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Vacuum Diagrams

(Xeelee Sequence #5)

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  2,559 ratings  ·  84 reviews
"And everywhere the Humans went, they found life..."
This dazzling future history, winner of the 2000 Philip K. Dick Award, is the most ambitious and exciting since Asimov's classic Foundation saga. It tells the story of Humankind - all the way to the end of the Universe itself.

Here, in luminous and vivid narratives spanning five million years, are the first Poole wormholes
Paperback, 512 pages
Published April 3rd 2001 by Eos (first published April 24th 1997)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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 ·  2,559 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is some of the hardest of the hard SF out there. Staggering, even.

Let me back up. Baxter's hardest SF is several magnitudes harder than almost any SF author out there. His Xeelee Sequence novels are vast. I mean, we're dealing with an average of 5 million years worth of human evolution, galaxy crafting, and nearly unimaginable hugeness.

Stars' evolution are being sped up for the sake of Dark Matter alien civilizations and vast, inscrutable aliens of the baryonic universe (IE., us and those
Oct 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories, sci-fi
Much like reading Asimov's complete robot stories Vacuum Diagrams gives you a complete history of Stephen Baxter's world from the human point of view; not strictly a novel but not really just a collection of short stories either, this is an epic novel than spans millions (billions? I forget) of years in human evolution, focussing on small (not minor) actions taken by important individuals throughout the timeline and how their bravery or stupidity, failures and intelligence affected the evolution ...more
Aug 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: serious sci-fi readers
Shelves: sci-fi
This is the very best sci-fi book I've ever read. This book attempts to offer PLAUSIBLE ideas about what other forms of life might exist in our universe, may have existed, or might exist in the future. These are not your average lizard-like aliens with large black eyes. No sir, these are "life forms" that will bend your mind over backwards and turn it inside out.
Absolutely fascinating read from cover to cover. If I could forget this book and read it again, I would.
Sep 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Huge, mind-bending setting and bold ideas, as expected from Baxter. Individual characters were sometimes lacking depth, but in some cases I was pleasantly surprised.
What made me give this 4 instead of 5 stars is the lack of change in humans. When you are telling a story covering such a large time-span, it looks ridiculous that humans still sound like us.
Stevie Kincade
May 25, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
The conclusion to the original Xeelee sequence.

So do we FINALLY get to meet the Xeelee? (view spoiler)

Baxter's style lends itself well to short stories. He can be more focused and deliver his brilliant idea and get out.

For the most part this a series of "slices" from the Xeelee universe. It is not a series of stories with a beginning, middle and end. It can be hard to adjust to each new slice since it might jump ahead thousands of years from the last one. It
Riju Ganguly
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
First, let me mention the stuff that I didn’t like.

1. The connecting thread, trying to join all these stories written across the years (decades actually) dealing with events pertaining to millennia of future history of humanity into something holistic, was rubbish and absolutely pointless.
2. The later stories, describing events taking place at a time when humanity has forfeited its enterprising spirit in order to become all-out warmonger and has paid the terrible price for it, are bleak as well
Jul 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Being a hard sci-fi nut, I find it difficult to get my sci-fi fix without compromising something. In this case my compromises were minimal - Baxter isn't the greatest writer in the genre, but damn if his science isn't glorious!

This book is less a novel than a collection of stories drawn from a single unique universe of his devising, loosely connected by a segregated secondary narrative that gives them some additional weight and context. Many of the tales can be read as stand-alone stories, and i
Johan Haneveld
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
7,5 This collection of short stories is a 'mosaic novel' of sorts giving an overview of Baxters future history with some broad strokes, filling in a few details on the way. To me Baxter is one of the most invigorating and thought provoking SF-authors of today. Not because of his view of the human condition (which is pretty cynical) or insight into characters (they are as flat as those in 50's SF), of in society. But well, I myself am more interested in cosmology, physics and the natural world th ...more
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing

A classic.

