dare I say stardust destiny (?) is delightful.

Among the greatest appeals of this entire arc of stories and books is that Baxter takes us into his plausible version of our Universe + perhaps a fe others, that teems with Life. Just as the Earth itself teems, from high atmosphere to deep in the rocky crust, pol-to-pole, the baxter cosmos of the Xeelee and humans from "Big Bang" to Eternity brims with living things of endless variety.

Bravo and kudos to Mr. Baxter!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 January 2014
It was like stepping back to when I first started reading science fiction all those years ago.It was a good read and I really enjoyed itl
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 January 2013
I wouldn't say i was a die-hard sci-fi fan by any means, usually i just skim terry pratchetts, but this series was near perfect just as a story, and the in depth theoretical speculations about new universes etc. only served to enhance this.
An absolutely great read for anyone who likes a good yarn, a wee bit of thinking and doesn't mind the occasional impossibility :D
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on 6 August 2014
Got into these after picking up Raft at a charity shop and thinking it was decent. Overall thought they were all good - some better than others. Flux was perhaps the best of them, and Ring provided a lot of answers to questions I'd had storing up throughout the other three. Maybe had them in the wrong order (I'd have kicked off with Timelike Infinity, not Raft).

As I believe others have said, it can be heavy going at times. Physics has never really been my forte so there were a few bits I didn't quite follow, but even if you share my aversion to the subject you should be able to follow it.

On the downside... throughout the books, so many things are mentioned in passing, but never elaborated upon, and that always left me wanting to know more. More about the people, about the past that brought them here, what the future (even next week) holds, events in the wider universe. Almost as if you're looking at a thin crust of ice and trying to work out what the lake underneath is like.
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on 11 December 2013
Baxter is a genuinely fantastic author who has played with the best parts of why I enjoy sci-fi: taking a simple concept and exploring what that would mean for human society if it were different from what we know today.

He shows how humanity is not the physical stuff that we are made of, but a recognition of humanity. Epic sci-fi of the best calibre.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Xeelee omnibus

This is a long review covering four novels from Stephen Baxter's Xeelee sequence, so the short version goes thus

It is hard SF with some great ideas in it
It deals with things on the grandest possible scale
The story telling and characterisation are somewhat on the mediocre, repetitive side
Of the four novels here, Timelike Infinity is the strongest, followed by Ring and Flux, with Raft bringing up the rear

As a whole, the collection had me thinking of another subdivision within SF, that of SCIENCE fiction. Odd? Well there is science fiction which verges towards fantasy, Frank Herbert's Dune, for example. Then, much of what we call SF is really, when we think of it, Technology Fiction, it is about future use of technology, most of cyberpunk, and much "hard SF" and space opera would appear in this bucket. Stephen Baxter's writing is much more science based, playing with and extrapolating from basic laws of science. At its least successful, this means that sometimes sections of these novels read a bit like an A level physics lesson, or the first year of an undergraduate maths course. The first story here has a character working out the periodicity of a pendulum. At its most successful it means he comes up with some genuinely original ideas; an artificial civilisation established in the crust of a neutron star?

There are common themes which appear in these novels, in both Raft and in Flux the central character starts as a humble outsider and develops to gain acceptance by society. This is perhaps suggestive of something in the author's own view of himself.

These are also stories rooted in a British liberal tradition, Baxter sympathises with those in the lower strata of society, economically and/or politically oppressed, but is also dubious about the benefits of revolution and the motives of its leaders.

Finally, in general terms, this is definitely ideas and action driven fiction, it is not character based. Even in the longer novels in the collection, Baxter's cast remain stereotypical and shallow.


Raft is set in some form of pocket universe where gravity is stronger, and a group of humans have been stranded. Their society has become stratified into those who live on a giant plate, developed from the remains of the original starship, a lower class who work the surrounding mines, and the sinister half mythological Boneys who live deep in the nebula above which the Raft floats.

With its giant flying forests, emphasis on orbital dynamics, and portrait of a society which has lost its scientific edge, Raft owes an enormous debt to Larry Niven's Integral Trees and Smoke Ring.

It is a fairly standard story of a highly intelligent boy, Rees, born into poverty as a miner, but rising through society to lead its escape from a collapsing nebula. On its own, it is probably a three star book. Interestingly, it is not until the third story in the collection, Flux, that there is any hint of how Raft links to the universe of the other stories.

