2000 years in the future, the solar system has fallen under the domination of an alien species, the Qax. But into this world appears a spaceship launched over 1500 years ago, intended to establish a link through which time travel is possible. To the humans this is a chance to reverse time.
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 Year; he also won the John W. Campbell Award and the Philip K. Dick Award for his novel The Time Ships. He is currently working on his next novel, a collaboration with Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Mr. Baxter lives in Prestwood, England.
Out of the blocks this novel scratched a sensawunda itch that was causing me no small amount of reading distress (I haven’t really been reading a lot of books for the last three years, and I was desperately looking for something to kickstart my reading obsession again).
I’ve had the Xeelee omnibus lying around for ages, and I’d read Raft some time back, but never got around to Timelike Infinity even though it was on my “to-read” shortlist. Now, even though this is the second book in the Xeelee sequence, it is nothing like its predecessor. For one thing, the story here takes place a lot earlier in the timeline (only about a 100,000 years, give or take) and for another, while Raft deals with an isolated event, Timelike Infinity takes place in deep space and introduces the space-time elements and quantum physics that is so integral to the sequence.
He was beyond time and space. The great quantum functions that encompassed the universe slid past him like a vast, turbulent river, and his eyes were filled with the gray light that shone beneath reality, the light against which all phenomena are shadows.
Timelike Infinity is chock and block full of wonder, and casually juggles brobdingnagian ideas and cool science as if it is absolutely nothing. From the construction of wormholes to towing one to the Galactic Centre (and back, no less) to exploit relativistic time dilation effects… and much more. The novel features just enough exposition to truly make the reader believe. As a set-up novel it succeeds fantastically, because, consider: this whole story actually just sets up the heavy-hitter of the series, namely Ring.
And speaking of which, Baxter has probably come up with what is probably the craziest artifact to ever grace the pages of a Sci-Fi novel (please comment below if you disagree, since I would be keen to investigate the competition).
”A Ring. A torus. Composed of some unknown, crystalline substance. A thousand light-years across. Rotating at a respectable fraction of the speed of light. It was massive. It had caused a well in spacetime so deep that it was drawing in galaxies, including Earth's Milky Way, from across hundreds of millions of light-years. It is an artifact. A Xeelee construct. [He] watched the Xeelee build it."
All this is chucked in rather casually here. A sort of a teaser, if you will. The details will no doubt be forthcoming in Ring. The technical bombardment of quantum physics jargon will likely be enough to leave me bruised and senseless for a week. Baxter is no slouch at this type of thing.
As for the Xeelee themselves. They are introduced here as enigmatic and godlike, basically so far removed from any other sentient life as can possibly be. For example: spacefaring races all vie for leftover Xeelee tech, since it is basically the only way to make any sort of progress among the stars, even though nobody really seems to understand it. However, they take no active part in the story being told, which just adds to their mystery.
Black hole evaporation would continue, with the eventual shrinking and disappearance of event horizons even on the scale of galaxies and clusters of galaxies; and naked singularities would emerge into the spreading sweep of spacetime. Perhaps the universe could not exist beyond the formation of a naked singularity. Perhaps the formation of such a flaw would cause the cessation of time and space, the ending of being.
This was one of those “are you f’ing kidding me” books. I was so impressed and amazed by what was written I periodically lifted my head from the book, looked around, and would ask, “Are you f’ing kidding me.” This book made me giddy with excitement and I wanted it to be two thousand pages longer.
I have read several of Baxter's Xeelee Sequence books, but I never dived into his early novels set in this universe until now. At first, I thought I had read this before, but then I realized that was just an effect of Timelike Infinity having some of the same characters (like Michael Poole) and events of other books in the loose series. The Xeelee Sequence universe extents from the Big Bang to the end of the universe after all, with some 19 or so novels populating it.
This starts off around 5200 AD with the Earth and humanity suffering under the Qax, the second alien species to conquer humanity. The Qax, though few in number, control space in their massive, organic space ships and have largely shut down humanities space travel. Earth is now a giant farm producing food for export to other alien species while humans live on processed kelp and such. One of our main characters is a diplomat to the Qax (Parz), although he has never (like the rest of humanity) actually seen the Qax in the flesh if you will. Besides shutting down humanities space programs, the Qax also ended the treatments for human longevity, condemning humans to their natural lifespan once again.
