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Sci-Fi Books Media Book Reviews

Exultant 128

Motor writes "Stephen Baxter is a remarkably prolific British hard science-fiction author -- one of many that have come to prominence in Britain over the last ten years or so. Exultant is the second part of his Destiny's Children series (no Beyonce jokes, please). The first part, Coalescent, was also reviewed on Slashdot. Set in both 400 A.D. and modern times, Coalescent dealt with the possibility of humans lapsing into a eusocial society (a hive). How would such a thing get started? How would it function? And how would it hide itself from 'normal' human society? At the end of the novel, the action jumps forward twenty-thousand years to when humanity has spread out across the galaxy and is cleaning out worlds which have become coalescent. This is where Exultant begins... or rather, it seems to begin." Read on for the rest of Motor's review.
Exultant
author Stephen Baxter
pages 490
publisher Gollancz
rating 9
reviewer Motor
ISBN 0345457889
summary The second book of the Destiny's Children novels

Exultant is not a direct sequel to Coalescent, in that it doesn't pick up the story of George Poole and continue it. The concept of coalescence plays little part in this new novel -- so anyone expecting more of the same may be disappointed, but not for long. Once you start reading Exultant, it quickly becomes clear that the Destiny's Children novels are part of the Xeelee sequence (something that was not obvious in the first novel). The Xeelee sequence is a future history, mapped out by Baxter, in which humanity spreads out from Earth; is crushed and enslaved; frees itself; and in a much harder and violent form begins to assimilate and destroy other alien cultures, all the while being unaware of the larger and more important cosmic battle being fought all around it.

At the opening of Exultant, humanity is close to the end of its third wave of assimilation. It has spread across the galaxy crushing everything in its way -- even the mysterious and powerful Xeelee have retreated into the core of the galaxy. The whole of human society is held together unchanged across millions of light-years and billions of worlds by the Druz doctrines -- ruthless rules intended to keep humanity conquering and to punish any deviations from the human norm. The result is a human society turned into a colossal war machine, dedicated to one aim: the destruction of its last enemy, the Xeelee. But the war machine has been stalled for thousands of years. The Xeelee have no intention of leaving the galactic core, and their advanced technology (nightfighters constructed out of flaws in space-time itself) and ability to manipulate time means that every human assault is repelled easily. Trillions of human lives are wasted by hurling themselves at Xeelee defenses ... and it goes on and on. A war machine with billions of worlds full of generations of soldiers barely in their teens born in tanks and dying in thousand-year-long projects aimed at smashing the Xeelee, and knowing nothing but training, the doctrines and death. Whether in a coalescent hive or a not, it seems most human lives are spent in an empty drone-like struggle governed by simple rules -- indeed this message pervades the novel. In Coalescent the rules governing the eusocial society were:

Sisters matter more than daughters.
Ignorance is strength.
Listen to your sisters.

In Exultant the rules are the Druz doctrines, with a key part being 'A brief life burns brightly.'

In the middle of this multi-millennial slaughter, a young pilot, Pirius, and his crew decide to disobey doctrine and instead of throwing their lives away in a pointless heroic gesture they try a bold strategy. As a result they capture a Xeelee nightfighter, which is the first significant development in the war for hundreds of generations. Naturally, the rigid doctrinal bureaucracy chooses to prosecute him rather than promote him -- but with a twist. Thanks to his faster than light travel, Pirius has arrived back a few years before he left. Time is a malleable thing in this war and meeting oneself isn't unusual.

He arrives back to find himself still in training, and both Piriuses must be punished: one for breaking doctrine and the other to make sure he doesn't in future. His saviour is a strange Earth commissioner (part of the powerful bureaucracy controlling the war effort) who is desperate for a way to unlock the stalemate with the Xeelee and bring to an end the waste of life. He needs someone willing to step outside the rules -- even if it is only a little at first. So begins the split story of Pirius Red and Pirius Blue. One sent to a punishment camp to train as Xeelee cannon fodder, and the other taken back to Earth to see a solar system radically changed by alien occupation, thousands of years of industrial activity and a society at the core of the war effort that is not as doctrinally pure as he'd been brought up to believe.

