Gollancz | 2021 (21 October) | 544p | Bought copy | Buy the book
At 9.48am, 5 January 2057, Tash Brand pauses on a bridge across the Tyne in northern England on her way to work. The winter Sun is low in a cloudy sky. And in that instant the Sun blinks out and the world goes dark and everyone in it becomes deeply afraid. As the hours of crisis progress, the ramifications of a Sunless planet become increasingly apparent and the horror of that must be dealt with by scientists, politicians, astronauts, and individuals. There’s another edge to it as well. A discovery on the Moon reveals that the Sun’s disappearance was a deliberate act. Humanity is not alone in the Galaxy and whatever it is out there is watching Earth and has come to a decision.
A new Stephen Baxter novel comes as a joy to me. He has written some of my very favourite novels – the magnificent Long Earth series with Terry Pratchett and, on his own, Proxima, one of my favourite books of all time, as well as the truly brilliant Flood and Ark. Baxter has big ideas and I love how he pours them into his stories of space exploration, of epic effort, of first contact, of global disaster, of a great universe. I love these books! Galaxias contains several of these themes. On one level it is a disaster novel as it gives us an apocalyptic vision of a planet now known to be vulnerable and defenceless, with all of its life facing extinction. There are also actual disasters as Earth changes – volcanic eruptions, massive storms, tragedies in space.
Mostly, though, Galaxias is the story of how nations deal with an unknowable alien threat as well as a dire series of crises when any action could motivate another attack from whatever it is watching Earth. They deal with it in different ways, notably China versus America. But it’s also a tale of three close friends, Tash (who works for the British Science Minister), Mel (who works for the Astronomer Royal) and Whu Zhi (an astronaut whose fiance is stranded in space by the Blink). The three of them together (or remotely) try and unravel what is happening, each making journeys beyond Earth. I loved these three people and felt deeply engaged with them as they struggle with the science but also with their lives in this situation.
The novel covers big themes and it is fair to say that much of the novel is spent with characters in meetings discussing what is going on, trying to ‘science’ the situation, explaining it to non-scientists (and therefore us). Some did go over my head but not much. I was fascinated as revelation follows revelation. But there is also action and wonder as we travel to the Moon, through the Solar System. The concept of Galaxias looms over the novel and I found it truly terrifying. But above all is the question of what on earth happened to the Sun?!
I do have an issue and that is with the ending, which seemed too sudden after all that has preceded it (and I don’t think I understood it). But otherwise I was engrossed throughout and really, really wanted to know what would happen next as the situation evolves in very surprising ways. My favourite character is Whu, who seems to be cut adrift in so many ways.
Galaxias, like most novels by Stephen Baxter, made me think and made me marvel. There are reasons why Baxter is one of my favourite novelists, and they’re here to be seen in Galaxias.