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Manifold: Space (Manifold) by Stephen Baxter
Review by Ernest Lilley
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0345430778
Date: 30 January 2001 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Reid Malenfant is back for a new Manifold tale, and this one will take him to the ends of the universe, very nearly.

When a Japanese astronomer discovers alien infrared signatures in the asteroid belt, she decides that they can mean no good for mankind. The Aliens won't even acknowledge our existence except to consume the one probe a private consortium sends out to investigate, and it isn't until Astronaut Reid Malefant cobbles together his own space program out of used and abandoned hardware (A Stephen Baxter signature concept) including his EVA suit from a museum, that they are willing to enter into any sort of relationship with mankind.

The Gaijin, as they become known, are the front runners in a wave of colonization that rushes through the galaxy with disconcerting regularity, as whatever race gets there first seeks to preempt and consume the resources of each solar system. But though the colonizing waves are ruthless and destructive, there are even greater cataclysms in the universe, ones that prevent any race from achieving the maturity and knowledge that they need to rise above the petty warfare for limited resources.

It's a classic theme in SF that humanity has some quality that the aliens need, and Baxter plays it here again, but plays it deftly.

Thanks to relativistic voyages with the aliens, a small cast of characters gets to interact with each other over the millennia that it takes this story to unfold and we get to watch the evolution of mankind and the solar system in response to waves of alien invasions. It's not your usual flying saucer sort of stuff, but much more Clarkian in the immensity of its scope.

As always, Baxter writes about a future without the abundance of energy that is needed for more optimistic tales, and there's no doubt that he's both brilliant and a realist, but I keep wishing he'd lighten up a bit. One image I'm fond of from the book is astronaut Reed Malefant, thousands of years out of his own time, hanging onto his old spacesuit and a picture of his wife, constant companions across the years and light-years. I can't help but wonder what the people who built that suit would have thought had they known it would serve so long and so well, and that it's American flag would be cherished by the one man who remembered them through the ages.

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