No-one will ever accuse Stephen Baxter of thinking small. His Xeelee sequence novels are set in a universe teeming with life since the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang -- and indeed before that -- and a war that has raged between dark matter life-forms and baryonic life such as the Xeelee (with humans as a self-destructive nuisance ignorant of the larger conflict), for most of that time.

Exultant is a story of individual human courage and brilliance, and collective human stupidity and self-destruction. Those who dislike Baxter's work (and there are some!) because it is pessimistic about humanity as a whole will find nothing to change their minds here. On the other hand, anyone looking for hard science-fiction of breathtaking scope and bursting with invention and ideas will love it. Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing where he goes with the next part. One advantage of following Baxter's work is that you rarely have long to wait between novels.


You can purchase Exultant from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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Exultant

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  • by sameerdesai ( 654894 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:11PM (#11782421)
    From the review " Time is a malleable thing in this war and meeting oneself isn't unusual." Uhoh.. I am in a infinite loop.. mass cloning of myself.. here I come..
  • Stephen Baxter rocks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by metlin ( 258108 )
    His Manifold series (Manifold Space, Time & Origin) are simply too good. I've not read the Destiny's Children series, but if it's anything like his other works, I can be sure it would be damn cool.

    And anyone else notice that Wikipedia is awfully slow or down these days? I wonder why.
    • Can I mod you "half interesting half off topic" ? ;-)
    • Ehh, I read Manifold Time, and I didn't like it that much. I couldn't suspend disbelief to buy into the whole "Blue-babies causing all space travel in any and every form to be banned" thing. It just stopped me dead in my tracks (especially since I've been seeing that premise far too often since Fallen Angels).
    • tastes are just that.

      Personally, the Manifold series was so bad that I vowed never to pay another dollar to him. Indeed, I want my money back for the last book in that series, where I was reduced to reading about pregnant gorillas.

      So bad it tainted his good stuff (which he has written some, but earlier in his career)
  • Sounds original... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Staplerh ( 806722 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:13PM (#11782439) Homepage
    Hah, I must admit I was chuckling as I read through this, part of me wondering how this ended up on the front page of Slashdot - but hey, it was better than another dupe.

    Some choice snippets really looked great though, especially this one:

    Naturally, the rigid doctrinal bureaucracy chooses to prosecute him rather than promote him -- but with a twist.

    I liked that. Take a standard literary cliche, but add a 'twist'. Well, it all certainly sounds like a 'tiwst' on convention, what with all the scifi jargon and strange sounding alien names. I know that sounds flippant, but it is cool. I must admit, this following part was funny though too:

    One advantage of following Baxter's work is that you rarely have long to wait between novels.

    Hah, is that an advantage.. or a disadvantage?

    Sounds a little unoriginal and.. weird. But hey, who am I to condemn a book that I haven't read. Oh, slashdot. Maybe if I see it in the bookstore I'll pick it up, I'll see what other readers say.
    • The review instantly made me think of 1984. "Strange Earth Commissioner" as O'Brien. anyone?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      THey're making it to a move starring Sean Connery as the talking pie.
    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:29PM (#11782611) Homepage
      I liked that. Take a standard literary cliche, but add a 'twist'.

      I thought "taking a standard literary cliche, but adding a 'twist'," was the most standard literary cliche.

      • Brain... melting...

        Take a standard literary cliche, like taking a standard literary cliche and adding a twist, and add a twist. Clever. We've added two twists to a standard literary cliche. But we still end up with a standard literary cliche. By induction, standard literary cliches are closed under twists.
    • Sounds a little unoriginal

      Hah! I've read a half-dozen of Baxter's books and while mildly entertaining, "original" is not the word I'd use. Basically he has one story: mankind's war against an ancient race called the Xeelee. Every book is a retelling of the same story, with diffferent characters. Yawn. I thought Coalescent was going somewhere new, but sadly it has descended into the same old plot by the end of the book.

      Now some great authors are: Neal Asher, Richard Morgan and Alastair Reynolds. Really i
      • Yeah, Baxter is SF junk food - I'll read it if I want something new and there is nothing else around, but he has a tendency toward glibness and repetitiveness that make his work too silly to be very good (failings he shares with his old co-author Jerry Pournelle which did not help their collaborations).

