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on 9 June 2014
The cover acclaims Mr. Baxter as the heir to Arthur C. Clarke. Sir Arthur was renowned for writing science fiction that was firmly grounded in science or relatively predictable extrapolations thereof. In this book, Mr. Baxter tries something similar on a massive canvas - no less than the evolution of the human race from prehistoric past to distant future. It's a salutory reminder that we humans have been on the planet for only a tiny proportion of its life, and that evolution marches on regardless. What will humans be like in the far-distant future? WILL there be humans then? Mr. Baxter gets first prize for imagination, both for the entire concept, but also for what might be to come. The latter is not comfortable reading, but it is stimulating to reflect on the subject. We all tend to assume that we homo sapiens will always be homo sapiens. It ain't necessarily so...

Where the book falls down, in my opinion, is in its presentation. Although Mr. Baxter insists that this is not a textbook, it occasionally reads like one. This is unavoidable to some extent, as he has to provide the background for his various scenarios, but somehow I think Sir Arthur would have managed it better. In addition, the various scenarios can be a bit repetitive. Moreover, it's a very long textbook, which makes it a bit of a chore to get through, and it requires determination to see it through to the end.

Nevertheless, full marks for a respectable effort.
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on 20 May 2006
As the other reviewers have explained, this book tells the story of humanity, starting 65 million years in the past and moving on into a distant future. We see the change through several vignettes, most following a predecessor of modern humans, providing a snapshot of a chaotic world and the slow transformation from small shrew-like creatures into...well, you and me. Some chapters also show the dead ends that mankind could have fallen into--one chapter posits that a species of dinosaur began to grope their way towards civilisation in the Jurassic, but lost their chance through nothing more than bad luck. Another follows the slow and painful extinctions of creatures trapped on Antarctica as the world cools. Yet another shows proto-humans who never had any incentive to invest in brainpower, and were lost with their habitat. The adventures of the 'protagonists' can get repetitive, but the real star in the early stories is the world in which they live.

A problem with the book, ironically, is the modern human characters, who came off to me as being either talking heads or weak stereotypes. I found that the narration was better when the exposition on what is going on was in the third person. Also, the pivotal part of the book, the total collapse of modern civilisation seemed less than convincing--all of humanity reverts to a feral state within a thousand years, somehow abandoning even basic concepts such as fire, the wheel, agriculture and language. Such a radical change really needed a chapter to itself to make it convincing.

That aside, this book has some parts that honestly qualify as mind-blowing. The presentation of the comet impact that (supposedly) wiped out the dinosaurs is presented in a way worthy of any disaster movie, conveying perfectly the global nature of the catacylsm, to a day in the life of the last human ever to exist, half a billion years from now.

It's not a comforting book--it ends with the extinction of humanity, though the humans do leave successors after a fashion. It steers clear of nihilism, though, and if it has a 'moral', it is that our actions now can influence the world more than any other time before.

Overall, a great read with some minor flaws, that works as a scholarly introduction to how humankind got here, an entertaining read that makes you want to see what happens next, and a philosophical examination of the meaning of life in a world that so often snuffs it out. Worth a look.
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on 23 October 2012
When we look at the history of humanity we see intelligence as the ultimate goal and expect that in the future it will continue to grow and technology continue to develop. But is that the case?

Stephen has taken what we know about evolution and interwoven it with fiction to create an amazing (and long) tale about evolution. He takes us from the time before the comet which killed the dinosaurs to today and beyond where humanity is poised on a knife edge. It takes just a nudge to tip the balance and to begin the slide.

Extinction events have occurred many times in the past and we have no right to assume they will not occur in the future to us, not just to animals like the Panda. Life will go on but that does not mean we will survive or remain intelligent. Not until Man spreads out from the Earth will our species be secure. As to intelligence - the machines we are developing now may be the future.

