Stephen Baxter
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Manifold: Space - This is one of the best hard science stories i've read. An epic voyage through space and future time of OA-esque proportions, and the descriptions of planets (moon, Venus, other worlds) and stars are so vivid you feel you really are there.

The down side, as with most work of this sort, is that the character development is not upto much Only Malenfant seems to have any sort of personality, and even he seems stilted. The rest are either one dimensional or interchangable, strangely deficient next to the richness of the hard science element.

One thing also that irritates me about this novel is the way that humanity is, since 2020, shown to be in a state of constant decline and decay, barely clinging on, the colonies managing to survive until being wiped out by the next disaster, but somehow giving rise to further colonies who likewise maintain their tenious grip before being themselves destroyed. While this is fine one time, it becomes a bit repetitive, and just plain silly, as the centuries (and the plotline) unfold. As does one of the characters who keeps popping up deus ex machina fashion at every plot turn.

Some good OA-applicable stuff here even so. Lunar habitats, alien "robots", solar-sail vessels, dyson trees, space adapted tweaks... Some fascinating original ideas as well - "Paulis mines" that tap the volitiles deep in the lunar core (might these really work? if so, they should certainly find a place in the OA scenario), non-FTL teleportation through quantum-entagled "Saddle Point Gateways", and Bussard Ram for interplanetary (not interstellar) travel. And a nice attempt at answering the Fermi paradox.

Yet the differences with OA are also very marked. No AI (other than some minor sentient software) for one. Technology being mostly quite primitive (nanotech is hinted at a number of times but never quite specified) for another; none of the alien races (apart from the unknown builders of the Gateways) seem more advanced (for most of the story) than the middle Interplanetary age of OA. And the fragile humanity of Space (which recalls but at least is not as depressing as the pessimism of the Xeelee series) is in dramatic contrast to the vigorous Terragen expansion of our scenario.

Before reading this book I always said there was no other space opera that is true hard science like OA (the Xeelee dont count because they have hyperdrive - i consider that "firm" (or medium) rather than "hard" science fiction). Now I can see I was mistaken. Baxter does it, with this book. For all its faults, this is a book to recommend, and one that truely stands out.

M Alan Kazlev