        I've seen a couple Brits mention Alastair Reynolds as being worth reading, but I never find him in the bookstore - guess I'll just have to order online.

        • I've read his first, Revelation Space, which I liked, although it took me some time to get into it. He's the only professional astronomer I know other than myself currently publishing sf novels. Physicists, yes, piles of them it seems, but not so many astronomers.
    • Hi,

      Maybe you can fill me in. I'm a HUGE fan of Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy and his Fallen Dragon, though I seriously disliked Misspent Youth.

      How does this compare? Am I missing out on something?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:16PM (#11782476)
    You see, Pirius is gay, and chapter 14 is when he meets himself and, well, I won't spoil it, but skip chapter 14.
    • Re:Skip chapter 14 (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      God, I hate it when I run into a perfectly good sci-fi book that's suddenly spoiled by damned homosexual agenda. I can't even recommend sci-fi to my kids anymore since it seems to be infested with sadomasochism and a penchant for anal sex.
    • You see, Pirius is gay, and chapter 14 is when he meets himself and, well, I won't spoil it, but skip chapter 14.

      Well, at least it gives a new meaning to the phrase "Go fuck yourself"! Bwahahahaaaahhaaaaaaaaaa......

      *sigh*

      :Note to self: No drinkin' and slashdottin'...
      • Suffice to say it involves a knife and the first instance of a human engaging in auto-necrophilia.

        ewwwwwwww!

        But it was original.
        • Oh. My. God.

          I don't think that there's anything wrong with being gay, and I don't think there's anything wrong with masturbation, but for some reason the idea of fucking yourself is just kind of gross to me...

          Then, I read your post. Thanks, I'll never sleep again.

      • Well if it's fucking yourself in sci-fi that you are concerned with, the classic novel is of course:

        The Man Who Folded Himself [chtorr.com]

        More self fucking than you can shake a, ahem, stick at.

        • Heinlein did it best, and perhaps first, in All You ZombiesAll You Zombies, 1959. The protagonist is an orphan, born as a female, later gets pregnant, has a child, while giving birth the doctors discover she is a hermaphrodite, and as her uterus was destroyed, convert her into a male who grows up to be recruited into the Time Corps, who later goes back to seduce herself, then kidnaps the baby, takes it back 20 years to leave it at an orphanage...
        • John Varley, in "Steel Beach", has a character and his clone have sex, after one of them has a sex change.
        • Very good, classic book, by David Gerrold (who shows up here on /. from time to time). I think the vocal minority who hate it just get turned off by this element (although stylistically I can see the book rubbing some readers the wrong way, too).
  • by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:17PM (#11782482) Homepage
    The review makes the book sound like an enormous dystopia: I have seen the future, and it is horrible. Dystopias succeed, when they do, by pointing out dangerous trends in the present, and showing what could happen if they're allowed to grow unchecked. Nothing in the review gives any suggestion of that, and without the insight into today, a dystopia is simply depressing and morose. Even so, it's a good review, because it told me exactly why I personally wouldn't want to read this. If you're interested in this type of thing, I hope you enjoy it.
    • Or dystopias succeed by revealing the futility of knowing our own futility.

      I think I'm beginning to see the light. If you know your control loop is critically underdamped, and that knowledge can't change the control loop, you'd better find something better to do for the next 50~60 years. Oh wait, it's just a book. Crap.

    • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:46PM (#11782759)
      > The review makes the book sound like an enormous dystopia: I have seen the future, and it is horrible.

      Interesting. The story works for me, because first of all, my reaction to the notion of humanity ending up "spread across the galaxy crushing everything in its way", powerful enough to waste trillions of lives and survive, is indeed "Exultation".

      > Dystopias succeed, when they do, by pointing out dangerous trends in the present, and showing what could happen if they're allowed to grow unchecked.

