Obelisk by Stephen Baxter - Archieved Post

September 29, 2016 - 8:24 pm No Comments

Obelisk by Stephen Baxter

Publisher: Gollancz

Release date: 18th August 2016

Page Count: 320

Reviewed by Chris Amies



Stephen Baxter has been an innovative stalwart of the British SF scene since back in the day when he was publishing in small press magazines under the name SM Baxter. He has collaborated with Terry Pratchett and Arthur C Clarke, and written a sequel to HG Wells’ “The Time Machine.” As well as his hard-SF output – represented in this volume by stories set on a colonized Mars, which comprise “Proxima-Ultima,” the first section of the book – he is also fascinated by evolution. Here too you will find a story, the John Wyndham-esque “The Pevatron Rats,” that imagines the accelerated evolution of the rat, that most adaptable of animals.

Some of the most compelling stories in this volume for me were the alternate histories, where often European or British development has been held back whether by religion or short-sightedness, and the world has developed very differently, whether it is one where technologically-advanced Inca confront Europe (“The Unblinking Eye”), or one where the UK stuck with road transport leaving the European mainland to go ahead with the development of railways (“The Jubilee Plot”). After all why should Western Europe and North America have become dominant rather than some other part of the world? Then apply that kind of logic to the universe beyond Earth. What if we find we aren’t alone after all? Are we waiting for the extraterrestrials, and what if they don’t come?

Religion often comes in for a good thrashing in these pages, or at least the religious establishment which can only ever be conservative in its effects. In “Fate and the Fire-lance”, Rome doesn’t fall, and there is the opportunity for some parallel-world fun at the expense of present day popular heroes as well as a spin on historical events. In others Earth is contacted by unimaginable alien minds – this theme is influenced by Baxter’s membership of an advisory group for SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. “Turing’s Apples” nods to Arthur C Clarke’s “The Sentinel” and “2001” with its speculation as to the nature and motives of an alien intelligence vast and cold and unknowable.

Stephen Baxter provides several options for the end of the world: without necessarily sounding pessimistic several of the stories provide world-ending scenarios, usually with an elegiac sense of loss: this is the way the world ends, now and in England. Parallel universes and multiple dimensions show up in “Artefacts” where once again we have the dialogue between Religion and Science, a recurring theme in Baxter’s work

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