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Evolution Mass Market Paperback – February 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Following up his cosmic Manifold series, Stephen Baxter peers back on a more prosaic history in the worthy yet uneven Evolution. The book is nothing less than a novelization of human evolution, a mega-Michener treatment of 65 million years starring a host of smart, furry primates representing Homo sapiens's ancestry. Each stage of our ancestry is represented by a character of progressively increasing intelligence, empathy, and brain size, who must survive predation and other perils long enough to keep the natural-selection ball rolling. While Baxter carefully follows some widely accepted theories of evolution--punctuated equilibrium, for instance--he also strays from the known in postulating air whales and sentient, tool-wielding dinosaurs. And why not? There's nothing in the fossil record to contradict his musings about those things, or about the first instances of mammalian altruism and deception, which he also lets us observe. From little Purga, a shrewlike mammal scurrying under the feet of ankylosaurs, all the way through Ultimate, the last human descendant, Baxter adds drama and a strong story arc to our past and future. But he spends too much time on details of the various prehumans' lives, which can become repetitive: fight, mate, die, ad infinitum. And readers eager for a science-fictional adventure will only find satisfaction in the posthuman chapters at the end. Despite these flaws, Evolution grips the attention with an epoch-spanning tale of the random changes that rule our genetic heritage. Recommended. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Taking a page from SF saga writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and Brian Stableford, British author Baxter (the Manifold trilogy) portrays humanity's origins, growth and ultimate disappearance in a loose-knit series of brutal vignettes spanning millions of years of evolution. Beginning with the gritty slice-of-life tale of a small, ratlike proto-primate called Purga (short for species Purgatorius), the story travels from the end of the Cretaceous through the millennia as primates slowly evolve into creatures more and more recognizably human, learning to make and use tools, developing language and the ability to feel empathy-the trait that Baxter selects as definitive of true humanity. Resonating with that theme, the vignettes are linked by a thin near-future frame about scientists meeting in the midst of ecological and political chaos to find a way to save humanity from itself through the "globalization of empathy." More concerned with technical detail than character or plot, the book rises above its fragmented narrative and frequently repetitive violence to reach a grim and stoic grandeur, which (despite a tendency toward preachiness) clearly has humanity's best interests at heart. Here is a rigorously constructed hard SF novel where the question is not whether humanity will reach the stars but how it will survive its own worst tendencies.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey (February 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345457838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345457837
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1.1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (117 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #696,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By isala on April 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a pretty mature look at evolution, its driving forces, and its ultimate results.
We start at the time of the Chixculub meteorite with a small primate of the species Purgatorium and continue until far far into the future. Readers of Stapleton's Last and First Men will recognize the scope. The style is somewhat, suspiciously so actually, reminicent of the BBC television series' Walking With Dinosaurs, Beasts, and Cavemen. Professor Jack Cohen, well-known and respected, in SF circles, has helped checking the facts. The science is up to 2002 standards. The only recent thing I see missing is the connection between development of language and our loss of thick body hair (this meant that kids could no longer cling on to their mothers, and they had to develop a new way of keeping track of each other).
The rise and fall of humankind is presented in a few snapshots of more or less important moments in our development.
The author makes it clear that it is fiction by adding some highly speculative accounts of tool-using dinosaurs and giant-giant flying dinosaurs.
Baxter has some interesting ideas, like that the advent of true language (subject-verb-object) went hand in hand with the discovery of reasoning and deduction, and, incidentally, with mysticism/religion.
The book is not a brainless praise of development. The theme of the book is one of ultimate doom: when we became truly human (=discovering analysis) we also sowed the seeds of our own destruction. Baxter feels that we reached our apex during the last glaciation, when we still lived in a certain harmony with our surroundings. With the advent of agriculture the book takes on a distinctively more gloomy note. The post-apocalyptic world he describes is truly nightmarish, but, unfortunately, extremely believeable. He gives a nice touch of doom when he lets the Monolith of "2001" fame appear towards the *end* of the book.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Barry Floyd on March 18, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
At over 640 pages, Evolution-by award winning author Stephen Baxter, a trained engineer with degrees from Cambridge and South-Ampton Universities-may not be exactly the sort of light reading one may think to bring to the beach this summer; however, its underling warning for the Human species may be a reminder of that other book concerning beaches.
Evolution is perhaps the most interesting novel I have come across concerning the fate of humanity if we stay on our current course. But, rather than offer the reader the usual, overblown apocalyptic Sci Fi novel, or beating us over the head with a righteous morality play, Evolution takes the scientific route toward offering a subtle but very effective message.
That message: We'd better begin to learn to cooperate as well as we compete or we Homo-Sapiens have already passed our prime.
Evolution begins 65 Million Years ago when the comet which ended the reign of the dinosaurs on Earth was as bright in the sky as the sun. Baxter shows us the "lifestyle" of some of the late Cretaceous reptiles & birds from the "point of view" of the first primates-mousy little fur balls which hid from the thunder lizards by burrowing underground in the forests. Baxter names each animal we encounter-again, as the primates would see them-to give us a sense of the primates' existence and "state of mind"-as simple as some of those early minds were. This interesting technique allows the reader to partly identify with what occurs to these creatures on their road to modernity. We experience what it means to be human by what it meant to be each of these creatures in an ever changing environment.

In essence, Evolution is a story of existence, adaptation, survival and extinction.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 21, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I received this book as a gift and did not have high expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Baxter manages to novelise very effectively the course of evolution through billions of years, which is no mean achievement. The book is fact-based, though of necessity it does spin some extravagant speculation from those facts, and in a few places those speculations are less than convincing, such as the prehistoric Neanderthal shanty town outside the Homo Sapiens village.

Baxter writes about science in a very eloquent and engaging way. Where he consistently shows weakness is when he is writing dialogue. This led me to skip through the stilted Roman chapter.

That said, the later chapter about the British soldiers in an empty future England was quite haunting, and I really liked the way he consistently found low-key but satisfying conclusions to the various evolutionary vignettes.

A book that geniunely throws fresh perspective on the evolution of life. I'm glad I read it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Norbert Haupt on January 6, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Evolution is a novel of over 640 pages that was not an easy read, but superbly inspiring and thought-provoking. Reading Evolution was time extremely well spent, I learned immeasurably from it, and I am not yet done learning.

Evolution, while it is termed a novel, is not really a novel. Critics have blasted it as a series of short stories, loosely connected. A novel has a protagonist, a theme, and a plot that creates suspense which keeps the reader turning the pages. This book has none of that. The only motivator that keeps turning the pages of Evolution is an intense interest in the subject of the book. Evolution is not really a novel, but rather speculative natural history fiction.

Some reviewers of one star on Amazon blasted Baxter for this book. They ridiculed his science, the plausibility of the events and the structure and approach of the book. I think they are missing the point. Baxter is fully aware of the fact that he sometimes picked one of several conflicting scientific theories or premises and ran with it. There is a lot of speculation on what might have happened, and what might happen in the future, but it is mostly plausible at a minimum, often surprising or startling, and sometimes outright stunning.

Spoiler warning: I am going to talk about some details that might be considered spoilers, but I don't think they will take away anything from the enjoyment of the book at all, but rather, I think they might help inspire you to pick it up and read it yourself.

The main story starts in the Jurassic period. Baxter describes what the world might have been like during the height of the reign of the dinosaurs 145 million years ago.
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