Exultant by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This novel was something of a shocker to me. I actually expected a continuation of Coalescent with the hive-mind Romans even if they take place in the near future with more George Poole or perhaps a future Michael Poole, but nothing could be farther from this.
(Not ENTIRELY true, actually, the hive-mind humans and a remnant 20-thousand-year-old near-immortal in Exultant gave us some continuity.)
But in actual fact, Exultant reads more like a bonafide Xeelee novel. As in, pulling together all the Time-Like Infinity short stories, references to Flux, Ring, and even a hint of what could come in some of the others.
We jump right out of the past and into the deep future after two great expansions of humanity across the galaxy and 20k years into an ongoing rear-guard near-retreat against the inscrutable Xeelee project that herds stars into the center of the galaxy to make the super black hole in its center ever larger.
Humanity is losing the war. Barely bringing the Xeelee to a stalemate, we've bred ourselves into a race of children designed to fight a losing war. For 20 THOUSAND years.
Not everyone thinks this is admirable or smart, however, and this is where the novel starts. Expect all the timey-wimey stuff of Baxter's other novels. Closed Time-Like Loops are a major plot point and I think it's gorgeous. Closed-Time-Like computing, especially. Cuts down on the wear and tear of the computers. :)
Moreover, this novel gives us one of the most epic moments in all of Baxter's future history, the push and last hurrah against the super black hole, the big reveal about the Xeelee's purpose, and THEIR great enemy.
Since I was already familiar with some of these events explained in retrospect in the other novels, I thought it was something of a really cool treat to see it up close and personal.
I may have been surprised with this novel, expecting something else, but what I ACTUALLY got was better. It was just... kinda out of the blue. Maybe it should have been billed as a direct Xeelee novel, marketed as one of the great and gorgeous battles of a galaxy-spanning mankind against a race who thinks we're less than vermin and aren't to be bothered with communicating with us. :)
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