Fiction Reviews


Time

(1999) Stephen Baxter, Voyager, £17.99, hrdbk, 456pp, ISBN 0-00-225768-8

Cornelius Taine predicts the end of mankind within 200 years using probabilistic reasoning (that a child could refute in two seconds flat, but let that pass); Reid Malenfant, a passed-over astronaut, has a one-man space programme at his company, Bootstrap, and an ex-wife, Emma Stoney, for a financial controller who is trying to stop him running afoul of the government; and Maura Della is the Senator required to keep an eye on Malenfant.

Around the world exceptional children are being born, brilliant and feared, most of them are in danger from their own people (this is very Midwich Cuckoos territory). Meanwhile, Sheena-5, a genetically modified squid, discovers an artifact on a remote asteroid, a glowing blue hoop that appears to be one end of a wormhole threaded through time. Michael and the other children adopt this as a symbol before they’ve even seen it. Are these chldren in touch with the future and, if so, what do they know about it. Malenfant wants to find out and decides to follow Sheena-5 through the wormhole, taking Cornelius and Emma with him...

This book smells like part one of a trilogy and, while that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad, it points up a trend in publishing that we would do well to avoid in my opinion. The move toward excessively fat fantasy trilogies seems predicated more on the accountants’ predictions than on quality, until today even the fantasy fans are sick of them (often moaning that the ‘middle’ book is unnecessary and, equally often, that the final book is disappointing). Now it seems SF is expected to follow fantasy down this same road, and the 3-book deal has become the norm -- consider Peter Hamilton’s first 6 books, or Colin Greenland’s Plenty trilogy, or David Brin’s last three Uplift novels, or the Foundation releases, or Alexander Besher’s or Richard Calder’s first 3 books... Need I go on?

Now trilogies are nothing new, in one sense, but the current plethora is getting beyond a joke. It’s one thing for an author to decide that they wish to expand upon their fictional creations, but it is quite different for publishers (usually at the behest of the accountants, rarely the editors) to require that authors give them more-of-the-same, and one has to wonder how much choice authors like Ken Macleod have to step away from certain ‘universes’. Have editors become whipped dogs? Have authors? Why can’t a 3-book deal produce three radically different books? And, more importantly, how long will readers put up with this shit? Next time you are confronted with a ‘Book 2’ or ‘Book 3’, have a serious think about whether you really want more-of-the-same or if you’d prefer something original. The accountants can only win if you behave predictably and let them. Personally I would rather see a return to writer’s creativity (and editorial independence) as the driving force behind publishing, and stick the penny-counters back in the basement where the grubby little creatures belong.

Tony Chester


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