Thursday, 8 January 2015


He thinks big does Stephen Baxter. Toying with massive concepts like thought exercises, bench pressing the impossible and the implausible and pushing past previously recognisable full stops into virgin territory of thought. Ultima is the second part of a duology begun in the book Proxima. A multinarrative and ambitiously vast science fiction epic which is on one level thrillingly detailed enforced colonization of a distant world. On another it explored the discovery of mysterious alien built hatches whose use entails the straddling of vast distances and even space and time. Reality shifts, worlds and empires rise and fall, planets fairly rattle with their impact. The destiny of man is shaped and then reshaped by minds hugely superior to ours playing for agendas we can barely comprehend. If you ever had the feeling that there was some vast controlling intelligence out there with little empathy for our little struggles and corrupting our natural linear development you will understand where this is going.
             Proxima and Ultima are two planets seperated by more than just space and time, they are also two volumes separated by a year in publishing. Although little impetus is lost in this follow on. Feels much like one book split in two. Vast distances and stretches of time are covered in the story. With such ideas an author can run the risk of losing the humanity in the scientific expression. One without the other is like a maths problem that leads to one abandoning figures forever. Not so with Stephen Baxter. Millions of years may pass and whole worlds age and die but there is always an interesting witness to these events.
              He might well think big but when a planet reaches an extinction level event he makes sure there is someone there to be affected by it. After all, special effects are only special if there is someone to witness them and,affected by them.
              Really enjoyed these two books. Took me back to happy days of reading Dan Simmons and his Hyperion Cantos. I mean traveling through a universe created by a benign and brilliant  but terrifying mind.
              We might well all be living in such a universe...