Bite-size Baxter brilliance
released 18 august 320 pages | Hardback/paperback/ebook Author stephen Baxter Publisher gollancz
The work rate is prodigious. Over the past decade or so, Stephen Baxter has turned out at least two books every year. It’s an output that calls to mind the Golden Age writers, whose standard of living was dependent on maintaining a certain churn rate.
At which point, we’re getting dangerously close to labelling Baxter as a hack when, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. We think we’ve made this point before, but while the younger Baxter often didn’t nail character in the same way as he nailed dramatising even the most arcane branches of science, this hasn’t been true for a while now.
The short stories in Baxter’s latest collection provide evidence for this assertion. They cover the years from 2008-16 and there simply isn’t a duffer amongst them. That isn’t to say they’re perfect. The first story, for instance, “On Chyrse Plain”, the tale of a collision in the skies above Mars and its aftermath (one of four based in Baxter’s Proxima universe) is almost undone by a rather sentimental paragraph or two at the end. As to why that’s a particular pity, it’s because (without giving too much away) the bit with the rocket signal is so brilliantly executed.
Elsewhere, there are stories that show’s Baxter fondness for alternate history, such as “Fate And The Fire-lance”, which details a timeline in which the Byzantine Empire never fell and deserves singling out for its sheer ambition; and the kind of future-fic we associate with the Baxter name.
But if you had to choose anywhere to start, you could do far worse than read a tale filed in the book’s contents under “Present Day”. “The Pevatron Rats” from 2009, a tale of strange goings-on at a research establishment, is surreal, funny and, at moments, genuinely creepy – especially if you don’t like rodents… Jonathan Wright
Surreal, funny and, at moments, creepy
Baxter will be giving a talk on HG Wells in Woking on 21 September, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Wells’ birth.