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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
12
4.3 out of 5 stars


VINE VOICEon 12 April 2003
Vacuum Diagrams is a collection of short stories set in Baxter’s Xeelee universe (as explored in the novels Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux and Ring), but far from being a collection of odds and ends this probably stands as the ultimate Xeelee book. The stories are laid out in chronological order, and together with linking material this forms a complete history of Baxter’s universe, from Big Bang to the ultimate destruction of all baryonic life.
The stories themselves are mostly enjoyable, although Baxter’s problems with shoehorning in hard sf exposition with storytelling are often evident. Its also noticeable how Baxter’s earlier tales are much more light-hearted than his later, more confident work. A number of the stories also seem to be either direct or subtle lifts from his novels, (eg; Stowaway is a direct extract from Raft, while Hero takes an incident from Flux and retells it with a different spin), though its difficult to tell if these were short stories that were later developed into novels, or cynical reworking to sell the same idea twice. The quality remains high though, so even when a tale such as The Baryonic Lords is obviously just a dry-run of the novel Ring, its still enjoyable stuff. Possibly the biggest criticism of the collection is the lack of range of the stories, most concentrating in a rather narrow band of classic hard sf ‘new invention/discovery’ format.
All in all though, if you are only going to read one of Baxter’s Xeelee novels, this should be the one.
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on 2 August 1999
Not for Stephen Baxter the piffling concerns of most science fiction this is a man who goes for the big picture. A set of stories which reveal the past and future history of not just mankind but the whole universe itself until the stars dim and go out!
I confess I have found some of his books pretty hard going (Raft, Flux etc) but this is much more digestible, a lot more fun and you don't need a Phd in quantum mechanics to enjoy it.
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VINE VOICEon 9 May 2011
This is a book of short stories that was recommended to me as as an introduction to Stephen Baxter's Xeelee series of stories.

Ignoring the downbeat themes which seem to be a feature of this view of the far future, there aren't a lot of laughs in this version of mankind's destiny, it suffers from poor characterisation and a tendency to show wonders reflected only through the eyes of his rather badly drawn characters.

There is also a shed load of physics to plough through. If I wanted to read a book about quantum mechanics I'd buy one.

All in all I found it a touch unsatisfying, but I'm going to give some more of the Xeelee stories a chance because the characterisations are supposed to be better.
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on 16 October 2000
This is an excellent piece of work, and one of the very best hard-sf books I have come across. It is actually a collection of short stories, but you will find that you read it as a novel with the short stories as chapters. The stories describe the history and fate of the human race in the evolution of the universe controlled by the mysterious Xeelee. What's so good about this book is that Baxter actually manages to present the universe on a plate to the reader, not only a snapshot of it, but the complete past, present and future of it all!
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on 13 August 2001
Stephen Baxter is undoubtedly the best science fiction author in Britain. His intricately plotted science-rich books provoke fascination and awe with apparent ease. This book of short stories is based on the Xeelee Sequence, which comprises the novels 'Raft', 'Timelike Infinity', 'Flux' and 'Ring'. These extra stories make his fictional universe much richer and more detailed. However, if you have not read the Xeelee Sequence, it's likely that you will find many of the stories confusing. Highly recommended.
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on 29 May 2001
The final(?) book in the Xeelee Sequence, answers many of the questions posed except the biggest. The final machinations of the ultimate enemy of the universe, the photino 'birds'. This often disturbing image as the univese is slowly destroyed for all life except dark matter life is depressing in that even the godlike xeelee have run away. There is hope though as the final humans left in the universe escape through the xeelee rip in space into another universe and the last act of the sentient xeelee ship left to guide them is to create the begginings of a new universe for the humans.
A brilliant finish to a masterful series that transcends time and space. Every book in the sequence I have read in one sitting. If you only ever read two series of Sci-Fi this has to be one of them (the other woudl be the Mars trology by Kim Stanley Robbinson). If this book doesn't make you question the natuer of the Universe and existence in other planes then you havn't been reading it.
Buy this and read.
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on 10 June 2014
I am reading this through now, very good interesting and thought provoking stories. I like it and look forward to reading his Xeelee omnibus.
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on 1 June 2011
A year ago I reviewed First and Last Men, by Olaf Stapledon and was not particularly complimentary about it. This book is similar in concept. Baxter himself calls Stapledon's dreadful book "science fiction's greatest ascent", so it's not particularly surprising that he decided to emulate it and write something similarly epic. However, he does a rather better job. Baxter has written a few novels in his "Xeelee Sequence" series, and this is a collection of short stories in the same universe. They are framed by an overarching short meta-story, and are presented in a sequence spanning several million years, during which we see humanity in many different forms, some evolved, some engineered, but all still mentally and emotionally human. Stapledon's book barely has individual characters at all, but just about all of Baxter's stories concentrate on an individual or a handful of people. As a result, we don't learn so much about the history of his universe, but we can at least connect with those living in it. However, although the characters are clearly people (unlike Stapledon's which are mere shadows projected onto a screen) we don't feel for them, and they could do with more development, even within the confines of short stories.

My other criticism is that there's perhaps just a little bit too much time spent "explaining" the various technologies. This will be offputting for those unfamiliar with modern science, who won't understand, and I'm sure it will date very badly.

On the whole, I think I recommend this book, at least for those who are into "hard science fiction".
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on 12 November 2010
Great book. Although a little hard reading at some points, a wonderful collection of imaginative and mind bending ideias. Excellent!
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on 16 September 2012
Awesome. Read it. Then buy Snyder's Swamp Thing. The Red is waiting, the Green is struggling and the Rot is coming.
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