Top positive review
24 people found this helpful
Space opera meets project management
on 19 October 2004
I'm a big ole Baxter fan, and I usually devour them in one sitting, as I did here. Coalaescent was one of Baxter's better books, which went someway toward untiting the cosmic and the particular. A pretty decent stab at an emotionally developed autobiographical novel combined with some excllent biological speculation and a well-painted re-imagining of Athurian Romano-British history. Baxter fans of old like me could get a frission from his references to his sprawling Xeelee future history.
Witht he second novel, Baxter is in space opera-land, a mileu of ray-guns and starships. And he's obviously revellling in it. It would not be unfair to sya that this book really bridges the uncomplicated 'Star Wars stuff' with the more serious Olaf Stapledon branch of the genre. A lot of the fittings are off-the-shelf - galactic war, child-space-warriors, all-powerful and unknowable aliens, military corruption and incompetence, missions of derringdo, the horror of war, etc. etc. Baxter even works in a pointed critique of Starship Troopers. (In some ways the book resembles the movie, rather than the book.)
The genuinely new elements are brilliant - such as the time-travelling bewildering nature of a faster than light war. It's possible other writers have developed this, but I not aware of it. It also allows Baxter to indulge in one his complex, non-linear plots. However, I still felt the idea was undercooked. More on the human cost of this would have been welcome. I also enjoyed the unreconsructed nature of his cosmic battle - World War I trench warfare, dogfights, flack-batteries and everything. Obviously, he's been watching a lot of war movies... And of course, Star Wars is a rather bald influence. Has 'hard' SF made peace with George Lucas?
It all rollicks along, with Baxter masterfully throwing in the shameless narrative hooks. However, I do feel this novel could have been a lot shorter. How many comittee meetings do we really want to read about? I feel Baxter may have worked on some public-sector IT contracts during his time in industry, methinks, and has some inner rage to vent...
Another frustration is the way Baxter throws stuff away, no doubt more completely realised in his short stories. Some of the science came so thick and fast I found it difficult to keep up. Bear in mind I have a Master's in Astrophysics.
The human interest is underplayed, a shame, as this is a growing strength of Baxter's writing, and marks him out in the field.
Finally, I felt the Xeelee were here an overplayed hand. Baxter always kept his god-aliens chock full of negative capability by keeping them off-stage. The danger for Baxter is that they will become to familiar. The more we know about them and their orgins the less interesting, in a way, they become. Baxter is fundamentally a Romantic thinker despite his scientific bent, and this is for me his magic as a writer, like Arthur Clarke before him.
So, Baxter fans will like it. Everyone else would be better advised to read the one before. Four stars if only cos Baxter on an off-day is still worth reading. But then I'm a geek.