cover image Time


Stephen Baxter. Del Rey Books, $24 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-345-43075-5

Baxter is well known for both realistic near-future, alternate-history novels (Voyage) and the wildest sort of hard-science speculation (Flux; Timelike Infinity). In this first volume in his Manifold trilogy, he combines both types of story, beginning with what appears to be the straightforward tale of Reid Malenfant, a millionaire industrialist who tries to circumvent a near-moribund NASA and start his own on-the-cheap space program. Things soon take a strange turn, however, when Malenfant receives evidence both that humanity will be wiped out within the next 200 years and that proof of this claim can be found on a near-Earth asteroid named Cruithne. Throw in a race of mutant, starfaring squid; the sudden appearance on Earth of children with superhuman intelligence and a mysterious connection to the artifact Malenfant finds on Cruithne; a Cook's tour of literally hundreds of alternate universes; and a spectacularly unsuccessful romance with at least two endings, and you've got a novel that's as overgrown as it is misshapen. Baxter is the equal of Gregory Benford or Greg Bear when it comes to describing spectacular astronomical phenomena and truly weird science, and he shares with Arthur C. Clarke and Olaf Stapledon the ability to portray enormous vistas of time and space to great effect, but his characters can be clumsily drawn and his plots unwieldy. The first half of this novel could easily have been cut by 50 pages or so with little loss. Still, faults aside, there's plenty here to spark the veteran SF reader's sense of wonder. (Jan.)