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on December 31, 2007
Firstborn is the concluding volume in Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter's Time Odyssey trilogy. The preceding two books in this science-fiction series are Time's Eye (2003) and Sunstorm (2005). Each prior novel was vivid, innovative, and compelling. I cannot say the same thing about Firstborn. The final installment is a disappointing capstone.

Without spoiling the story, Firstborn leaves us with as many questions as it answers. It lacks finality. Readers are left wanting more. Yet there is nothing more for Clarke and Baxter to give, after they seem to write themselves into a corner.

The concluding chapters of the book are increasingly ambiguous. Clarke and Baxter seem distracted by their own storyline. It becomes ever more complex as Firstborn unravels. As the end nears, Firstborn becomes tenuous and unconvincing.

This is in contrast to most of Clarke's writing over the past 60 years. I credit Clarke and author Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) as being the best at weaving science, engineering, physics, and futurism into their works of science fiction. Unfortunately, in Firstborn, the concepts Baxter and Clarke select - particularly the theoretical physics they invoke - are simply unrealistic. To the extent that any of it is credible, the writers fail to properly explain core principals. Unlike Clarke and Baxter's former works, the technology in Firstborn does not buttress the narrative. It detracts from it.

I concede that there is lengthy discussion in the book of space elevators and anti-matter rocket motors. As to the first, it is a rehash of a concept Clarke wrote about 25 years ago in The Fountains of Paradise (1979). As to the second - anti-matter rockets - the discussion of this technology is pedestrian and under-developed. Clarke and Baxter seem to know as much/little about it as some sophisticated readers know. It makes the technological application and discussion in Firstborn seem far-fetched and contrived.

Character development in Firstborn is also disappointing. There are several strong female characters. We met some of them before in Sunstorm and Time's Eye. In Firstborn, however, they are not easy to warm up to. Their demeanors, amid massive catastrophes and suffering, are measured and stiff. Certain male protagonists exhibit the opposite problem: they are caricatures and impossible to identify with. Many lesser characters are unmemorable. This is despite excellent creative opportunities which could have been leveraged in the "Mir" universe.

The writing in Firstborn simply does not compare with Clarke's past work. In other books he easily and vividly communicated joy, pain, courage, and suffering. He was at his best, for example, in Songs of Distant Earth (1986) and Childhood's End (1953), which better explore love, friendship, family and a range of human emotions in the context of a space-faring society. Firstborn falls far short of his own standards.

Please do not let this review dissuade you from reading other Arthur C. Clarke novels. He is one of my favorite writers of all time. It is in fact difficult for me to write this less-than-favorable review of Firstborn. Clarke ties Heinlein in my mind for being the best science fiction writer in history. Significantly, Clarke's vision, including early work on geostationary satellites, transcends science fiction. He is legitimately celebrated for contributions to "science fact."

It is therefore not my opinion that Firstborn is a poorly-written book; it is only lacking when compared to Clarke (and Baxter's) prior works.

J. Christopher Robbins
Aviation & Space Law Department
Robbins Equitas, P.A.
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on July 3, 2008
As a lifelong fan of Sir Arthur, I admit to having lost my taste for his work since he collaborated with others. In one of his earlier collaborations, I could easily figure out what lines Clarke wrote, into the story written, obviously, by the other.

This book just didn't...catch me! I tried, I really did. But the first in this series of three struck me as a cross between the themes of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the old "Time Tunnel" television series. The ideas weren't engaging, and the story not really worth the time it took to read it.

This went downhill from there.

Maybe when I get some time--yeah, that's likely to occur--I'll read all three of them and, wow, I'll have an insight and change my reviews. But for now, I'm awaiting Sir Arthur's last collaboration, of which I read in his Washington Post obituary (and I've ordered but it won't be here for another month or so). And I hope to the heavens that it's better than the last few.

