(2001) Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £6.99, pbk pp215, ISBN 0-575-07286-5
Stephen Baxter is one of Britain's finest hard SF writers. His novels are invariably packed with science that is fundamental to the plot. So it is most appropriate that he has produced a slim non-fiction book explaining the science underpinning his work.
Deep Future covers much ground from biology and environmental science to astronomy and cosmology. On the way we visit Mars and witness the heat death of the universe. Fascinating stuff... but...
Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation regulars will be all too familiar with the territory Baxter covers, as will regular New Scientist readers. There is really little, if anything new for hard SF buffs so really this book is not for us but for fantasy fans and non-science types who occasionally dip into hard SF. However I am aware that the book has had rave reviews (for example in SFX magazine, 'Gripping. Be awed and amazed,' and even Dave Langford says, 'State of the art futurology' - really?) I can only assume (should reader surveys be correct) that the 40% of SF readers who have no formal school science qualifications will find this an easy-to-digest introduction to the science behind much SF (and especially Baxter's). In fact I am sure that they will, but I am not convinced that many of such fans/readers are into the hard SF end of the science fiction spectrum, hence I would be surprised if the book sells that well. Of course I appreciate Baxter's dilemma. I am sure that he would be up to a more solid a work, but would the arts-type editors at the publishing houses go for it? Probably not, and they may even be disillusioned if Deep Future's sales are so so.
So there you have it. Deep Future is an excellent elementary introduction to some of the exotic science behind SF and would be ideal for a teenage reader or someone with a humanities background. But for those of us for whom our bread and butter is science and hard SF, Deep Future just doesn't hack it.
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