      And simultaneously, "a human society turned into a colossal war machine, dedicated to one aim: the destruction of its last enemy" is precisely what we have now -- and it applies whether you've chosen the side of America 2.0 or Allah 0.9 -- either way you're adopting "ruthless rules intended to keep [your notion of what it means to be] humanity conquering and to punish any deviations from [your ideal of] the human norm)

      > Even so, it's a good review, because it told me exactly why I personally wouldn't want to read this. If you're interested in this type of thing, I hope you enjoy it.

      No argument there. A future history in which we actually win such an otherwise pointless grudge match of a war sounds pretty interesting, particularly if we have to do so by transcending ourselves. For me, the best SF stories are simultaneously about humanity while being about transcending humanity. In that sense, I agree it's a good review. But I'm also sufficiently "interested in that type of thing" that it doesn't even sound dystopic. YMMV :)

      • >and it applies whether you've chosen the side of America 2.0 or Allah 0.9

        Some of us have chosen secularism and liberal democracy. We must be crazy not to participate in the "USA is #1" vs "Allah will punish" you nonsense the right wing has framed as a easy and pathetic frame to explain various extra-legal adventuring overseas.
  • The Time Ships (Score:4, Informative)

    by GMontag451 ( 230904 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:17PM (#11782485) Homepage
    I've read Manifold Time and Manifold Space, and while interesting, they didn't really engage me. The two books of his that I've read and really enjoyed were The Time Ships, his authorized sequel to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and Vacuum Diagrams, a collection of short stories set in the Xeelee Sequence mentioned in the review.
    • Re:The Time Ships (Score:3, Informative)

      by multiplexo ( 27356 )
      Baxter's SteamPunk novel Anti-Ice is also very good. It deals with the discovery of a stable form of anti-matter by Victorian era civilization. This "anti-ice" is stable and can be reacted with regular ice to produce power. He also has a really good short story collection called Traces [amazon.com] which is unfortunately hard to find in the US but has some absolutely fantastic stories in it such as "Moon Six" and "Weep for the Moon", which actually made me tear up.

  • I found this to be a very enjoyable book with many fresh concepts. You don't need to read the first book.
  • > Trillions of human lives are wasted by hurling themselves at Xeelee defenses ... and it goes on and on. A war machine with billions of worlds full of generations of soldiers barely in their teens born in tanks and dying in thousand-year-long projects aimed at smashing the Xeelee, and knowing nothing but training, the doctrines and death. Whether in a coalescent hive or a not, it seems most human lives are spent in an empty drone-like struggle governed by simple rules

    There's your PvE and PvP options.

  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:23PM (#11782559)
    I'm somewhat skeptical of hives for humans because of the differences between human genetic structures and the genetic structures of true hive makers (Hymenopterans e.g., bees, ants, and wasps).

    The hive construct arose in these insects because of a unique genetic quirk called haplodiploidy -- females are diploid (getting 2 copies of each chromosome, one from each parent) and males are haploid (getting a single copy of each chromosome from the mother only). This quirk makes females more related to their sisters than to their own daughters. If a bee, ant or wasp "wants" to be selfish, it foregoes having its own offspring and raises sisters. This creates the basis for a very strong social bond in which individuals maximize their own fitness by belonging to a group. Humans have no such genetic basis -- the bond for sociality is limited to a more transactional trade of social tit-for-tat.

    I like Stephen Baxter and will have to read this series to see if/how he addresses this issue.
    • Frank Herbert wrote a book called Hellstrom's Hive that involved a secret group of human hive dwellers. It's been a while since I read it but I liked it then.
    • What about them? What's the corresponding case with the rats?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Termites are eusocial and diploid, not haplodiploid. Naked mole rats are also eusocial and diploid, as other posters mentioned.

      There are a lot of non-social haplodiploid wasps and bees, too. Some races of European honeybees have cheating workers that try to lay their own eggs for the other workers to raise instead of the queen's eggs.

      Other factors such as overlap of generations and group defense may be more important than chromosome count in the evolution of eusociality.

      Personally, I think humans are mor
    • by stonecypher ( 118140 ) * <stonecypher@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @12:54PM (#11787557) Homepage Journal
      Well, just because the bees happen to have a genetic mechanism to encourage hive behavior doesn't mean there aren't others, or in fact that such a thing is even required. You're trying too hard to map human desires and needs onto other biologies. Ants are too dumb to want things; their behavior is driven largely by lack of certain behaviors being adequately performed from their perspectives (very similar to the scratch an itch mechanism underlying some larger OSS projects, natch.)

