Xelee: Vengeance by Stephen Baxter

August 25, 2017 - 3:34 pm No Comments

Xeelee: Vengeance
Author: Stephen Baxter
Publisher: Gollancz
Page count/Size: 346pp/Trade paperback
Release date: 15th June 2017
Reviewer: Chris Stocks

Check out Xeelee: Vengeance by Stephen Baxter http://amzn.to/2wb1PQl
Note: This is the first of a duology from Stephen Baxter, the conclusion of his Xeelee Sequence of short stories and novels. Having not read any of the previous books, I have reviewed this book as a standalone novel.

It is 3646. Michael Poole, a wormhole-engineer and a young scion of the powerful Poole dynasty, is near Io, field-testing one gate of a new wormhole transit system, when suddenly a number of alien objects come through.

At first the intentions of the aliens appear unclear, but as they slowly make their way into the inner Solar System, their actions become more overtly hostile as they start attacking humanity’s many colonies and outposts before preparing a devastating attack on Earth itself.

Apparently, a million years in the future, at the centre of the galaxy, there is a statue of Michael Poole, commemorating his part in a million year war with the Xeelee. In a literary cross between The Terminator and Independence Day, the Xeelee have used the wormhole to travel back in time to attempt to kill Michael Poole, wipe out pesky humanity and erase the war from history.

Despite initial misgivings, Michael is forced to become involved in the unfolding events. He pursues the Xeelee across the solar system, accompanied by the outspoken, anarchic and impulsive pilot, Nicola Emry. On Earth, he is aided (and occasionally thwarted) by his father and head of the family business, Harry, who seems more interested in manipulating the crisis for short term political and business advantage than stopping the aliens. He is also offered advice by Muriel, his long-dead mother, who has been re-created as a virtual simulation, and Gea, a centuries-old AI.

The action sweeps through the solar system as Michael returns to Earth, pursues the Xeelee to Venus and then to the interior of the Sun(!), before battle is joined, first on Mars and then Earth at the novel’s climax . There Michael must decide whether to risk everything in a desperate gamble to save Earth from total destruction…

This is a fast-paced and exciting read, full of high-concept SF; wormhole technology, high-tech propulsion systems and super-weapons extrapolated from cutting-edge physics. There are also some interesting asides, such as the discovery of dark matter life-forms deep inside the Sun and the amusing idea of a virtual Barsoom, created in the Martian desert by gamers, being used to divert a Xeelee attack.

Personally I would have preferred a little more character development and more details about the 37th century society – though perhaps this can be found elsewhere in the Xeelee Sequence. In any case, it is perhaps a little churlish to make such minor complaints about what is otherwise an excellent read.

In the novel’s coda, Michael and Nicola prepare to leave Earth in order to follow the Xeelee to the galactic core, presumably the starting-point of the concluding novel. I look forward to reading it – though I may use the time before it is published to catch up on earlier Xeelee books.

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