Yet, 1500 years ago, Michael Poole, along with a team of engineers/scientists, created a 'wormhole' in Jupiter's orbit, with one end left there and its 'pair' dragged out toward the center of universe by a sublight spacecraft. This is were things get interesting! When the Qax conquered humanity, they destroyed the wormhole around Jupiter, but one day Parz is summoned by the Qax because the other end of the wormhole finally returned (it was expected). Further, despite the tyranny of the Qax, a ship left Earth and, using an alien hyperdrive, shot through the wormhole gate, in effect, traveling 1500 years back in time...
As the title suggests, the key feature of this story involves time travel. Now, most science fiction readers are familiar with the idea that when a spaceship reaches speeds close to light, time slows down on it relative to 'normal' time on a planet, say. Hence, we have subjective and objective time for those involved. When the wormhole returns, the people on the ship that towed it away have only aged 100 years subjective, even though on Earth it is 1500 years later.
Baxter tosses the reader for another loop here, however. What Poole created was basically a time machine. Ships passing through it when it came back to Earth will return to Earth 1500 years in the past. The rebels/terrorists (to the Qax at least) who shoot through the wormhole they have a plan and the Qax are worried. What will humans from 'today' do to impact the future, and as far as the Qax are concerned, them. Will Earth be 'ready' for them when they come to conquer humanity?
Time paradoxes are not my biggest thing, but Baxter does a great job here with the classic motif. This gets even more complicated when the Qax decide to force humanity to build yet another wormhole, with this one going into the future. The Qax hope to see what will happen on Earth and their occupation in order to thwart any rebellion in the 'now'. So, we have 'future' time, 'present' time, and 'past' all basically existing here; it is enough to make your head spin-- mine did!
Baxter, fairly typical of hard science fiction authors, focuses more on the tech and 'big ideas' rather than character development here, but given the 'big ideas' on display here, I was fine with that. We do learn a little more about the Xeelee, a mysterious 'race' doing unimaginable things in parts of the galaxy, like creating a massive black hole in order to facilitate their leaving 'this' universe to somewhere else. Baxter does not go into much detail here, but this is fleshed out in later works.
Quite a ride by Baxter! This is smaller than his later doorstops, but he packs enough science and ideas here that it feels like a much longer novel. Giant, organic spacecraft (which are sentient to a degree), interesting aliens, and a bleak future for humanity (at least in the present timeline). Few authors can blind you with science and still tell a gripping story. Good stuff! The ending? Well, I was not enchanted, hence, rounding down. 4.5 mind boggling stars!
I read Raft and had a great time despite the hard science aspects that I'm not used to and now book two has melted my brain with a lot of talk of physics interwoven with a story of time travel and a background of interspecies war.
Once more Baxter has written a highly enjoyable novel peopled by interesting characters and full of fascinating ideas. The hard science aspect takes a little getting used to for people like me who aren't genius level scientists or whatever but I found once I had set my mind to "do not get overwhelmed" mode it all seemed to make sense as far as Baxters world building goes - scientific accuracy on the other hand is something I couldn't possibly comment on.
I could try describing the general storyline but it might get confusing, essentially however there's a manmade wormhole through time and various factions travels back through it to the point that it was conceived in a battle to save/destroy humanity. Happily for me this is not a space opera battle situation, I can't think of anything more boring than that. It does however take a look at the strength and weakness of the species against the passage of time and the meaning of life.
Much like with Raft it was a simple storyline and only 250 pages long, this is fine with me, Baxters longer novels are over 500 pages and I get the impression I may not make it through them all without a mental break.
For fans of hard science fiction I don't think you can go wrong with Baxter, he seems to be full of ideas and has a knack for describing bizarre scenarios. Definitely recommended.
Stephen Baxter has been on my radar for a while now, but the poor fellow keep getting pushed back in favour of more "flavour du jour" books. He is one of the elite sci-fi writers working actively today I think (among Reynolds, Hamilton, Scalzi, Stross etc.). I did give Raft a not very enthusiastic attempt, couldn't really make any head of tail of it within the first chapter and then I was tempted away by another book that everybody was talking about; I forget which one, I'm just too easily swayed. Any way, I often come across mentions of "The Xeelee Sequence" in my travels around the interweb and it sounds very intriguing, I mean it's a sequence not a series for heaven's sake, who wouldn't want to read that! (Actually it is a series, but "The Xelee Series" sounds a bit daft, naysayers may label it "that Silly Xelee Series" to the author's mortification).