Reading a short stories book can be a roller coaster. The very nature of this kind of books is that more than 50% of the stories must be excellent to keep you reading, otherwise if 2 continuous stories are boring, then is easy to give up on the book.

The thing is, here we have a few weak stories for sure but they are still good, and the good ones, are just top quality SF and I'll eventually read them again. There was not a single one that did not put my brain to work , I liked tha
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Although "hard" science fiction is not usually my cup of tea, I must acknowledge the excellence of this book.

It often got me pretty excited about concepts I don't have the background to understand.
Aug 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
For the first time in something like… geez, eight years, I forgot that I read a book and didn’t write a review. That isn’t to say I’ve read books and chosen not to write a review. I’ve read a bunch of Manga which I’ve not reviewed recently, and I think there is some art books I’ve not reviewed. Still might, now that I think of it. I dunno.

Point of all that is that I read a prose book… a friggin novel, and I forgot to so much as mark it as currently reading. Dumb me. I have reasons/excuses. Mostl
Mike Headon
Feb 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
An absorbing introduction to the Xeelee sequence.
Peter Aronson
Jun 04, 2016 rated it liked it
The scale of these stories is breathtaking, the events, artifacts, wars and story lines immense and awesome, but the human elements are not convincing. Thousands of years in the future with new technologies, new worlds, contact with aliens, an many other transformative events and people have changed a bit. There's no sign of cultural evolution or novelty. And, despite population in the trillions or higher, the human race seems to be one culture with one set of goals. I guess you're supposed to r ...more
Mar 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Quite possibly the best collection of hard sci-fi stories ever. I've read it twice and I think its about time I read it again.
Paul Trembling
No lack of imagination in this novel-length collection of short stories, loosely linked together to form an epic future history of the universe. Some of the concepts - the alien races, the advanced technologies - are breathtaking in their scope. Baxter does an impressive job of evoking a sense of wonder with his development of scientific concepts into stories.

However, though this book works brilliantly as hard SF, it falls short as literature. By which I mean that it fails on some of the more mu
Peter Dunn
Jul 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a collection of short stories covering 5 million years and the timeline of the whole original Xeelee series, and it is Baxter at his best.

Like a lot of science fiction the human characters are, for the most part, one-dimensional plot pushing mechanisms. Although a certain long-lived sun dweller does shine, pretty much literally, above the rest and you do get a rich understanding and develop s real feeling for her as a person. However, much like the Xeelee / Photino bird universe itself,
Ned Cunningham
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Holy cow. This one really made my mind work. These stories are truly grand in scale and I love Baxter's style. Makes me feel smart but keeps me reading! The second I finished this book I turned right back to Page 1 and made it to pg 250 again before I figured I should read something else. Some stories could be skipped or skimmed but most of them are insanely cool and interesting. The last 1/3 of the book is where things start to get super interesting. Who doesn't want to know what humans are doi ...more
Oct 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Another great installment of the Xeelee Sequence. This, like any short story collection, suffers from inconsistent quality. Also I’n not a huge fan of the medium in general, as I always feel they end just as they’re getting going or I’m getting interested in the characters. But these stories piqued my interest more and more as Baxter takes us further and further in to the distant future, particularly the last section when we get the story of a single band of humans through several stories.
Apr 25, 2020 rated it liked it
This collection of short stories belong to Baxter's XeeLee universe. He himself thinks it is a good introduction to the series and perhaps it is. I did recognise elements from his novel Ring and this in some ways confirms Baxter's assumption. These are interesting stories, recognisable Baxter material, hard SF and not too optimistic about the future of humankind. I'm not sure if I'm going to read the whole sequence, though.
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Stephen Baxter has created a masterpiece - beautifully crafted vibrant universe full of life and interesting concepts, epic scope in both space and time, tying together other Xeelee Sequence works into a great vision of "future history" spanning millions of years.. One of the best sci-fi books I have read.
Anupriya Karippadath
Beautifully written hard sci fi. Each story in this collection is worth reading, and some are exceptionally thought-provoking. It's also a true complement to the original 4 Xeelee sequence books - reading it before the others enhances connections between the books more, and reading it after connects all the dots in quite a satisfying single narrative.
Janek Bogucki
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mind boggling physics, epic time scales, proton decay, soliton stars, inter-galactic wars, cool spacecraft, life forms from beyond the edge of credibility - it's got it all!
Chris Barlow
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
I must have read this book 5 times now.
Tom Konkle
Aug 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Terrific. Bold science fiction. Great story well told
Charles Tainter
Feb 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
High 4/5. This book has so many creative and awesome ideas for life. Even though it is #5, I recommend reading it first for more knowledge of the Xelee multiverse before tackling Raft and the rest.
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
I had trouble following any of this. Bought the book used, on impulse, having read none of the series of which it's a part. So to me they were a string of brief stories loosely connected by a narrative, and mostly involving speculative-edge physics which I couldn't comprehend. I read in in pieces over a long span of time (though not as long as the span of the series, half a billion years) so that made it even harder to follow. So my apology to the author for my low star rating; it was totally my ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wish I could do justice to this book by writing it as beautiful review as it deserves, but I’m exhausted and feeling terrible after a bout of food poisoning from a terrible burger bought at three in the morning in Leeds at the end of a friend’s stag do over the weekend.

