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Manifold: Space
Stephen Baxter
Del Rey, 455 pages

Manifold: Space
Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter was born in 1957 and was raised in Liverpool. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and got a PhD from Southampton. He worked in information technology and lives in Buckinghamshire, England. His first story, "The Xeelee Flower," was published in Interzone 19.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Manifold: Space
SF Site Review: Longtusk
SF Site Review: Vacuum Diagrams
SF Site Review: Titan
Stephen Baxter Interview
Book Review: Ring
Book Review: Flux
Stephen Baxter Tribute Site
Stephen Baxter Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

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In this story, Reid Malenfant is a retired astronaut who continues to agitate for space exploration. A similar character appears in Baxter's previous Manifold: Time, but apparently these two books take place in different, or perhaps parallel universes. Recreational readers are often obsessive about reading series books in the "correct" order, so it is worth noting that despite similar titles, similarly named characters, and similar themes, these two books do not have a story continued from one to the other in the usual manner; they are independent novels.

Baxter begins Manifold: Space by citing two opposite viewpoints. The first is that with the multitude of possible solar systems there must be other life; indeed, other sentient life. The second is that, well, if there were, we would know it. Those aliens would be here or we would detect their presence in the galaxy.

The novel speculates on the relationship between two other views, as well. Fred Hoyle suggested that the circumstances necessary to create life might be as likely as a wind whipping through a hanger full of parts creating an aircraft. The other view suggests the physics of the universe is hard-wired to tend toward the creation of life, and that life will appear everywhere it possibly can.

Baxter's story comes down on the side of life as a common occurrence, and offers profound extrapolation to reconcile the viewpoints about the existence of sentience in the universe; an elaborate and frightening vision of waves of exploitive colonization through the universe, as well as waves of extinction.

As the story begins, Malenfant delivers a lecture to a group of colonists on the moon in which he proposes automated probes to other stars, an advance wave for expansion. His words become ominous when robots or perhaps a life form, which to us resembles machines, are discovered mining the asteroids, echoing Malenfant's proposal for other solar systems. Malenfant travels to the edge of our solar system to learn more about where the invaders come from, and discovers an ancient, still functional transporter gate. Without hesitation, he sets off at light speed for an unknown destination.

Baxter has created a wonderful book; exhilarating scientific speculation within a story featuring well-defined, diverse characterization. The story involves the future history of the human race, and touches on the significance of sentience in the universe; an epic of awesome scale, and yet told in believable human terms.

Copyright © 2001 Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and web sites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.


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