To begin with Mr. Baxter did not make a very good first impression with silly sci-fi alien names like Qax, Squeem and Parz (who is not even an alien). I feel that sci-fi authors tend to simply toss in an X, a Q or a Z to make up alien names, and the names end up sounding rather silly. The exception in this book being Xeelee which I think has a nice ring to it. You can't beat Slartibartfast for a sci-fi name though. Still, it must be very hard to come up with non-silly alien names and I certainly can not think of one so I decided to get over it. As I read on I began to appreciate why Stephen Baxter is at the forefront of today's sf writers, the quality of his plotting and world building quickly became perceivable. Better still, his writing is not at all shabby; I don't demand a lot of of literary merit from space operas and hard sf but at least the prose has to be accessible and the characters tolerable. Although the characters don't have a lot of depth to them at least some of them has some height and width. In any case Baxter excelled at the sci-fi-ness / sensawonder aspect of the story which is definitely a requirement for me.
At a mere 256 pages Timelike Infinity packs a lot of story, ideas and world building; this relative brevity reminds me of Golden Age sci-fi by the likes of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. I like how the Xeelees are presented as almost a myth in the background and do not actually show up because they are just too damn cool. This leaves the Qax as the alien stars of the story instead, and they are satisfactorily bizarre. The Xeelee's absence make them that much more intriguing and a nice hook to follow the series. The time travelling aspect of the book is also very cleverly done and it's great that Baxter did not rely on the old time travelling tropes about the paradoxes of meeting your past selves, killing your grannies and such. The little spaceship made from a small area of land is a wonderful concept, and one of my favourite sci-fi tropes that I never get tired of is the living spaceships. I can't get enough of these weird things with their wrinkly smelly interiors and massive eyeballs. I wish my car was like that.
All in all I am sold on this series, I'm going to rate this book five stars even though I suspect this may be too generous, I just can't think of any reason to knock off one whole star at the moment. May be one of them will go nova later on and leave only four. Time will tell.
Timelike Infinity is simply a mind-blowing hard science novel by Stephen Baxter, a giant of the genre. This is a read that is surely to hurt your brain and leave you scratching your head. Book two in the Xeelee sequence is a progression of the world without being connected to the amazingly original first book, Raft.
Wow. Wow. Wow.
I confess that I loved this book and enjoyed each and every page. This is a novel and a series for fans of hard science fiction and it is not appropriate for those who frown upon information overload or text book style explanations. Like most novels in this genre, it requires the reader to process the information that is explained to us through the story. Sometimes you need to solve the problems with the characters. Other times you need to reread the passages more than once to try and come to an understanding. And other times you need to check your skepticism in at the door and grab on for the ride.
This book is completely different from Raft. It is bigger in scope, depth, and in science. The following quote explains the science that is the focus of this book:
““But Wigner took Schrödinger’s paradox further. Suppose the box was opened by a friend of Wigner’s, who saw whether the cat was alive or dead. The box, cat, and friend would now form a larger quantum system with a more complex wave function in which the state of the cat — and the friend — remained indefinite until observed by Wigner or someone else. “Physicists of the time called this the paradox of Wigner’s Friend,” Jasoft said. “It leads to an infinite regress, sometimes called a von Neumann catastrophe. The box-cat-friend system remains indefinite until observed, say by me. But then a new system is set up — box-cat-friend-me — which itself remains indefinite until observed by a third person, and so on.””
The story is an epic space faring adventure through both time and space. With likable characters, cool new technologies, and mind-blowing themes and science. It has an ending that made me want to stand up and cheer out loud….it is so damn cool. Stephen Baxter clearly is Boldly going where no man has gone before…
My walk down memory lane continues with book #3 in Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee sequence. Since these things really work as stand-alone stories I don’t think it’s a problem reading them out of order. I read Ring first (#4 in the series) and then Vacuum Diagrams (#...5?) and now I’m back at the third installment. I read them all out of order the first time through back in the 90’s too. So it’s fitting.
I realized upon this reread that this was more connected to book 4 than I first thought. It covers the story of Michael Poole and the use of his wormhole tech to make a gateway through time. Specifically to 1500 years into the future.
