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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 October 2013
Earth is in trouble, the centre (in a manner of speaking) of a solar system divided between the west and China. While China mines the resources of the asteroid belt and the more distant planets, the west colonises the closer planets. But when a new energy source is discovered on Mercury that permits interstellar travel the enormous opportunities that this grants to one faction are matched by the danger of the ensuing intensified cold war. Meanwhile, a ship full of rejects from Earth and Mars uses this new technology to reach Proxima Centauri, our nearest habitable planet, four light years away. Their goal is to settle the planet and do the necessary hard work of establishing a basic social infrastructure before others can ultimately join them to reap the benefits. Their main job, though, is to breed - to create new generations of human beings on a new Earth. To start all over again.

This is the goal and the dream but how different and harrowing is the reality.

Proxima Centauri, or Per Ardua as it is named by its reluctant, marooned first colonists, is a planet fixed on its axis, half always dark and the other half always light. It is also a volcanic world, susceptible to extreme weather patterns that can last for years. It is inhabited by a full spectrum of flying, swimming, walking creatures, all stem-like. They manage the environment as our colonists must also learn to do. The first half of the novel focuses in wonderful, leisurely detail on the trials of settling this planet by small groups of men and women, cast out from Earth, abandoned and forced together. In particular, we follow Yuri Eden, Mardina and their robot help ColU. I could have read many more hundreds of pages on this group and their interaction with the local animals and this fascinating planet. In some ways, I was reminded of Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, one of my most memorable reads of 2012. I was similarly engrossed by the details and feel of this alien world.

But there is even more to Proxima than this. There is a heroine in the story and she is Stef Kalinski. Stef becomes an ambassador of sorts, working to bridge the gap between the opposing factions on earth while also exploring the origins of the mysterious energy source on Mercury. It is she who is first to discover one of the great secrets of our existence. What she discovers is mindblowing. But just as intriguing as her role in the present and future of the story, is Stef's background. She was there when her father launched a vessel travelling by more traditional means to Proxima Centauri, many years before. The tale of this starship Angelia is not something I will forget. Again, I would have read a novel on this alone.

The relationship between Earth and Per Ardua is complicated, made more so by the distance between them. But even while Per Ardua seems such a distant, unpopulated planet, it becomes frighteningly apparent that the dangers facing Earth won't stay far away forever. The tension builds as the Galaxy appears to almost contract with the danger facing it.

Proxima is a novel that almost overflows with wonders. It contains not just one story but several. It takes place on Proxima Centauri but also on Earth, Mercury and in the distant asteroid mining settlements. The lives we encounter over a considerable number of years become increasingly important to the reader. Looming over all the personal tales of hardship and endeavour and love is the terrifying cold shadow of potential war between east and west which, if it comes to pass, could mean nothing less than the extinction of the human race.

I am a big fan of Stephen Baxter and have been reading him for years. I was, then, expecting to enjoy Proxima, a novel I've looked forward to for quite a while, but I was not expecting to be as blown away by it as I was. As we approach the latter months of the year, if I read another novel in 2013 that makes and leaves such a powerful impression on me, I will be most surprised. When I finished it, I was left in awe of Baxter's skill in weaving the strands of Proxima together.

The writing is elegant, informative, exact and visionary. It has scenes that took this reader's breath away. The characters are always interesting - even the original AIs and especially the ColU robotic unit. Proxima is so full of surprises that it never releases its grip. It is packed with `wow' moments and there are other moments which made me weep with how perfect or profound they felt to me. This was not an emotion-free reading experience. I can only urge you to read it so that you discover this for yourself. Proxima is a masterpiece.
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on 26 May 2014
Stephen Baxter is back to doing what he does best - writing good, thought-provoking science fiction.
I loved the Xeelee sequence and the Time/Space books and tried to read all of Baxters stories. Sadley, he lost my interest with the Floods and mammoths but now with Proxima, it seems the he is back to his roots and writing the kind of classic hard sci-fi that got my interest in the first place.
I hope this isn't a one off and that we can now expect more like this.
I would strongly recommend this book to anyone like me that enjoyed his older works. I can't rate it highly enough.