Rest in Peace, Arthur. I'll always remember you for your better work.
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on April 19, 2008
The Three books of the Time Odyssey Series are both very satisfying and very frustrating. The first book - Time's Eye - with the fractured history on a recreated earth - is mind boggling. The Second one - Sunstorm - with earth working together to ward off the effects of an artificially induced solar flare - is amazing, in a more techincal way. The last book - Firstborn - also presents us with a peril that must be deflected - a quantum bomb. It is not a spoiler to say that in the end the problem is solved with great ingenuity. In addition, new allies are brought in to help in the fight against the Firstborn. What is disappointing is that the cover says "The Conclusion of a Time Odyssey" but the end of the novel is about as open ended as a book can be. The war goes on - and now that Sir Arthur Clarke has died - any conclusion must be strictly that of Stephen Baxter.
Firstborn is a welcome companion to the earlier books but readers should by all means read the books in the order they are written and not start with Firstborn.
 Firstborn (A Time Odyssey)
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on January 7, 2008
Firstborn is the continuation, and supposed, conclusion to the Time Odyssey trilogy. The book floats between several settings, including Mars, Earth, and Mir (the alternate world created in Time's Eye). This book attempts to tie in all of the previous elements of Time's Eye and Sunstorm. Once again, we follow Bisea Dutt between space and between universes, all the way back to Mir. The Firstborn are on the attack again. This time, they are lobbing a "Q bomb" at the Earth. The Q bomb will wipe out the whole of Earth, if it hits.

I can see what Clarke and Baxter were trying to accomplish with this novel. However, the ideas and writing are underdeveloped and lacking in cohesion. The novel starts out promisingly enough, with Bisea Dutt waking from suspended animation and running away from authorities. However the novel quickly loses its focus and edge by indulging in half-plots and contrived conflicts.

Much of the novel is focused on humanity's attempts to defeat the Q bomb. Without spoiling the story, the novel focuses on the conventional, government lead attempts to stop the bomb and a less conventional attempt, involving Mir.

At every step in the plot, it seems Clarke is a few pages from a great concept, chapter and book. However, he falls short - consistently. The world he initially creates is, seemingly, supposed to be more paranoid, authoritative and divided, but that is barely conveyed with the simple technical devices he creates (ex. a mandatory ident tattoo on everyone's cheek). Close to the novel's resolution, the sweeping changes in society are empty and uninspiring.

To the dismay of those who enjoyed Time's Eye, Alexander is reduced to a shell of what he could be and the Babylonian court is barely touched on. This exhibits none of the wonderful counter-factual history Time's Eye exhibited. At the same time, it does not explore any ground breaking scientific material (the Q bomb is never truly explored), nor does it give a sense of human drama as Sunstorm did.

Though it's far from out of character for Clarke, the conclusion of the book leaves another open ending and feels very unsatisfying for a true end of a trilogy. I sat puzzled and had to reread the last sentences a couple times, just to make sure I read them correctly. Sometimes needing to reread the last few sentences of a book is very satisfying, but this was not the case for Firstborn.

Lastly, in terms of the trilogy as a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the first two installments in the series. Yet, when taken holistically with this last installment, I can't help but think there could have been a better job done of interwoven story lines, resolution and character development throughout the trilogy itself. The first two novels were excellent on their own merits, but this third installment seems as though it's trying to weave together two incompatible stories.

If you've read the two previous novels, I'd still recommend you read Firstborn, but don't get your hopes up, and wait for the paperback.
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on December 6, 2010
I recently gave a positive review for the second book in this trilogy, Sunstorm, despite the number of negative reviews shown. In fact, upon completing the book a week ago, I eagerly jumped into this third book. My eagerness quickly turned to forced reading. I felt very taken aback by the direction the authors took this book. Where the first two books could almost be standalone novels, this one thankfully ties things back together and gives further forward movement to the overall story. However, it is how they chose to go about it that made this painful.

When I read Sunstorm, I felt as though the authors had to cull complete segments from the book to make it fit nicely within their allotted 400 pages (the great mystery of the Chinese mission cleared itself in under a paragraph). In this particular case, I felt as though they had to pad to come up to 400 pages. Case in point - the quest to get Bisesa Dutt to Mars took a complete one-third of the novel to reveal, which included probably 100 pages on a space elevator. And the space elevator sequence dragged on forever. I don't know how the characters didn't go out of their mind. Weeks in an elevator and not discussing the reasons for being on the mission. Just a consistent "you'll see." That would have been an ideal time for character development between Bisesa and Myra but nope. Weeks of silence.