As in any good story, what comes pouring out isn’t what was expected. At first half-starved human refugees pop through – then later comes the future conquerors of humanity – complete with impossible to combat weaponry.
Narratively, I think this is a more traditional story than a lot of his work since has been. The same characters populate the whole book, for the most part, which it something you can’t always count on. And it’s about humanity attempting to throw off the shackles of an invading force bent on their enslavement, or even destruction.
But like all his works, this is a story about ideas. In this case, a few far-out possible interpretations of Quantum Mechanics. Specifically, a plot to remake the whole history of the universe to favor humanity due to the observer effect collapsing all of reality into a single history at the end of time (instead of infinite parallel worlds). So history is like a collapsing wave function, running in a superposition, with all possible outcomes being run in a superposition, all equally valid, until an observer peeks their head in and forced one to pop out into reality.
So, Baxter constructs an story to dance around with this idea. Out comes this epic tale.
Like all his early works, I recognize the flaws and love it all the same. He thought big and didn’t shy away from the bizarreness that flows from them. If that is the way reality works, then what if you could ensure an improbable outcome but making sure at the end of time the ‘observer’ of the cosmos will have a message meant just for them.
So cool. I’m impressed because Baxter has a way of thinking through what the ramifications of a universe operating that way would be. I’m not so sure I’m capable of thinking that deeply about the esoterica of cosmology and quantum mechanics.
In the pantheon of Baxter novels, this in somewhere in the middle, but after his earliest works, I feel like this is where he started to tell really huge stories. Like, mind blowing kinds
Žmonių atstovas, tokia kabinetinė žiurkė, vyksta į kosminį laivą kalbėtis su žmonių overlordais - tokiais Qax. Šie atsirado kažkokioje tolimoje planetoje, kur daug vandens - jų sąmonė išsivystė iš konvekcinių ciklų vandenyje, taigi kiekvienas qax yra krūva konvekcinių ląstelių. Faina, ane?
Žodžiu, qax sako mūsų kolaborantui - negerai, grupelė žmonių per tokią seną wormhole paspruko atgal laiku. Dabar jie aiškiai bandys užkirsti kelią okupacijai. Tai ką tu darysi? - klausia anas. - Pasiųsi kažką į praeitį jų užmušti? Ne, sako Qax, pasiųsiu į ateitį - ateities qax jau turbūt bus susitvarkę su ta problema ir žinos, ką daryti.
Tai šitie personažai yra fainiausi.
Meanwhile į praeitį pasprukę tokie maištininkai / slaptos organizacijos nariai bendrauja su dviem anuometiniais pilotais (tokiais nuobodžiais šaunuoliais) ir kažką ruošia, bet niekaip nesako, ką. Einam kovoti su qax! - sako pilotai. Neee, tai, ką mes ruošiam, bus daug svarbiau, - sako tie sektantai.
Ir iš tiesų tas jų slaptas projektas yra tokia grandiozinė idėja, kur mokslinės sąvokos ir prielaidos nuvedamos iki toliausio taško - ir filosofinio, ir visiškos nesąmonės - kad vien dėl jos absoliučiai verta paskaityti knygą iki galo.
Pilotai ten kažką pilotina, bando apsaugoti pasaulį, whatever.
Šauni knyga, rimtai Stephen Baxter reabilituoja sci-fi mano akyse.
4.5⚝ This is absolutely gob-smacking Qax.. At times, I thought I was reading a Neal Asher book, the adrenaline rush, at times, Egan due to escalation of events with the reveal of staggering details explained through mind-boggling science, at times, Reynolds due the overall atmosphere and ambiance. I can even see early influences for Asher's Dragon (the QAX) and also, how Egan's Quarantine probably influenced the physics, a bit. Overall, an impressive mindgasm of a book, just a bit too short and limited by its conclusion.
Marginally engaging, but gets very bogged down in the science at points, and the end is not a particularly neat wrapping up of the story. The plot felt strained at times and the characters weren't developed well either. A little disappointing from what I'd read of the reviews.