      There are many non-haploiding hiving creatures, such as termites, the Japanese, and arguably some forms of gopher and wren - there's even a reasonable argument for the clownfish, which build up coral reefs and sacrifice one so that the rest of the school can escape, and the sequoia, which are entire forests as single entities and which intentionally kill edge trees to keep other plants from crossing soil borders.

      IANAEvolutionaryBiologist, but I suspect the primary reason that we see hiving occuring in tiny animals isn't about a particular biological mechanism at all, but rather the food requirements of a hive of things much larger. Transportation isn't cheap, and one of a hive's large vulnerabilities is that the population due to design cannot spread out to increase food available to the individual as do individual predators. As such, the hive is limited to the food sources available within an individual's travel. For this reason, one rarely sees a hive even near a desert border, because the half of the food region which is worthless means that area cannot sustain the hive even if the other half of the region is good. If one deals with a hive of larger creatures, that food cost spirals up stratospherically, which eventually pits the individual's needs directly against those of its hive; it's all well and good to ignore one's daughters in favor of one's sisters, but to ignore one's self in a setting due to food constraints means a significant portion of the population would be starving, meaning that a successful hive would be damned hard to create.

      As far as the bond for sociality, many biologists believe that altruism and samaritanism are deeply hard-wired into us, but at the tribal scale instead of the species scale, which is one good argument for the prevalence of racism and other forms of us-vs-them. Preserve the tribe at the expense of other tribes. Fits very well into the worldview wherein one thinks of creatures as vehicles for genes to spread.

      So, maybe it's not as cut and dried as you suggest.
  • I thought that Peter's dark matter object in the George thread in Coalescent sounded a lot like the photino birds of the Xeelee saga. I'm far from tired of that universe, so I'm glad to see more.

    I really enjoyed how the Regina and George threads finally merged in the first book. Baxter is one of those authors who is good at keeping a lot of things going on at once without getting lost.

    I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

  • how would they live? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:24PM (#11782568) Homepage Journal
    "How would it function?"

    Probably just like any other eusocial society? With an egg laying queen, sterile female workers, and mouthless drones who live just long enough to mate? For a neat mammal example of this structure, see Nake mole rats [lpzoo.com].

  • by saddino ( 183491 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:31PM (#11782633)
    Exultant is the second part of his Destiny's Children series (no Beyonce jokes, please).

    Oops.
  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:37PM (#11782688)
    Come on, we're all grown ups (well, some of us are)...doesn't anyone read anything outside of the scifi and fantasy realm???
    • For the same reason that Slashdot does not talk about a lot of other stuff - topics that do not interest the general demography of the readers of nerd/geek population would attract far too few folks.
    • I read lots of stuff outside Fantasy and Sci-Fi. It's just people don't bother to review it. However, FYI, Sci-Fi and Fantasy aren't just for kids. ;-)
    • Because non-speculative fiction is boring. If I want kitchen-sink realism, I have my own dull life, thank you very much. SF gives me hope and inspiration, contrary to mainstream soap.
      • SF gives me hope and inspiration

        Obvious tripe like this, about time-travelling aliense or some such silliness, gives you hope and inspiration? How so?

      • Having read practically every manor scifi book/series and every significant fiction work available during my lifetime, I can tell you that by far the more meaningful fiction has been outside of scifi. Some scifi does have messaging beyond the geekspehere (Heinlein), but mostly we're talking about stuff you should have left behind when you were fifteen.
        • Then try reading some more, or keep your snobbery to yourself. Why not tell everyone what you think is so perfect and wonderful for those aged 16+? Then you can get some /. snobbery back (and I have no doubt equally passionate and honest snobbery) about how your particular choice isn't so great. I read inside and outside the genre, and while I would hope bright 15 year olds would enjoy my science fiction novels, I would also hope 16 year olds would.