Timelike Infinity

My favourite of the stories here, Timelike Infinity is rooted in the speculative physics of wormholes, singularities, multiverses and time travel. As such it is the closest to traditional Hard SF or Space Opera.

The primary locations are two periods in the future, one where humanity has developed wormhole technology and is a free species expanding into an emergingly hostile universe. In the second, the human race has been subjugated by the Qax, and their living starships, who have virtually outlawed human spaceflight. Into this era, a wormhole from the former time appears and a group of human fanatics dive through it into history to pursue their impossibly ambitious goals.

Back in the original period, Martin Poole, inventor of the wormhole, must understand the aims of the refugees from the future whilst also battling with Qax invaders from even further in the future seeking to prevent humanity's ultimate if inadvertent victory over their kind.

Here Baxter has great fun tying the various timelines into ever more intricate knots, to deliver a thoroughly entertaining and action packed story. If the story has a main weakness it is the infallability of its central character, but that is probably forgivable in a tale with this breadth of ambition, which plays around with the possibilities thrown up by multiverse theories.

All in all a four and a half star yarn.


Flux is set in the far future from the main story of Timelike Infinity. In setting, Baxter really lets rip, with specially engineered, microscopic humans living in the mantle of a neutron star. It would be fascinating to know the physics from he has extrapolated his tale.

While the setting is exotic and original, the story and characters are less so. The basic structure is along very much the same lines as Raft. Dura is born into a nomadic society, (with echoes of native American philosophy) which is threatened by electromagnetic instabilities in the star. She and her brother Farr become separated from their grouping and end up travelling to the more advanced city, where like Rees in the first novel, she plays an important role in the saving of the world. The structure at the level above the story is also very similar, Baxter drops the reader into an unfamiliar environment, at first it is all a bit disorienting, but there are enough hints to keep one going, then some way into the novel Basil Exposition walks in and the plot stops for a while so we can be told what is really going on.

The characters we meet are the disaffected teenager, the grizzled old hand who overcomes his cynicism for the greater good, the sadistic supervisor in the dangerous job, the gentle friendly giant, etc etc.

There are some good action sequences, the denouement with the micro humans operating on a macro scale is quite fun, and we learn more about human - xeelee interaction, but this is probably only a three and a half star work.


Ring brings together much of what is contained in the earlier novels, in terms of story threads, but also in terms of strengths, weaknesses and style. It is closest to being a sequel to Timelike Infinity, but on the way it hooks into both Raft and Flux. How the humans of Raft got into a pocket universe is clarified, and there is more "in star action" as a virtual woman is lowered into the sun.

The basic plot centres around information gathered from events at the end of Timelike Infinity, which indicated an unexpectedly early death for our sun. A shadowy organisation, a sort of "New Space Order" launches two missions to find out what has happened/is going to happen, one the aforementioned solar explorer, the other a generational starship using relativistic effects to travel 5 million years into the future. On the way, there is more interaction with Xeelee technology, we learn about their true enemies, the mysterious photino birds (its difficult not to picture them as being angry) and see the ultimate fate of the universe. So, once more there is some good fun with the science and technology, we get to fly around in a Xeelee nightfighter, but I really lost sympathy with it when things went wrong on the giant starship and for the third time we were confronted with regressive society struggling for survival.

It was also while reading Ring that it dawned on me that, as hyper intelligent uber-races go, Baxter's Xeelee are a bit rubbish. They have all this fabulous technology, but seem totally incapable of any form of interaction and in the end are brought down by an inter-stellar pest infestation.

As a rather cruel conclusion, this collection has a rather depressing constant air of decay, the super intelligent aliens have issues with interacting with others and a significant number of leading characters have a chip on their shoulder about their origins. Is this perhaps precisely what we could have expected from science fiction written by a mathematician from Liverpool?
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on 14 April 2015
I enjoyed these books, plenty of content to keep you busy. Some of the stories drag on a bit but I enjoyed the collection and its neatly wrapped up at the end. Definitely worth buying as its good value for money and has enough to interest you to keep reading along.
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on 26 February 2014
Baxter - the master of hard science fiction. He took over where Asimov and Clarke left off then simply kept going. Written in the best tradition of old time space opera but with cutting edge physics built in right at the core of the tale
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