Well that was a trip. This book will leave images in my head for all time. Stonehenge converted into a spaceship from the future and battling a giant alien head in the orbit of Jupiter with the future of the human race at stake? Yup. In my head forever now. Not that that's a bad thing. The scope of this story and the world that Baxter has built is sheer insanity. The characters may be a little thin but like a lot of good hard sci fi, the ideas make up for it. I read this because I started reading Ring thinking I could enjoy it as a stand alone, but soon realized that I should probably see what the suggested reading order for the Xeelee books is. Most fans recommend Timelike Infinity before Ring. Flux, like Raft, can be taken or left, apparently. I have mixed feelings on Raft but I enjoyed this book much more. I believe I will skip Flux for now and go to Ring next and see what the Xeelee have in store for the universe.
I really enjoyed Raft, and so decided to carry on with this series. But I found Timelike Infinity sadly lacking. For an author that has a reputation for writing "hard" scifi it has some surprising schoolboy-level misunderstandings of Quantum Mechanics - including every woo-peddlers favourite - that the "observer" in a quantum mechanics needs to be a conscious being. It's not necessary for every book to be scientifically plausible, but once you take that out of this one, it doesn't have a whole lot going for it - the characters and plot are all a bit mediocre, all of which felt a long stronger in Raft, even if they weren't the main point of the book. And I just couldn't stop thinking about how much horse-shit I've seen that consciousness-impacts-the-universe nonsense be used to justify by the various new-age crazies I've come into contact with. I do kinda wanna to know more about the Xeelee and the long term history of the universe, but I'm not quite sure if I want to trudge through another volume of this - which is a shame because I enjoyed Raft so much I bought the next 3 books as an omnibus.
I've been avoiding Stephen Baxter for a while and thought it was time to give him a try.
I read this one mostly because of the synopsis and the good reviews about his Xeelee series.
Timelike Infinity and Ring are considered the 'main' story in the timeline between the all 4 books on this sequence. Raft and Flux being more like stand-alone stories.
I liked the book, lots of extravagant ideas with Wormholes, Singularities and Time travel which I truly enjoyed, even though it was not that easy to follow along the whole universe and time spans. It was worth the time.
Update: Now After reading Ring which is another great one, I consider this one just a tiny bit superior than Ring.
I was disappointed. Characters were not well drawn. The hard scifi premise made no sense. And people behaved irrationally to further the plot. E.g.Spoiler alert: why did the Friends do absolutely nothing in the 12 months they had in Earth system? My understanding of their plan was that they didn't even need to use Jupiter; why couldn't any gas giant do? In which case, once reaching the past, tbey should have used their hyperdrive to travel to any uninhabited appropriate system to implement the plan unmolested.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This didn't feel like a novel to me. It felt more like Baxter had some ideas on theoretical physics plus some musings on the end of the universe, threw in a bit of time travel, and then wrapped a few unconvincing characters and a threadbare plot around them.
Really liked this one. The Xeelee elements are indirect in this book, but still tantalizing. So far it seems this book was a good choice, as some suggested, for a starting point into the series. It avoids starting with #1, which I understand has no Xeelee elements at all. It also avoids starting with Vacuum Diagrams as some people recommend, which I find a bizarre choice since it is noted that it spoils much of the entire sequence.
With a shorter novella like this, Baxter has to summarize his college lectures instead of expound on them as he did in Manifold: Time. People who say there was way too much hard science to digest here have no idea how dryly educational Baxter gets if you give him too many pages.
The characters aren't terribly well drawn here, but some of the central ones have some definition. Baxter continues a bad habit of women fleshed out primarily if not entirely by their connection to a man. Not sure there was enough here that I felt well connected to any characters, but had enough connection to care what happened to a handful and like almost that many. Absolutely loathed the Friends, but any time one has a group or person refuse to explain a mystery clearly just so the author can keep it a mystery until near the end of the work they'll tend to seem insufferable.
The ideas though... Plenty of interesting ideas within. I've certainly never read anything like it before. These days that appeals to me, and also has had me sampling some of Adrian Tchaikovsky's shorter works. That's the recommendation I can gave this one: I can recommend it if you want to read it for the ideas and the sense of adventure aspects primarily.
If you pick is this book looking for interesting and nuanced characters walk away now – but if you have come looking for fantastic, novel and huge science fiction concepts you are in exactly the right bit of space-time.