I enjoyed this book. I didn't leave it thinking of a better future but I did leave it thinking.
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on 28 November 2004
Joan Useb, a primatologist, attends a conference in mid 21-st Century Australia; one that could change the future of humankind. However, she is only the middle link in a chain of beings that stretches far into the past and future. As she prepares to make her stand for what she believes, the book delves into the line of primates from which Useb has sprung, and then travels into the future to see what consequences, if any, her actions will have on humanity in the millennia to come.
I always find it a cause for reconsideration when something is described as 'epic'. What 'epic' usually translates as, in modern times, is 'long'. Epics also tend to be packed with detail, a richness of imagination that extends to a full realisation of the world being described - in other words, 'long and full of pointless, dull bits'. Shame on me for thinking such a thing. Now you know I'm a philistine, and we can move past that.
Stephen Baxter is a man of preoccupations, which crop up time and again in his work. Here, his fascination for the history of life on Earth, and the possible stories of our ancestors resurfaces. It feels like Baxter's last novel, 'Origin', was a forerunner for this tome - a testing of ideas to be more fully explored here. Indeed, this is a tremendous undertaking - trying to dramatise the history of the primates from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the end result is best described as an impressive achievement, rather than a gripping novel.
Feeling more like a collection of short stories rather than one long narrative, this is a book primarily about animals, and thus almost void of dialogue, which can take some getting used to. The separate story-bubbles floating down the river of time are linked together by the theme of cause and effect, which struggles to the surface throughout - Baxter portrays man's intellectual development almost as a quest to fully comprehend the chains of cause and effect that can save us or doom us. A turning point for the book is contained in the chapter 'Mother's People', portraying one of the first humans to understand that actions have consequences, and her actions themselves reverberate through the rest of the novel.
Whilst impressive, it is difficult to truly immerse yourself in this book. Too much of it is too similar - there is too much primate in-fighting, head-smashing, and unsolicited love-making. The time in the light with cognisant humankind is too brief. All in all, the effort that has gone into writing 'Evolution' is all but wasted on people like me, who can't help but see it as almost 800 pages about nothing but monkeys.
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on 19 February 2018
Not so much a novel as a collection of short story fragments and tableaux, which when linked together chronologically illustrate the evolution of modern man from the furthest known origin, a tiny shrew-like mammal back in the time of the dinosauras. Baxters uses cause and effect to show how changes in the environment were the main contributing factors, until intelligence emerged, and then how intelligence took over in shaping man's devlopment. Nicely observed, using theories derived from the fossil records. It's a very long read and best taken in bits and pieces, like I read it, over the course of about a year. Had I attempted it all in one go I would have become "all Baxtered out", as I often do when reading his giant novels. His writing style is perfect for this kind of fact-fiction fusion.
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on 8 December 2017
Essentially a series of short stories looking at the evolution of mankind from the small mammals around in the time of dinosaurs. Some stories worked better than others but when it came to looking into the future this collection excels. I am a fan of Stephen Baxter so this makes me somewhat biased but maybe some of the early stories could have been trimmed or left out.

Ray Smillie
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on 28 March 2010
In the afterword, the author tries to make excuses: "this is a novel. I have tried to dramatise the grand story of human evolution ... I hope my story is plausible". Well, no, it's not. That isn't a mortal sin in itself - plenty of really good stories are implausible, starting with one of the oldest stories that we have, the Iliad. But in dramatising, Baxter has made up a load of rubbish, including monkeys (and their far more primitive ancestors) giving each other names and all kinds of other silliness. I don't see why you can't tell the undeniably dramatic story of human origins factually, without introducing cuddly anthropomorphised Purgatorius, tool-using dinosaurs, and pterosaurs the size of whales.

Having laid into it like that, I do have to admit that it's a rollicking story whose silliness only made me want to scream a handful of times. I recommend it, although I aso recommend turning your brain off first, and not paying full price.
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on 19 August 2014
An outstanding book which I have read in paperback form two or three times. I now need shelf space and some books have had to go, so I have bought the kindle edition of this one. It's simply too good to be without and since it is a large book, it is a good one to have on kindle instead of in physical form.
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on 20 May 2003
Like one of the previous reviewers, I too have noticed that Baxter's latter books seem to be turning inward, and although a real fan of the hardcore space opera, this has, and continues to be a fascinating exploration.
This books is gritty, harrowing, depressing, but totally un-put-downable.
It certainly gives you a sense of your personal insignificance and I came away from this book feeling awed. Baxter seems to be moving away from the airy Clarkian optmism of mankind uber alles; moving away from the pre-Copernican ideas of making man central to universe, to a probably more realistic view that in the total scheme of things we, as a race will probably not count for much in the long run.
It's is like Baxter has taken to the logical and somewhat bleak conclusion that which Copernicus started and Darwin continued.
Ultimately I feel this book is optimistic. Baxter seems to believe that life will always endure, and I, personally feel reassured by that.
Unlike a previous reviewer, I hope Baxter can go further with this exploration of life. I just cannot see where he can go next.
Utterly recommend this. Brilliant, and those who accuse hard sci-fi of being for adolescents - read this and grow up!
PS Baxter says: respect your mamma!
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VINE VOICEon 19 March 2004
Baxter - one of the most inventive sci-fi authors writing today, does it again with a novel of mind-boggling scope and vision.
There is something viscerally gripping about this tale, because it is humankind's tale. From the limited consciousness of our far distant ancestors, who eventually battled their way to bloody dominance at the top of the food chain, then into a bleak and unimaginably distant future, Baxter gives the reader a scarily plausible feeling of "being there".
Through a series of vivid tableaux, set millenia or mega-years apart, Baxter illustrates with astonishing skill, the developing sentience of our species. Some of the episodes are more gripping than others, and one or two did feel a little over-long (I found chapter 15 - Rome, somewhat laboured), however, the sense of growing excitement is such that I defy any reader not to yearn for the next development in this astonishing saga of one family's lineage across the ultimate family tree.
Whilst most of the material is based on sound archaeological/anthropological knowledge and toes the traditional evolutionary line, Baxter does flirt with some delightfully speculative creations, such as tool-making sapient dinosaurs (rather like Professor Michael Magee's postulated anthroposaurus sapiens) and the air-whale. I personally would have liked Baxter to have explored this avenue a little more, with some examples of ooparts (out-of-place artefacts) or anomalous fossils, but, what the heck, let's not get too picky!
These almost 600 pages just fly past and leave the reader yearning for more. In particular, the episodes describing the adventures of "Far" and her love of running, and of the human survivors, awakening from suspended animation long beyond their own time and agreeing to meet once a year at Stonehenge, were deeply moving and will remain with me for a long time.
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