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Manifold: Time Mass Market Paperback – November 28, 2000
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Leave it to the consistently clever Stephen Baxter to pull the old bait and switch. A story that begins as a hoary asteroid-mining tale, set in 2010 against the by-now familiar spiel of fulfilling humanity's pan-galactic Manifest Destiny, instead takes a bold, delightful ascent into a trajectory far more ambitious. To ensure its survival, humankind need not merely master the galaxy but also the flow of time itself.
Manifold: Time's would-be asteroid-miner-in-chief is bootstrap space entrepreneur Reid Malenfant, a media-savvy firebrand who's showed those crotchety NASA folks what's what with his ready-to-fly Big Dumb Booster, piloted by a genetically enhanced super-squid. But Malenfant's near-term plans to exploit the asteroids get diverted when he crosses paths with creepy mathematician and eschatologist Cornelius Taine. Applying Bayes's theorem and a series of other statistical do-si-dos, Taine convinces Malenfant that an inescapable extinction event--the "Carter catastrophe"--is nigh, and that even working to colonize the galaxy might not be enough to save humanity. The answer: build a Feynman "radio" to listen to the future and, by detecting coded quantum waves traveling back through time, divine the fate of human "downstreamers" and find the key to their survival. Space flight, time travel, and even squid negotiations ensue, while Earth is gripped in Last Days madness.
Once again, the award-spangled Baxter gives us sci-fi at its beard-stroking best, with an imaginative, audacious plot line that's firmly grounded in good science, reminiscent of Baxter's own excellent Vacuum Diagrams. --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
I'll share with you my perspective:
- Mr Baxter's book is full of science. Lots of it. You will find interesting and complex concepts about the origin and destiny of the universe (or "universes", I shall say), the composition of matter, time traveling, and so forth.
- The characters are not deep. They might not be as "light" as in, by example, Asimov's works, but they are not fully developed.
- The book accelerates. Its beginning is slow but it then accelerates. Probably, you won't want to put it down.
- It seems to me that, when in doubt, Mr Baxter chose to sacrifice storyline and characters to put more emphasis on the scientific element. It's hard to balance all elements perfectly and I think he chose to put more weight on the science
- Mr Baxter share with Arthur C. Clarke an uncanny ability to portray beautiful cosmic events. This ability of his has not been leveraged to the maximum in Manifold:Time. I am not saying he does not do a good job in that regard. I only mean that this is not the key strength of the book
If you have already read other Baxter books, I don't think you'll have trouble with it. I am pretty sure you will like it. Just be aware of its emphasis on science.
On the other hand, if you have not read sci-fi before, I would not recommend you this book. Perhaps you should start with something lighter.
Stephen Baxter treads a thin line between fluff and hard science fiction. This isn't because he hasn't read up on what he's talking about, but rather because his science fiction is just *so hard* that it seems at some points implausible. The science of it didn't really impress me, I read a lot of scientific text. The fact that he wrapped all those concepts up into one book, and then leapt off the cliff with them impressed me.
He has quite an imagination, and wields it impressively. The one thing you might not like about this book is his somewhat peculiar plot trajectory. He sort of starts off slow (the aforementioned "bait and switch"), and then more or less gives the book away right about in the middle, and then it lulls down to this seeming end in futility. At that point it's almost like he starts a new book and begins talking about new ideas, to end in a somewhat ... awkward ending.
This isn't to say that the book leaves you feeling cheated or anything. What I got most out of this book was a deep appreciation for how much work he put in to it. It really was a fulfilling book.
Yes, the dialogue, plot, and characters are at times a bit thin. Overall the plot and writerly craft pick up during the second half. But the point of 'Manifold Time' is the science and the ideas, and sublime ideas they are. If you are just looking for a dumb, cheap thriller, this is not for you. But anyone who appreciates Carl Sagan or Michio Kaku and the accompanying deep thoughts of astrophysics and the universe should appreciate this book.
Where is started to fall flat for me was that I just couldn't identify with any one of the characters. This may be because the style feels like a historical narrative, and that format doesn't work well for me.
I'll definitely read this author again, there is great potential in his imaginings.