Gollancz | 2018 (3 August) | 422p | Review copy | Buy the book
Although Xeelee: Redemption is the seventeenth novel in Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee sequence, it’s also the second and final part of Baxter’s reimagining of Xeelee history which began with Xeelee: Vengeance. I’ve dipped in and out of the Xeelee books but I’d certainly recommend that, even if you’ve read none of the others, that you read Vengeance first. This review assumes that you’ve had the pleasure.
The events of the previous few years have altered life on Earth forever, perhaps even ending it for good, as Michael Poole led the planet’s desperate and drastic action to avoid annihilation. It’s now time for Michael to take his convoy of three star ships on the most ambitious of journeys – they are on their way to the centre of the Galaxy where an anomaly has been observed. The Xeelee Belt is an immense structure of unknown purpose. Michael expects to finds answers there regarding the origins and purpose of the Xeelee. Just getting there will be a miraculous achievement in itself but what they find there will be extraordinary.
But that’s just one part of the wonder. The other is time itself. Due to the astonishing speeds with which Michael’s ships will travel and the even faster speeds at which the Belt rotates, time will be distorted on a scale that is almost incomprehensible.
I love the ways in which Stephen Baxter views and describes the universe around us. His vision is spectacularly ambitious. Some of his ideas make me sit up straight in my seat and I marvel at the wonders that he makes possible. He does this yet again in Xeelee: Redemption. There are distinct sections in the book that are each differently and wonderfully fascinating. One is due to the nature of the Virtuals – the artificial projects of a personality that can be flung into existence by their ‘Template’ on a whim, only later to be reabsorbed into that Template’s memories. The existence of a Virtual is limited but one of Poole’s Virtuals will be different. He even has his own name, Jophiel, and it is Jophiel who forms the heart of this novel, not his Template Michael Poole. One of the ships in the convoy is run by Virtuals and they, too, have a desire to live independent, meaningful lives. Whether they’ll be allowed to do so is another matter.
But, with no doubt at all, the most marvellous elements of this novel are the gobsmacking descriptions of the Xeelee Belt and the time shifts that result from such journeys across aeons of time and space. We encounter the extraordinary side effects of this time after time as mankind is demonstrated to play such an insignificant role in the evolution and devolution of the universe. The fate of the Earth continues to haunt this second novel as just one of the many memorable and jawdropping ideas that we’re presented with.
The people aren’t particularly developed. They’re mostly there as witnesses of past, present and future. This is a novel in which ideas and vision rule. No distractions are permitted. This is hard science fiction – possibly, at times, a little too much for me to follow, especially during the latter part of the novel, but, despite this, I loved it. I loved the descriptions. I could imagine it all before me, even if at times I didn’t quite understand it. And some of the ideas we’re shown just stopped me in my tracks. I just can’t praise Stephen Baxter enough. He writes the kind of science fiction I’ll always want to read and which stays with me long after the final page is turned.