          There are ideas -- deep, important ideas -- to explore about what it means to be human that can't be done in mainstream literature. Now, science fiction can be bad, but so can any literary form. It can also be great. Again, you could try reading some more. Don't limit yourself to the "major" sf books/series which are more likely to reach for the lowest common denominator to reach a broader audience. Look especially at Nebula Award winners, which are chosen by other writers, not the fans (although Nebula politics can skew results).

          Have you read Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner? How about Replay by Ken Grimwood? The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester?

          At least you could keep quiet. It's pretty rude to wade into a conversation people are having only to proclaim that they're talking about something only kids should like.
    • Write a review of something else and submit it.
    • Yes I do read outside of the speculative fiction genre, but I find Science Fiction to be the most interesting. Mainstream fiction tends to focus on the individual dealing with change(yes, most stories can be boiled down to that) while Science Fiction tends to deal with society as a whole dealing with change. The latter is more thought provoking and relevant in my opinion.
  • I suggest you all read Gregory Benford's (hard core sci-fi) Galactic Center series. Mr. Baxter obviously did. -karl http://karlfrinkle.net
  • by null etc. ( 524767 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @06:48PM (#11782781)
    Let me share with you a strange event that just happened to me. It may be slightly offtopic, but is strongly reminiscent of this book review.

    I was just about to post to /. in order to try to get another Score 5, Funny, when all of the sudden I received an email from myself.

    Now, this is very dubious, since no one on my LAN would spoof an email to me. So I read it, and it said "Dear null etc., I know this sounds strange, but I am you, and must warn you (or me, for that matter) that you should not post to /. and get another Score 5, Funny. If you do (and I did, that's why I'm warning you), the consequences will be dire, and the overall quality of the posts on /. will decline."

    So I quickly deleted my post and sent this one instead. Now, I'll wait patiently and hope I don't get Score 5, Funny.


    • So I quickly deleted my post and sent this one instead. Now, I'll wait patiently and hope I don't get Score 5, Funny.

      You sure that delete key is working properly?
    • I guess we live in a world which has doomed us to a certain fate.
    • Of course, this is Slashdot.
      If your average Slashdotter came across a button that said "DO NOT PRESS, WILL DESTROY UNIVERSE" they would press it just to see if it was connected or not.
      • I did this once with a fire alarm in high school. I thought it might be broken (seriously). It wasn't. I got off the hook since with my reputation they believed me.

        I'm also reminded of an old Dr. Who episode with the Daleks. The Doctor asks Davros, creator of the Daleks, if he would really press such a button given the choice. Davros comes back with something like, "To have that kind of power...and not use it? Yes, yes, I believe I would."
    • This post illustrates perfectly the idea that physics, even in the cases where time travel is allowed, does not allow paradoxes to happen.
  • I've read 4 Baxter novels and found them thoroughly uninteresting. The story concepts were excellent, which kept me going back to try another. The writing was bland and uninteresting and the story never seemed to get anywhere. All the actual story where the concept is explored was compressed into the final chapter or two of the book. Everything up to that was people travelling here and there, being involved with unimportant and uninteresting side plots. The actual story was compressed into the last 2 chapte
    • The only Baxter book I've read is _The Light of Other Days_, and I was left with an impression similar to the one you describe. (To be fair, this book was co-written by Arthur C. Clarke, and I'm not sure what each author contributed.)

      The characters seemed bland, cardboard, and stereotyped. The basic concept of the book was interesting, though.

      I'll probably give Baxter another shot, since people speak highly of him, and I wouldn't want to judge him with one data point.

    • I heard people raving about Titan, so I gave it a read.

      It was one of the worst books I ever suffered through. Totally unbeliveable plot, uninteresting, cardboard characters, bad, bad science and a deus ex machina ending that made no sense at all. A little bit better than Peter Hamilton-level dreck, but not much.

      I've avoided almost all of his stuff since, but the little I've read afterwards hasn't improved my opinion. Can a Baxter fan suggest something that might change my mind?

      • I find Baxter really hit-or-miss.
        The first thing I ever read from him was Time Ships, and rather liked it. I recently read all of the Manifold series (I do not recommend doing this straight through), and was ultimately disappointed. Each book takes you through a bunch of different story threads that...ultimately go nowhere. The lonely humanity in the year 1x10^100, the sentient squid, the blue children, the ET robots, the waves of colonization, the wandering moon...none of them really mesh together. And
    • I agree. I used to like Baxter's novels a lot, back when I was a kid and hadn't had a chance to start reading *good* novels.