This story contains one of the oddest and most intriguing forms of alien life you are likely to find in science fiction– the convection cell based Qax. It also has some great speculative tech such as singularity cannons. If that is not enough for you how about a cult that believes that the entire universe exists as a single massive quantum superposition which can have its information observed by a single ultimate observer.
Not mind blowing enough for you? Well the cult also thinks that that ultimate observer can then collapse all the universe’s possible entangled wave-functions, and all conflicts over time are centred on how to influence that observation and ultimate collapse of wave functions.
Brain hurting yet? It’s much more fun if you read the book where you will find that this concept exits alongside: a certain famous megalithic structure with a hyperdrive firing black holes at Jupiter, and heroes crashing giant living starships into wormhole entrances. It’s all really delightful massive in both scale and concept.
This is my second book into the Xeelee sequence (and the third Stephen Baxter book I've read, the first being Manifold Time) and I'm enjoying it immensely so far. I admit I tend to generous in giving 5 stars to books I enjoyed. I'm not to picky about technical criticism and all that, all that matters to me is how much I enjoyed reading it. But I give this only 4, because in the confusion of explaining all the physics...
Second Book in the Xeelee Universe series by Stephen Baxter was very nice indeed. Although it amazes at quite a few times, but still to me it fell short of some for a 5-star rating.
As in the first book, he has an extremely vivid imagination, solid storyline that spans millions of years. Some true Hard Science Fiction here. Lots of usage of ideas bearing Wormholes, Consciousness, Space-time Travels, Ultimate Observer, Hyperdrives, Wave-function Collapses, GUTships, Artificial Gravity, Alien Beings, Space-faring Sentient Ships, Quantum Physics, Exotic Matter, Naked Singularities, and a lot more!!
A mix of Outer-Space Drama, Adventure, Science and Scientifically Speculated Fiction.
I recommend reading the series, if one is interested in stories that includes a very high amount of scientific elements. :)
This is the third book by Stephen Baxter that I've read (Raft, Manifold Time) and the second in the Xeelee Sequence. I enjoyed Timelike Infinity more than Raft. There was more inter-species conflict and glimpses into the Xeelee. Baxter appears to have an obssession with sticking humans inside massive space-going aliens and allowing them to look out from than vantage point - to each their own. Some paragraphs are basically physics lessons but if you enjoy that you can forgive Baxter's poor exposition. Recommend it to sci-fi fans.
If you are looking for some hard science fiction, early Baxter is the place to go. He has some amazing technology (Virtuals that allow communication between really long distances, accurate wormholes made into a time machine, singularity weapons, etc) and aliens (Qax overlords, Spline, Xeelee, future humans, etc). The story is OK but the characters need more. Part of a series of books in larger common universe.
I thought the concept of this book was very interesting, and it was enjoyable for the most part. The time travel and interaction between races was good, and I enjoyed the hard sci-fi aspect. However, in the end I found the plot to be way too simple... It felt more like I had just read a novella or detailed short story that had been fluffed up.
From what I've read Xeelee series does take place in the same setting, but novels themselves are standalone and that's the impression I got from Timelike Infinity with it having [seemingly] no obvious ties to the Raft. Which isn't a bad thing since it works perfectly fine on its own and is rather different in how it approaches things.
Story takes place during two points in time, both futures from our present day - one where humanity is at its stellar peak where things like old age and diseases have been eliminated, and another two millennia removed where humanity has been subjugated by an alien species called Qax and had most of those breakthrough rescinded. Their gigantic organic warships and mysterious Governor have ruled over Earth-space with a velvet gauntlet, but not even human diplomat/collaborator Jasoft Parz has ever seen a Qax in the flesh. Humanity of the Golden Age could not have known what vital impact their wormhole-opening Interface project sent into space would have in 1500 years once it was rendered operational. For you see, there is a future cult of resistance against Qax hidden on Earth ready to take the plunge into the wormhole gateway and make use of its relativistic passage of time to go back and prevent the Qax takeover. Or, just maybe, they have grander goals in store that may not sit well with the Interface designer Michael Poole himself after he received an SOS message... from a future friend.