If I had to choose a negative just to balance things out, then I would say that maybe in the appendix we could have had a translation of the latin paragraph that appears toward the end of the book. I had to type it in to Google Translate to get an approximate meaning and it made a HUGE difference to how I perceived the end of the story. I'm sure not everyone will do the same and will miss out! I would urge everyone that doesn't speak Latin, to do what I did. It's a little annoying typing a paragraph of Latin but it does make a difference to the story.
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on 23 April 2015
I used to read a lot of Stephen Baxter's books, and was particularly fond of his Xeelee series, but some of his later books I wasn't as keen on so not read any of his for a few years. This caught my eye because it is proper science fiction set in the future (he's written quite a few quasi-historical sf novels which I'm not always as keen on).

There are two plots two the book. The main one is about a small group of colonists who are basically deported from the solar system and abandoned on a world around the giant star Proxima Centauri as part of a hands off colonization effort (the authorities hope they'll breed and develop a colony outpost without them having to do anything much). The second plot is set in the Solar System and is about a futuristic Cold War between the Chinese and the United Nations. There are colonies on Mars, Mercury, the moon and one or two asteroids so it is not just about Earth. Oh and its the late 22nd century just in case you were wondering.

One of the really interesting things about this book is the colony planet Per Ardua, as it is christened, around Proxima Centauri. This is a so called 'exo-planet' similar to one of the hundreds that astronomers have discovered over the last few years. It is much larger than Earth, the planet is stationery around its star so one side is in permanent daylight, the other in permanent night. The topography, terrain and climate of the planet is very different from Earth - it shows Stephen Baxter's creative imagination as well as his scientific background.

I really enjoyed this book and it felt like Stephen Baxter is back to his best. It is imaginative, but plausible. The world of Per Ardua, and the general setup in the solar system is very interesting and well conceived. The plot is good, and the characters are decent too.

After reading, I skimmed through a few of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It generally gets favourable opinion, but with a few criticisms. I thought I'd give my take on these.

Blurb doesn't match the book - apparently there were some problems with an initial description, but my copy was fine. It did talk about billion year old secrets and galactic threats, though all you get of these is hints towards the end. I guess this will be picked up in book 2.

Too much like a Dan Dare comic strip - I don't see the problem with this. Yes it has some action in it, but this is well balanced by the other elements in what is a really well rounded novel.

'The bad guys were paper mache who melted when given a good talking to' - this one they may have a point with, I'm struggling to think of any real bad guys/gals/aliens, and the ones there were did just disappear far too quick. But this didn't seem like a problem at the time, and if anything the environment on Per Ardua was the enemy.

Overall, if you like your science fiction to be plausible with a good plot, great world building & dark hints of cosmic danger, then I really recommend this book. If you enjoyed any of Baxter's early books, you should enjoy this.
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on 8 March 2014
Stephen Baxter's novels are always very readable and full of believable science and technology. Baxter clearly draws on a lot of history for inspiration for this tale of interplanetary exploration and colonisation. The press ganging of various waifs and strays into being colonists reminds you of the forced transport of convicts to Australia. The struggle of the early colonists just to survive with next to no facilities reminds you of tales of the early New World colonies. The way the groups of settlers banded together to try and make something work was told. Having studied some planetary science I can confirm that Baxter's planet is very plausible. Good science. I liked the aliens as well who were genuinely alien but also recognisable as a fellow sentient species.

I thought the main weakness was the characters who were all a bit bland (even the main antagonist Yuri Eden) except for the automated colonisation unit ColU who was interested in everything and constantly waffled on a bit like Star Trek's Data. I want one!! I also didn't like the stuff in our future solar system, China vs the rest, seemed plausible but I just didn't enjoy the politics. I felt that he could have left the Earth and its troubles behind once the colonists had landed.

Overall though I really enjoyed the novel and found it to be a bit of a page turner. He's left it open for a sequel so we shall see what's next.
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Having read the authors previous release with Terry Pratchett, I had to say I was a little apprehensive about picking up this title. After all when you've felt rather short changed by a book by two literary giants, you really do wonder if they've run out of idea's and are just cashing in on their own names to make a few extra bucks. So with that said, I didn't quite get round to this book as soon as I should have done.

And boy, what a mistake that was. This title is pure classic Science Fiction bringing together a lot of the themes that have gone before and combining it in such as a way that we have to look at our own nature before we can think about condemning what else is out there. It's a book of questions, a book of exploration and above all a book that really takes the reader on a journey whilst opening up the universe to something else to follow on a bigger scale.

