Stephen Baxter

"What Quantum Physics and Genetic engineering is for Greg Egan; Black Holes, Superstrings and Relativity Theory is for Stephen M. Baxter."

You practically need a PhD to understand his work. Reading his books had me going out to buy books on SuperString? theory, Relativity, etc. This is an argument against ScienceFictionGoldenAge.

-- sg

I have read all the Xeelee books and Titan, I found them to be very good. I think non-science types should enjoy them just as much but will keep your brain thinking long after finishing the books. -- AndrewMcMeikan


(And deep discounts on used copies at

Stephen Baxter writes unmistakable "hard" SF. There's a strong focus on real science and plausible engineering; and the Big Ideas are more important than the characters' relationships. If that turns you off, don't read him.

If you actually like hard SF then I'd say Stephen Baxter is unmissable! No other hard SF writer seems to be dealing much with contemporary science like black hole evaporation or cosmic strings... and how to use a cosmic string to cut up a planet for raw materials...

Stephen Baxter is pretty weak as a writer. In Manifold: Space, the only good guys were obnoxious male American "entrepreneurs". Of the two major female characters, one was weak and uninteresting while the other was obsessively insane. And that's hardly his only, or even most egregious, crime against good authorship.

Throughout Manifold: Space, The Ring, and Vacuum Diagrams, StephenBaxter writes absurd scenes where some unbelievably enthusiastic character lectures an ignorant and uninterested character (the standin for the reader) about basic physics and cosmology. These scenes are tedious, unbelievable, absurd and patronizing. They bring to mind a mad scientist cackling about his favourite subject to someone in excruciating pain (i.e., someone whose only wish is to tell the lecturer to shut the fuck up). Yet Baxter feels the need to resort to these scenes again and again for exposition and background.

Yes, StephenBaxter writes much harder SciFi than most. But one is reduced to groans when one realizes that the premise behind which Manifold: Space is based, revealed only at the end of the book, is utterly impossible. As if an interstellar civilization couldn't protect itself from a massive supernova event by placing itself behind a black hole. Especially with tens of millennia of warning time (yes kids, there is such a thing as an impenetrable shield)!! And in Vacuum Diagrams, one of the central characters is made up of "quantum wavefunctions". Well hell, so are we all! So how exactly does that give him the ability to go through walls or travel faster than light or into the past? Geez, give me a break! It wouldn't have been any more meaningless if Baxter had written that character as being composed of ... "energy" or "information"!

This doesn't mean he isn't a good read. Despite their many flaws, I loved his books and highly recommend them. However, I skipped at least 1/3 of The Ring (I was interested in Lieserl, not the day-to-day life of some savages on a lifeboat) and I'm sure I skipped pieces of Vacuum Diagrams (though I can't remember what or how much). He's simply not the best of SciFiAuthors currently available (JoanSlonczewski is much better). And far from any ideal.

I've found The Time Ships to be his best work by an order of magnitude. It's written as a sequel to HerbertGeorgeWells' "TheTimeMachine", bringing the story up to date with the latest 21st-century topics in physics and sci-fi such as ManyUniversesTheory, NanoTechnology, GeneticEngineering?, ReplicatorTechnology, PostScarcity, cosmology and the long-term evolution of mankind and of the universe. Deals with all of history from the dawn of time to millions of years hence, all from the point of view of the H. G. Wells' well-mannered English protagonist from AD 1899. A fascinating book, and one of the only time-travel stories that goes from one end of the universe to the opposite end of a different universe and ends up still being internally consistent!

Unfortunately I read The Time Ships first, and ended up being mostly disappointed by the rest of Baxter's novels. (Although one of his later works, Evolution, is in the same league - covering the rise and fall of humanity through anecdotes spanning hundreds of millions of years and many evolutionary stages.)

Very much a writer of scientific ideas, not people or society. The characters in Vacuum Diagrams, a collection of stories set over millions of years of humanity's future, all spoke like the guy next door. I found it hard to believe that linguistic and cultural evolution stopped at the end of the twentieth century.

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