I realize the above is clunky and even inaccurate in broad strokes, but I don't think I could've summarized it better without getting into spoilers or technology itself. Latter being exactly what Timelike Infinity dedicates a LOT of its pages to. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise considering we are bringing up a '90s SF novel. It leads you in easy enough as we see more of the alien Qax stuff first so it glosses over, but it's not long before perspective shifts to a perspective of an engineer and scientist who will go into expository pieces on the nature of wormholes. I'm not even getting into pure speculative theory Timelike Infinity plunges into once story-proper heats up. There's everything from discussion of quantum mechanics, potential Participatory Universe, additional dimensions themselves, etc. It goes into the deep end with Baxter proving his credentials over and over again. It takes a degree of skill to convey these high concepts to a dum-dum without losing me in the process.
What's surprising here is, unlike the stereotypical notion people have surrounding SF literature from the period, characters are not merely expository avatars. Author manages to subtly convey just how different all human characters are given some of them come from different eras, but are still human. Quisling Jasoft Parz was probably my favorite with his "I understand the need for rebellion, but execution is a separate matter" mindset which proves to be absolutely pivotal for someone who, essentially, can do little beyond smooth talking. Someone like him or even Shira, leader proper of the resistance crew, are both weird to Michael Poole. Even to someone who's lived for centuries due to enhancements, perfectly normal in his time when people have sentient VR copies of themselves running around, they come off as detached. There's valid reasoning for that impression, though. Speaking of alien beings we don't get much interaction with them as such beyond couple of Qax figures with their own circumstances. Humanity even ends up having long term impact there albeit that's beyond the scope of Timelike Infinity.
Does it get a recommendation? As long as you're aware that you're getting a science lecture at times, yes. I had a personal hang up visualizing what Baxter was describing at times, but that could just be me. Sheer scale of it all explodes towards the end and I can't exactly say I was completely satisfied with the ending, though. Then again one should never enter wormholes casually. Still. Stonehenge in Space. Dude.
Far into our future, humans create a wormhole time machine. By dragging a one end of a wormhole though space at relativistic speeds, a ship, the Cauchy, returning to Jupiter orbit after 1500 years has experienced only a 100 years of ship time -- and thus the wormhole, whose ends must be at the same time -- is a path 1400 years into the past. But the future the ship finds when it returns is vastly different from when it left: humans have been conquered by a race called the Qax.
But one human ship escapes back through time, a ship that's actually a section of the Earth, including Stonehenge. Controlled by a group calling themselves the Friends of Wigner, have some mysterious project that they are convinced will fix everything. But the Qax, led by someone from even farther in the future, also head into the past, this time to wipe out humanity.
This is a fun space opera, set in Baxter's Xeelee universe. It's full of wonderful technology, including sentient spaceships, manipulation of blackholes, ships powered by manipulation the fundemental forces of the universe, and quantum entanglement. The aliens are also intriguing, from the Qax to the mysterious Xeelee, who are godlike, ignoring lesser beings like humans and Qax, and manipulating matter and energy on a mind-boggling scale. Less advanced beings like humans benefit by finding things left behind by the Xeelee, such as hyperdrive.
Baxter is also fond of info dumps. For some writers this can be a problem, but in Baxter's case, they are interesting enough that they don't hurt the book, and things move along well despite them.
I love pulpy sci-fi. It’s the literary equivalent of eating in a strip mall.
Baxter doesn't have any high culture pedigree, but in the world of hard sci fi he’s well regarded. He draws thoughtful and provocative alien species and produces some dazzling riffs on theoretical physics. To extend the metaphor, he’s like the kind of strip mall restaurant that Jonathan Gold would have reviewed.
This book is about the conquest of humanity by a species of aliens called the Qax who are made up of convection cells in boiling swamp water, who travel around space in gigantic beakers housed in space ships, and who have turned the Earth into one giant plankton farm. Their spaceships are another kind of alien species, the Spline, who look like giant globular elephants or whales or something and who, by some kind of extremely painful process, have rendered themselves capable of surviving the hard void of space and housing smaller species inside themselves.
All of this constitutes the jumping off point and isn’t elaborated on a whole lot more. Against this backdrop, the book spends a lot of time staging a spacewar, which didn’t interest me that much. There was also a lot of material on cosmology and spacetime and the observer effect and physics as metaphysics. All of this I liked much more. I would have also liked more insight into the Qax, beyond their military capabilities. Oh well!
I liked this book, but I can't decide how much. I’m probably intrigued enough, and found Baxter capable enough, to pick up another one of his. It probably won’t be in the immediate future though.