      Baxter has awesome ideas but he just totally sucks as an author, his style is bland and uninteresting.
  • by Calroth ( 310516 ) on Friday February 25, 2005 @08:11PM (#11783520)
    Stephen Baxter is amongst the hardest of the hard sci-fi writers. I read a review of Coalescent, and in it, the reviewer described the end of the book as set in "a typical Baxterian universe". To me, there's no better way to describe it.

    Exultant, to me, is a story that could read as one of Baxter's masterpieces, if only he got a few more elements right. (Alas, that's not the first time I've thought that of his stories). The narrative often doesn't flow well, sometimes cutting to dry physics lectures, and feeling like a disjoint list of tasks that must be done, filling in time until we make it to the climax, which seems rushed. Also, there seem to me to be some fairly obvious plot holes... for instance, his faster-than-light travel doesn't create time paradoxes except at the beginning of the story, where it's a plot device.

    This is only a loose sequel to Coalescent, with some recurring themes. It's a very different book (as you may guess: one is set in Roman Britain and the other is 20,000 years in the future) but it also has a strong focus on hard physics. Some of this is at the expense of the characters... for instance, Baxter really needs to work on his romance writing, or (for preference) leave it out. But the action scenes were done well, and you really get the sense of the vast human empire and the insignifance of one little life.

    But the central theme, A brief life burns brightly, is strong, and Baxter explores it well. As usual, he's got plenty of fascinating ideas, like how life may have proliferated in the deep past, causing some events that we've otherwise put down to straight, lifeless physics...

    Even after all that? I'm hooked. I'm re-reading the story, and I haven't read anything from the Xeelee Sequence up until now, but that's next on the list.
    • Since it has been suggested elsewhere in the thread that science fiction is only appropriate until you're fifteen or so, I thought I should sink to that level.

      Stephen Baxter is amongst the hardest of the hard sci-fi writers.

      I'm harder.
  • I'm going to have to check out this book. Personally I believe a hive-like state is the only long term survivable state for humanity, even though I don't like the idea. Any society with freedom of individual thought and action will self-destruct when technology advances to the point where free individuals can wield enough power to destroy it.

    Science fiction involving high-tech freedom fighters doesn't usually address the question of what happens after the Death Star blows up. At least in Star Wars we got t
  • Evolution by Baxter is probably one of the best SF books I have read (starts 65 million years ago and goes to the end of earth). Highly recommended
  • by mattr ( 78516 ) <mattr@@@telebody...com> on Saturday February 26, 2005 @01:17AM (#11785366) Homepage Journal
    Not sure if I should read the book or not, though undoubtedly I will end up doing so because there aren't that many talented sf writers broadly published, and because the review said it was in the Xeelee universe full of invention.

    Coalescent was an extremely frustrating book to read for someone who loves hard sf, speculative and "Golden Years of SF" style philosophical versions like Heinlein, Van Vogt, etc.

    After a long time of waiting for the other shoe to drop in Coalescent and the "real" sf story to start, I gave up being bored to tears and worked hard at getting into what was the only "historical" (well historical fantasy) novel I have read since maybe A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

    I ended up liking the history part but found the ages long saga interminable and stifling . Sure the hive idea was cool but it could have made a series of short stories or a hard sf novel on its own, I thought. Hear's hoping that that is exactly what the new book is. Sounds a bit like Riddick though!

    Matt R.
  • For another interesting take on the hive mind read "The Light of Other Days", co-written by Arthur C. Clark and Stephen Baxter. The hive mind concept is only a small part of the book, but the entire book is very readable and thought provoking.
  • I've never heard of the Xeelee series before, but the plot seems very similar to Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon, a very ambitious novel from 1930, a Sci-Fi classic.

    Not saying that's a bad thing... in fact, if Baxter has been influenced greatly by someone as wonderful as Stapledon, then the books are probably excellent, and I think I'll check them out.

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