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Phase Space
Stephen Baxter
HarperCollins Voyager, 426 pages

Phase 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: Reality Dust
SF Site Review: The Time Ships
SF Site Review: Origin
SF Site Review: Origin
SF Site Review: Longtusk and Deep Future
SF Site Review: Manifold: Space
SF Site Review: Longtusk
SF Site Review: Vacuum Diagrams
SF Site Review: Titan

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

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Stephen Baxter demonstrates his versatility in the 25 stories which have been collected in Phase Space. While practically all the stories are of the hard science fiction variety for which Baxter is known, they run the gamut from the alternate historical "Marginalia" and "The Twelfth Album" to the hard speculative science of "Sheena 5" or the problem-solving fiction of "The Fubar Suit."

Although each of the stories stands on its own and achieves its own success or failure on its own merits, many of the stories are loosely (or sometimes not so loosely) linked together, both thematically and by being set in related universes. While the Reid Malefant universe of the Manifold series is well represented, Baxter's older Xeelee universe doesn't appear in the current collection. This may well provide a more complete vision of Baxter's writings than his previous collections have imparted to readers who do not see his short work upon its initial publication in magazines and anthologies.

As Baxter has demonstrated time and again, in his Manifold novels and works such as The Time Ships, he is not afraid to extrapolate on the distant future of the universe, and this comes across clearly in stories like "The Gravity Mine" which is reminiscent of the aeons-spanning writings of Olaf Stapledon in its ambition. Baxter's story of the distant future of the human race and the universe

One of the themes which has long filled Baxter's writing is the space program, examined not only in Voyage and Titan, but also the novel Anti-Ice. In Phase Space, he tackles the space program in numerous stories, whether it is the strange ruminations of Yuri Gagarin in "Poyekhali 3201," the alternative space program of "War Birds" or the riff on Voyage which occurs in "Marginalia." Each of these stories, and more, demonstrate how a single author can play with one common theme and write a variety of stories around that idea.

Baxter is also very good at incorporating complex scientific theories into entertaining stories. Although the melding of literature and science may have been what Hugo Gernsback was calling for when he announced that science fiction should teach science fiction, Baxter's writing and characterization is better than anything Gernsback had in mind. Furthermore, Baxter skillfully weaves his science into the stories, making intricate theories understandable while examining their ramifications.

Baxter has grouped the short stories in the book into several sections and introduces most of those sections with a short framing device that runs through the book. While this attempt to link all the disparate short stories is intriguing, it does not fully work and the reader might have been better served with standard introductions to the story, similar to the brief notes Baxter includes in his afterword. However, the framing device is simply a conceit and the stories themselves are the reason to read Phase Space.

Baxter's short stories reveal a skill which is also evident in his novels. Short stories, however, also show talent which is not evident in longer works, notably the ability to immerse a reader in an alien world for a brief period of time yet tell a cohesive story. To this, Baxter adds his ability for scientific extrapolation and explanation, making Phase Space an excellent collection for fans of hard science fiction.

Copyright © 2003 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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