The second novel and first sequel of the Xeelee novels deals with a time-period where the human race is still in their part of the universe, but are spreading out throughout the universe. The focus is on Jupiter and its surroundings and how the research of one Michael Poole leads to an opened portal, wormhole, that inadvertently makes time travel possible. Poole doesn't realize this until he gets a message from his beloved colleague Miriam who discovered a group called the friends of Wigner's arrive in a time period that is the future for Poole and Miriam but lies in the past for this group.
The group lives by an exquisitely rare philosophy that the universe only exists because there are beings in it to observe it. So the observed becomes something that exists because of the observer. Humans are occupied in the future by a species called the Qax, and the friends of Wigner's try to solve the situation in a way that is baffling to anyone that doesn't believe in their semi-religious beliefs. They also have incomplete information because in the future a sole survivor of the oppressors will steal a Xeelee spaceship and cause the Qax to accidently destroy their home planet in fear of the spaceship's capabilities. Therefore clashes between Poole and these friend of Wigner's will lead to a very tightly written adventure that I enjoyed throughout. One of the best time travel stories I've encountered.
Non posso che confermare (come già sapevo dopo aver letto Ring) di trovarmi al cospetto di un autore che ha la capacità di trasformare le speculazioni su teorie scientifiche in ambientazioni di grande impatto. Il problema è che per delineare correttamente concetti molto difficili, l’autore deve per forza fare uso di infodump oppure di lasciarsi andare in lunghi dialoghi tra i vari personaggi, che somigliano molto alle seghe mentali che da studenti di fisica si fanno con un boccale di birra in mano, ma che per me sono un pochino delle lungaggini in un romanzo. I personaggi sono poco approfonditi, tanto che il protagonista di tutto il romanzo è l’ambientazione stessa, con tutti i suoi (geniali) riferimenti alle teorie cosmologiche attualmente accettate (addirittura, cita la soluzione di schwarzschild). Molto interessante anche la declinazione del paradosso di Wigner per andare a definire un “Osservatore Finale”, che fungerebbe da Dio remoto che con le sue osservazioni porta finalmente al compimento la realizzazione di una linea temporale del multiverso piuttosto che un’altra. Peccato che tutte queste geniali ambientazioni non siano accompagnate da una trama altrettanto geniale o da personaggi veramente memorabili.
"Нашественици във времето" на Стивън Бакстър е втората книга от големия "Xeelee"-цикъл: романи (осем засега), новели и разкази, обхващащи милиони години и разкриващи бъдещето на Вселената, човешката експанзия в нея и контактите ѝ с други разумни същества, сред които и енигматичните ксийли, преминали отвъд Скалата на Кардашев. Цялата поредица подлага на изпитание най-смелите предположения на теоритичната физика и е забъркана с много екзотична материя. Бидейки един от най-ярките представители на *твърдата* научна фантастика, Бакстър умело (в повечето случаи) вплита главозамайващи концепции в творбите от серията. В "Нашественици..." присъстват и квантова физика, и пътуване във времето, и релативистични ефекти, и мостове на Айнщайн-Розен... та и гравитационните вълни, чието съществуване наскоро бе потвърдено. Единсвената друга книга от "Xeelee"-поредицата, преведена у нас, е първата- "Черна дупка" ("Raft"). Трилогията му "Време/Пространство/Произход", четири книги в съавторство с Артър Кларк и започнатата поредица за "Дългата Земя" (с Тери Пратчет) не са достатъчни, но... се ла ви, хакуна матата и туй то.
Far future fiction is difficult. This story starts in a.d. 3717 (and "Raft" starts around a.d. 100K).
And yet despite this, human beings are more or less the same they are today. We're still physical beings of flesh and blood, we still communicate by talking, we still take need space-suits to travel in space, and we still live in societies that are organized more or less the same way our current-day nations and tribes are. This is, to put it mildly, not remotely realistic. I don't think that's realistic even over a timespan of a couple centuries, nevermind millenia. Also, splines are stupid; given their placement in time. Evolution is slow, deliberate engineering is fast. There's a reason our planes are not genetically engineered eagles.
It's a fun book though, and a thought-provoking one, and frankly it feels a bit unfair to pick on a far-future book for being unrealistic, anything we're able to imagine almost by definition will be unrealistic over that timescale.