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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Thousand EarthsThe Thousand Earths by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading Baxter for many years.

In almost every single case, I pick up the book for one thing more than any other: Big Scope SF. This is Hard SF that touches on Olaf Stapledon territory, deep time with deep changes and vast imagination.

This particular book is no exception. The only other book of his that I think comes close to Thousand Earths is Baxter's Ring. This is NOT a Xeelee novel, however. It is a standalone that starts with near future slower-than-light exploration and ends at the deepest recesses of time, with all the interesting stuff that might occur in-between.

It's hard to say more without spoiling some really great plot and pacing and reveals, but suffice it to say, we've got two separate stories going on here. Hackett's story is one of pure curiosity and wonder. The hints about him and his future quest through deep-time is tantalizing. Mela's story is quite different. Grounded. Fascinating in equal degrees, what, with her beginning at age 12 looking up at a thousand Earths in her night sky, with no star to be seen.

While Hackett gets an amazing adventure, Mela, on the other hand, is destined for a lot of grief, desperation, and yes, also dogged perseverance. The worldbuilding is great, but the reveals are something rather special. I often raged and grew very fearful, but this is what survival is all about. Thirty years until the end. It was so... tragic, truly terrifying.

But that's the thing. Survival and hope. As long as you keep breathing, there's hope.

I'll put it out there right now: this is one of my favorite SFs. It got me good. Huge scope, yes, great science, speculation, future history, curiosity, hell, WONDER. And thanks to the dual nature of this novel, there's even such hope -- even in the worst of times.

I rarely ever get to read such SF like this. Its focus is equally on both the Ideas and the Human Spirit. I loved the story and it makes me sad that we don't see this kind of serious Big Idea SF anymore.

I'm even sadder that we don't get such SF devoted to pure WONDER, either.

So, yeah, I'm propping this book up, hoping that people see it for the breathtaking beauty it displays.

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