Fiction Reviews

Xeelee Redemption

(2018) Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £9.99, pbk, 422pp, ISBN 978-1-473-217323-2


This is the latest in a sequence of novels and short stories that range from the 1990s through to now that not least include: Coalescent, Transcendent, Resplendent and Vacuum Diagrams.  If you are new to the Xeelee stories be thankful, you have the pleasure to read these in fairly quick succession; I had to do it over the best part of a third of a century and, being a bear with little brain, do not have the finer detail of the overall arc fresh in my mind.  Nonetheless, if you like widescreen space opera of galactic width in size and galactic evolution in terms of depth of time, with hard-ish SF and a human species extinction threatening foe, then you'll love these stories.

Fortunately, you do not have to read all that has gone before.  Ideally you might try out Baxter's early collection of shorts Vacuum Diagrams which are set in this universe.  You can then read the others but should you not wish to (you can return to them later should you really desire) the one you really need to get is Xeelee Vengence in which an alien Xeelee craft comes through a wormhole from the future (or another timeline as the act of time travel creates a new timeline branch) to wreck havoc on Earth as Michael Poole successfully fought a future Xeelee invasion: the Xeelee now want to get rid of Earth before these events to ensure that humanity will not get away from them in the future.

How Michael Poole deals with this Xeelee you will have to find out for yourself reading Xeelee Vengence.

In this latest offering, Xeelee Redemption Michael Poole is off to the heart of the Galaxy to track down the Xeelee. He is on a starship with a fairly large crew and accompanied by two other similarly-sized craft, all travelling at near light speed. So at the book's beginning, while the mission has only been going at a subjective time of just under seven years, over 4,000 years have passed in the universe beyond.,/P> This, of course, you would expect from Einstein's special relativity. If you are comfortable with such concepts then you will have no problem with any of the science that Baxter throws at you in the course of this novel: it is all solid, hard SF fare.

Jophiel Poole is a computer generated simulation copy of Michael Poole spun off (shades of Egan's Permutation City which is now a fairly standard part of the SF toolkit).  Yet it appears that he is somehow not an exact copy and has some difference of outlook to (the original) Michael.

Jophiel has a task. There are hints that one of the trio of ships – the one that has many human simulations and a substantive cyberspace – seem to be going off the small space fleet's mission to the Galaxy's core.  Jophial has to investigate…

This is the start of a rip-roaring adventure as, despite being side-tracked, the humans make their way to the Galaxy's centre where the Xeelee is constructing something big around the centre's mega-black hole. (I will not say what as that is a spoiler, which for some reason Gollancz have given away on the backcover blurb: I hate it when publishers do that.)

One thing I will say.  We all knew that Stephen Baxter invokes great sensawunda (sense-of-wonder) but its clear that his sense of scale is as equally gargantuan. Be careful. As with a black hole, Baxter's novel sucks you in. Fantastical stuff.

Jonathan Cowie


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