I was glad to see Mir again, but this fascinating planet was not given the showcase it deserved. I felt no connection to the characters, as only Bisesa was a real carry-over from the previous installments. Other characters were shown previously, but they were all aged beyond recognition into someone different. The previously happy child and later flirtatious-teenager in Myra was replaced by a bitter-single-mom. Some movements seemed choppy - Myra to the space station near the moon and back to Mars; Bisesa's movements from Chicago back to the Eye of Marduk and her own personality descent as she moved in with the Eye; even the opening from Bisesa's hibernation to Canaveral seemed disjointed. And even the authorities chasing of the Dutt women seemed irrational.

And by the time I got to the end, it became obvious that this was labelled "the conclusion" only because Arthur C Clarke passed on around the publication date. The first two novels ended with minor, but healthy, teasers towards the next book. This one was a complete cliffhanger with no possibility of resolution.

While the story is obviously not resolved, I am glad this series is now over and out of its misery. Hindsight is great, but the series would have worked out better by playing on the drama, culling out the lengthy travel info, reduce the superfluous characters, lay on some human emotion, a better range of featured characters, and most of all - provide answers to the questions posed.
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on February 22, 2008
I just finished it today and don't quite understand the why and how of this one. Earth is saved, as usual, but after all of the buildup... there just wasn't much of an explanation. The ending could be considered a cliffhanger, but I was just upset. There were plenty of those moments in this book... the "What was that all about? Why was that important? Can't we skip this part?" I spent most of my time thinking that this could've been much more.

I feel like there was too much time spent travelling around in this book. The plot seemed to dwell on these travels instead of the action at hand. The characters weren't memorable... or maybe there were too many. It was hard to keep up with all of them and I didn't really care like I did in the other books. Bisesa was really the only person I had an easy time keeping track of.

While I hope that there's another book, I feel like there needs to be some forward movement in plot. The more I think about it, I remember the Rama series crawling at times... same thing... less story with more words... I think it's just his writing style at times. He tries to nail down the little details, while the big picture is out of focus.

This book is blurry.
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on March 27, 2014
It's very easy to see that this book is written mostly by Baxter, not by Clarke. The 'Firstborn' is full of classic Baxter cliches:
1) Estranged characters that simply can't get over their feelings (is Baxter even able write any over characters?).
2) Super-powerful AIs.
3) Ineffective and control-obsessed governments.
4) Strange aliens from beyond time and space with unearthly technologies.
5) Unresolved endings.

If you read any of Baxter's books you can generally predict what was going to happen.

The previous book was very 'Clarkian' in its feel - it had a physically plausible threat, semi-hard SF, interesting characters, and the general optimistic tone. Very little of it here.
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on February 6, 2016
Very interesting journey by the mind of the person who created 2001. This final book of the Firstborn Trilogy continued your journey of time and space and continue stretching your imagination. The authors completed their journey through time-space, and yet, left the reader with questions to meditate on for a lifetime. Once the authors once again seamlessly wove the storyline of the first 2 books of the trilogy (Times Eye and Sunstorm) into this, the final volume - I had a hard time putting the book down. If you are a person who can mentally free yourself to think of the possibilities that exist outside of the constraints of space-time, then this is a definite must read.
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on February 21, 2008
I savored this book as I do all ACC books (I read all of Baxter as well). As with most all of Clarke's books, he paints complex visual imagery and amazing concepts together, using simple stories and a simple style. His books transcends the human stories and contain deep cosmic meaning.

In all his books I find many paragraphs scattered throughout, containing flourishes of prose that never fail to leave me meditating on the profound nature of life and death. This book and the Time Odyssey series is no exception.

If a reader expects Star Wars or the usual pop Sci-fi reading, they came to the wrong place.

This book is another pinnacle of hard sci-fi combined with ACC's "cryptobuddhist" meditations.

I just hope there will be MUCH more to come, from my favorite living author.
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on December 10, 2012
I was very disappointing with the finale of Time Odyssey, especially the ending! The book is called the Firstborn, yet barely anything is revealed about them. The last chapter is a page long and made it seem like there is going to be more, but the cover clearly states that this is the end of the trilogy. Too many questions were left in the end and it felt very incomplete. If I were to recommend this series to anyone, I'd say read the first one because it's the best one of all.
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