Fiction Reviews


(2021) Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £14.99, trdpbk, 532pp, ISBN 978-1-473-22886-3


What would happen to the world if the Sun went out?  By the middle of the twenty-first century, humanity has managed to overcome a series of catastrophic events and maintain some sense of stability. Space exploration has begun again. Science has led the way. But then one day, the Sun is extinguished. Solar panels are useless, and the world begins to freeze. The Earth begins to fall out of its orbit. The end is nigh. Someone has sent us a sign.

Doesn’t time fly? Well, it certainly does in this book, starting off in the year 2057, and ending up in the year 200,000,000 AD. It also flies off the page too as I remember a loooong time ago going to a panel at a Fantasycon (probably in Birmingham in the early 1990s) which featured first-time novelists. I can’t remember who they all were, but one of them was the late, great Graham Joyce, a diamond geezer, who sadly died a few years ago, and another of them was Stephen Baxter talking about his first novel, Raft, and here we are at novel number 49 (if I’ve done my maths right). The vast majority written by Baxter himself with the odd one written with Arthur C. Clarke and Alastair Reynolds and Terry Pratchett in a career that includes young adult novels, a Dr. Who novel and sequels to The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, and I haven’t even counted the short story collections, novellas or non-fiction books.

Galaxias starts with “Event 1973 – 2057”, which actually details several events, most of them taking place on the Moon, and very mysterious they are too, and there is a nice circularity with the ending of this very short section (only three pages of text), and the very end of the novel, set in the year 200,000,000. In between, the story is told in various parts – the first “Day”, takes place on the 5th and 6th of January 2057. The next part is “Year”, set throughout 2057, followed by “Decade” set from 2058 – 2067 before we have the very distant finale. After that Baxter gives the reader a guide to source material and some scientific ideas which informed his writing.

As for the plot, well, it is a cracking idea in that the sun goes out, or actually disappears from its position in the solar system in an event that becomes known as the Blink, which might be a blink in the eye for some vast, timeless entities, but in human terms it lasts twenty four hours which is quite long enough for humanity. Baxter devotes an entire 130 pages to the events of the next twenty four hours during the Blink. As you can imagine the events are pretty catastrophic with earthquakes and other nasty phenomena such as the Moon shifting and planets changing their orbits in the sun’s absence, while back on earth, most of the UK is underwater with the Parliament is forced to move to Newcastle from a flooded London. While that seems to be enough to cope with, there is a major problem in that the Blink was actually caused by an entity known as Galaxias who has used this to fire a warning shot across humanity’s bows to tell us not to challenge his/it’s authority. What to do with a problem called Galaxias? Well, the nations of the Earth have various ideas. Direct contact? Or something a bit more subtler? Naturally, the Western countries decide to go knocking on Galaxias’ door, but it almost feels like an eternity reaching a decision to get to that point.

That’s the major problem with this novel, it’s too long, and not enough happens. A lot of what does happen, keeps happening again and again, usually in another country at yet another meeting or conference with a heck of a lot of info-dumping going on as the powers that be debate their options and likelihood of success. Things are not helped by the lack of characterisation, dull plotting in places, and Baxter’s overkill, and overlong, descriptions of what happens to the Earth because of the Blink. There are nice touches, of course, there is a space entrepreneur, just like now, and also climate problems, aftermaths of pandemics, and displaced peoples, again, just like now. There is also time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of England winning the World Cup, but Galaxias just doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its premise. Perhaps if it was turned into a mini-TV series, the excess fat might be trimmed off, but in book form, readers might find it a disappointment, unless they prefer the science at the cost of the plot and the characters within it.

Ian Hunter


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