So apologies to Mr Baxter. I read Vacuum Diagrams during my honeymoon a couple of weeks ago and didn’t want to wait any longer to write happy words about it.

This is a wonderful book, exploring celestial history, from the univers
The disturbing/triumphant ending to the xeelee sequence: The final(?) book in the Xeelee Sequence, answers many of the questions posed except the biggest. The final machinations of the ultimate enemy of the universe, the photino 'birds'. This often disturbing image as the univese is slowly destroyed for all life except dark matter life is depressing in that even the godlike xeelee have run away. There is hope though as the final humans left in the universe escape through the xeelee rip in space ...more
Chris Moriarty
May 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I don't know if this is the best novel Stephen Baxter ever wrote, but it's my favorite. It's hard to even put my finger on why I love it so much. I just do. Perhaps because it rends me more intensely than the work of any other current writer of Arthur C. Clarke's great early short stories. Vacuum Diagrams is less novel than Grand Galactic History. But it manages to pack in the Big Science Ideas - enough of them for five books by any normal writer - while still presenting memorable and even movin ...more
Nov 05, 2012 rated it liked it
I guess I spoiled this by reading the first three Xeelee sequence books. I skipped entire paragraphs and stories that I had already read in their full context in the novels. I also couldn't help but notice that some of these stories are actually elements of the longer novels in their embryonic forms. Paul is a proto-Micheal Poole, even retaining the same descriptions of some of his actions. And Teal is a proto-Maker-of-Arrows. I have not yet read the rest of the books of course, so I do not know ...more
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Stephen Baxter is a trained engineer with degrees from Cambridge (mathematics) and Southampton Universities (doctorate in aeroengineering research). Baxter is the winner of the British Science Fiction Award and the Locus Award, as well as being a nominee for an Arthur C. Clarke Award, most recently for Manifold: Time. His novel Voyage won the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Novel of the ...more

Other books in the series

Xeelee Sequence (1 - 10 of 17 books)
  • Raft (Xeelee Sequence, #1)
  • Timelike Infinity (Xeelee Sequence, #2)
  • Flux (Xeelee Sequence, #3)
  • Ring (Xeelee Sequence, #4)
  • Making History & Reality Dust (Xeelee Sequence, #6)
  • Riding the Rock (Xeelee Sequence, #7)
  • Mayflower II (Xeelee Sequence, #8)
  • Coalescent (Destiny's Children, #1)
  • Exultant (Destiny's Children, #2)
  • Transcendent (Destiny's Children, #3)

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