Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Stephen Baxter Slam!

Stephen Baxter has created a future history in several of his books that nest together quite well. His short story collection Vacuum Diagrams is the tie; with several short stories and excerpts from his novels, he relates the next five million years of human history. (For perspective, the dinosaurs were ascendant for hundreds of millions of years, and the big "meteor extinction" was 65 million years ago.) He tells of the war between humans and their varying conquerors, and of humanity striving against the godlike Xeelee, and of the final survivors of that war finally escaping the universe. He also provides a connecting thread that leaves the possibility that the narrator is delusional, an interesting out for those who don't want to contemplate utter human failure.

Ring is likewise set in this universe, dealing with events surrounding Bolder's Ring, a Xeelee artifact that is literally light-years across. A team of humans from shortly after our own era are sent on a relativistic journey to the Ring with a lifeline back to their own era, so that they may report back their findings. As one might expect, however, the journey has its own conflicts and eventually the survivors must find their own future.

Baxter is a scientist, and so his work tends to be considered "hard" science fiction (as opposed to "soft" which is basically technological fantasy, "hard" has a solid grounding in the sciences and tends to be a little denser reading. Ender's Game is more toward the soft than the hard; Kim Stanley Robinson is definitely the latter.) Vacuum Diagrams is a great way to sample his style to find out if you care for it. If you do, there are many books that expand upon the subject matter therein.

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