Space [Manifold] // Stephen Baxter [Spoilers]

Image result for space beyond solar system

***

Title: Space [When I search for it online, it has a ‘Manifold’ added to the title].

Characters: Reid Malenfant [a name almost beyond parody]

Nemoto [Japanese scientist]

Gaijin [Alien robots]

Plot: Spanning almost two millennia, the story begins with the gaijin and their asteroid belt scam being rumbled by Nemoto, who spots them from her shoebox on the moon. Reid Malenfant borrows Stephen Baxter’s brain, figures out that the Gaijin are actually sailing in from the solar focus, which is somewhere out past the edge of the solar system, and goes to investigate. Other characters flit in and out, avoiding depth and other hobbies. The hobby is science. There is nothing else.

Better than Event Horizon?

This isn’t a bad book, but it isn’t a good one either. It’s hovering somewhere around average. Starting with the Fermi Paradox hook and then failing to keep my attention for more than seven pages is not a good sign [for me].

I’m sure there’s a better way to write that, but I’ve been struggling with English for a while now, especially when it comes to reviews. Something’s not working right in my brain. Feels like I’m parroting other sources. Or simplifying words to primary school level.

Still, this is not a bad book.

It’s about space, aliens, exploration…it has a page on different, theoretical ways we can travel to the next star…so why didn’t I like it more?

Hard Science

I’ll preface this with the note that I got either a ‘C’ or ‘D’ in science at high school, can’t remember which, so this subject has always been something I’ve struggled with.

Despite this drag factor, I love science fiction, Star Trek, Blake’s 7, Space Precinct etc., even when the science parts get dense. I guess I do what most regular people do when Data or Geordi speculate about something scientific, I shrug and wait for the metaphor or analogy that spells it out for people who got a D in science.

This book, though, takes it up a notch, with some of the scientific explanations manageable [the pros and cons of space travel methods] and others so dense that I can barely even grasp what the author is talking about [the description of the 14 second civilisation living on a star].

The first 10 pages were okay, the next 100 were a struggle…

It reminds me of the line, great art should be difficult, and the corresponding one for novels: Dhalgren should melt your brain.

But should it also be dull?

I gave up on Dhalgren after the second page, same for most Thomas Pynchon books, same for most literary fiction actually. I gave up on this one around page 120 [skipping forward to the end just to see how things worked out]. It took me a while to get that far too. Some of it was the dedication to science, which was difficult to visualise, but it was also the preoccupation with science to the detriment of character and decent writing.

I honestly don’t know if this is a lack on my part, or authors [and fans of those authors] being overly indulgent and then defensive when called on it.

Shouldn’t an author set out to entertain and get his/her point across at the same time?

Is a story about a tax department, where the characters talk in detail about tax, really art?

What about Pynchon, Delaney, Beckett…? If they write in that style, perhaps they can read it back and spot the references and go online and double check the references, make sure they didn’t fuck anything up cos you’d get slaughtered for that now, and say to anyone who doesn’t spot the references, hey, there were references, read it again, read until you get it, I’ll be in the corner, reading Latin…

But is it really, actually good?

Do you get anything out of it if it’s a chore to read?

I don’t know.

We choose our own classics, I guess.

Reid Malenfant

I felt nothing for this guy.

Could be the name…could be the lack of personality.

He talks a lot of science, his thoughts are non-chaotic, he seems to know exactly what he’s doing at all times. Maybe it’s the way he’s written I have a problem with. The way his thoughts are put down on the page. Like, when he flies to the edge of the solar system and finds the alien portal, it all seems so brief and matter of fact, as if the author is ticking this part of the story off so he can get to the millennia spanning stuff.

Really, this should be the more momentous trip any human has ever taken, and it’s over in about 10-15 pages. Contrast this with ‘Gateway’, where the main character delays his first trip in the alien ship for 60/70 pages due to nerves and fear. This is realism, and I think we need it to some degree in every novel, especially if you want relatable characters.

Nemoto

She’s painfully Japanese at times. Or what the author thinks a Japanese person is like. The way he writes the names for things in her moon apartment in Japanese and then repeats them in English…why?

Has the author studied Japanese?

Does he know how many loan words they use nowadays? I said taiho suru to my friend a few weeks back and he said, contororu suru [in Katakana style]. This is not a rare event.

Maybe I’m being too harsh.

I do like the way she stays in the story without any explanation as to how exactly she’s able to do that. There’s no reason for her to tell anyone how’s she still alive, so she doesn’t.

But she’s still pretty lifeless.

Like most characters in most sci fi novels I’ve read recently, especially modern ones. It feels like authors write characters as things or idea constructs, not as something which comes from either themselves or people they know.

Does she ever doubt herself? If yes, can we see that doubt?

The whole universe or nothing!

Everything up until the trip to the edge of the solar system is decent…relatively decent…but then the author gets possessed by the same creature who possesses all sci fi writers at some point…the creature that tells them to broaden the canvas to include the whole universe yet still make humans a central part of things…and then, just like Nigerian politics, things fall apart.

Why?

200 odd tribes lumped together, Muslims vs Christians, post-colonialism, Steve Zahn, corrupt builders, Niger, obscene wealth gap, rap, they’ve all gotta take some of the blame.

Why do some sci fi authors feel the need to solve the whole Universe?

Alpha Centauri is enough.

Our solar system is enough.

Roping in the whole galaxy/universe just shrinks space to the size of a peanut. The awe disappears. Humans don’t have the imagination to go beyond our own neighbourhood. How can we? We don’t even know what dark matter is and that makes up 96% of all matter [according to Joe Rogan].

Why do some sci fi authors feel the need to give answers for everything?

Is it only the writers with a scientific background that do this?

I don’t know.

I don’t read much anymore.

I did go to the library today and read ‘The Little Black Box’ by Philip K Dick. It was only 30 pages, but the start was great and there were four characters drawn fairly well. Not perfect, Dick slips into the ‘characters explaining their thoughts not at all like real people’ trap a few times, but you get a sense of who they are and how they think.

I never got that here.

Though I’ll admit the eventual theme of Space Manifold is decent, and something I’ve been thinking about recently.

Think beyond your own lifetime, to the next one. Try to influence it.

Write a zine or two, put down some ideas.

No more Kings/Queens.

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2 thoughts on “Space [Manifold] // Stephen Baxter [Spoilers]

  1. Liked this review very much – because of its literary style (we get a glimpse into what the ‘narrator’ thinks/feels) rather than just recounting the ‘facts’ of the story and then ticking off a list of good/bad criticism.

    Like

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