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Longtusk
      Deep Future
Stephen Baxter
Eos/HarperCollins, 320 pages
      Victor Gollancz, 224 pages

Longtusk
Deep Future
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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I've been reading a lot of Stephen Baxter books recently, and at some point I felt like I needed to check around to make sure there wasn't more than one writer using that name in the science fiction field.

I've reviewed Manifold: Space separately on SF Site, as has David Soyka. This is a book which is both comfortably traditional in its use of science fiction devices to educate and speculate about scientific themes, and yet manages to present a non-human-centric cosmic viewpoint.

Then there is Longtusk, a pre-historic novel in which the protagonist is a mammoth, and the other main characters mastodants, with various pre-historic hominid races as supporting characters and antagonists. The mammoths are written in an anthropomorphic manner, but the narrative also illuminates ways in which the huge animals differ from humans. For instance, they would be less reliant on sight, and have greater awareness of their surroundings through hearing and scent.

Longtusk is part of a series which starts with Silverhair. Silverhair is a mammoth character who also appears in the second book to narrate some of the stories/legends about Longtusk, but each book is complete in itself.

It seems like a huge leap from the post-modern space opera of the Manifold books to Earth's pre-history, and in fact the canvas looks much different -- enough to make me check the thumbnail bios to make sure they were by the same fellow. Most writers, after all, use the same palette most of the time.

Some of the same concerns motivate the Manifold books and Baxter's pre-histories. Longtusk's story deals with the exploitation and predation of his race by hominids, as well as the changing climate. The Manifold books deal with a variety of threats and challenges faced by humans as well as other sentient life, in the future and throughout the universe.

Deep Future, is a non-fiction collection of essays which illuminate many of the same ideas and themes that Baxter deals with in the Manifold books. It seems probable that Baxter worked on these books at the same time.

Baxter fills the books with ideas worthy of the best science fiction sense of wonder. Like this, "Or how about 'vacuum decay'? It seems that space itself, as it unfolded from the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, is unstable... a powerful enough nudge, properly applied, could cause the whole shebang to tip over into a new form."

Baxter also deals with current events issues, like the US withdrawal from the global warming treaty. He calls this "carbon aggression," and reminds us that most computer models of the Earth's atmosphere flip over into two stable states: "White Earth" in which ice sheets cover the planet, and "Venus," where the surface temperature melts lead.

An important theme in Manifold: Space deals with the conflict between the ideas that suggest there must be other intelligent life in the universe, because it is so vast and diverse; and Fermi's contention that if other intelligent life existed, we would already know about it. Baxter's novels speculate about how that life might exist, but in Deep Future Baxter admits that he actually suspects Fermi might be correct -- we might be alone in the universe.

Baxter's diverse oeuvre at the very least supports the idea that intelligent life exists on Earth.

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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