Add to the mix some great twists, some wonderful turns of phrase and its definitely a book that has moved Stephen back into my read with confidence list.
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on 26 November 2013
Baxter is the exemplar of hard science. Perhaps that is where this tale falls short, because the concept of conscripted colonists and exiled criminals being transported on quite expensive interstellar vessels falls at the first hurdle. At such a great distance from Earth you need a colony with resilience. Able to continue in the face of adversity. Not the dregs of society.

This has the effect of turning an extended starship voyage adventure into a slow episode of Prison Break. It had all the same characters.
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on 25 October 2013
Good read, not as hard sci if as it could of been, but defiantly lays the groundwork for future work in this novel line
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on 6 February 2015
I've very much enjoyed some of Baxter's earlier works such as 'Raft', 'Voyage' and his sequel to HG Wells' 'The Time Machine' however his latest novel lacks coherence and focus. It seems like he's thrown every idea he possibly can the mix here and self-plagurised diluted ideas from his earlier works. The struggle to journey and survive on another the world, alien biolology, ancient alien tech controlling human destiny, parallel universes, even the Roman Empires are thrown into this 'shake and bake' novel. I've read much better workings of these concepts in his earlier works and by A. Clarke, et al. There's nothing new here. Disappointing on an epic scale.
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on 24 November 2013
I have read much of Stephen Baxter's work and as others have commented he is usually a master at suspending disbelief and exploring big ideas in complex plots. However, I generally avoid reading him when my spirits need a tonic. In this case I gave up after struggling through to Chapter 16. I could discern no credible plot. It is not the worst book I have bought but it is by far the worst by Baxter.
The story, such as it is, is set two or three centuries in the future. The solar system is divided up between a Chinese/Asian power block who got the outer system and the UN/west who got the inner system. This somewhat absurd idea is never justified and seems about as credible as Pope Alexander VI's treaty of Tordesillas.
One explorer has been sent on a suicide mission to Alphas Centauri C, the red dwarf, where improbably a human compatible world has been found. However this does not appear to part of the plot. This is followed by a robot AI starwisp like mission. I felt more empathy with the distraught AI than with the supposed human characters.
Kernels are discovered on Mercury which may be terribly hazardous but provide a power supply apparently exceeding the energy density of antimatter. This (at least up to chapter 16) is not explored as an idea at all and is therefore a disappointing plot kludge.
A one off colony ship is sent at huge expense to the H congruous planet. Incredibly the planet is not even given a name. The colonists "selected" are a group of misfits and criminals who appear to have been incapable of surviving well in the society they were raised in. They have poor or no training to survive their colony mission and are otherwise very poorly equipped. I cannot give credence to any society which would spend such vast sums on dumping a load of apparently useless individuals four + light years away.
On arrival the 1000 colonists are split into groups of a dozen or so, each marooned in remotely isolated villages. The story focuses on one group, the members whereof manage through stupidity to kill all but two of their group. One wonders if this is an hideous sociology experiment, however this seems unlikely as we are told the whole colonization project is completely unmonitored. Whatever the case I cannot find remorseless stupidity in any way entertaining.
I am glad I saved money and bought this on Kindle since it will not waste space on my book shelves. My recommendation is to avoid it.
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on 25 November 2013
I found this an ambitious science fiction novel which was both intriguing and thought provoking. With its strong opinionated characters, exotic planet, and healthy helping of mystery, this had me hooked.

Yuri in particular was an enjoyable anti-hero, the archetypal fish out of water, who nonetheless manages to cope in very trying circumstances.

What makes this all enjoyable, is the way author Stephen Baxter manages to contrast the human flaws and concerns against the backdrop of technology and science. He makes the reader understand how small and insignificant we all are.

He also contrasts the densely populated colonies of Mars and Mercury and an array of space stations with the desolate, remote natural world of Proxima.

Underlying everything is the very primal struggle for survival. The colonists stranded on the planet go through a terrific ordeal which Baxter never trivializes or glosses over. This is a group with very human needs and opinions on how they cope. The ensuing debates and internal conflicts all convince.

This is a riveting novel, and for all its many dramatic plot strands, it holds up well, achieving a high level of gravitas. The future Cold War between the super powers of the UN and China resonate, as does the territorialism and competitiveness. Baxter has managed to create a plausible future, in fact, like a lot of great sci-fi writers, he could in fact be talking about our current world as much as his imagined future one.
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