Posts Tagged ‘stephen baxter’

It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared.

So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist – sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins – must survive, escape and report on the war.

The Massacre of Mankind has begun


Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

It’s 1920, 13 years after the Martian invasion Walter Jenkins described in The War of the Worlds, and Julie Elphinstone, Jenkins ex-sister in law, is working as a journalist in New York. But the world, or rather Europe, is not at peace. And the Martians signal their intent to invade again. Jenkins has read the signs and drawn his acquaintances back into maelstrom that an interplanetary war will be. This time it will span more than just Britain.

Stephen Baxter was authorised by the estate of HG Wells to write this sequel, and his choice of a new narrator was a bold but logical choice. Jenkins, after his contacts with the Martians was a bit of a broken reed. Julie, his sister in law, would’ve been well placed to spot his character flaws, and Baxter plays them beautifully. He also shows a side of Albert cook that would be a logical progression from that character’s interactions with the Martians.

The story is told in four parts, basically as the calamity unfolds, with obvious lulls in the action; war is not a constant assault but more a series of breathers interspersed with furious action. Interested parties abound. As before, the Martians seem unstoppable. Like wells, Baxter resorts to Deus ex Machina, which is both more and less satisfying than the original. How the Martians developed resistance to Terran pathogens is not adequately explained, especially as they had no samples to work with. And my gut feeling is that the UK would have moved heaven and earth to either prevent a European war or have one fought on its terms.

Baxter has done a good job in both creating and recreating the characters. What flaws there are can be mostly blamed on Lowell’s theories being truly out of date: Venerians indeed. I liked the story and its female narrator and recommend this to anybody who is a fan of HG Wells.



The Long Utopia

Having begun by opening the way to the Long Earth, destroying much of the world we know by blowing up the Yellowstone supervolcano, and going on explore Mars, you had to wonder what Pratchett and Baxter were going to do next with their gigantic imaginary playground. The Long Earth is, for those who haven’t encountered it before, their take on the many Earths hypothesis, only they’ve gone for empty worlds as opposed to alternate histories. And Pratchett and Baxter have had a lot of fun creating some interesting characters and then letting them loose to explore the possibilities. Not to mention potatoes…

What they decided to do in the Long Utopia was to send some of their major characters out to New Springfield on Earth West 1,217,756, there to begin home-steading. Only, it’s not so simple, and by a very long coincidence (or not at all by chance) that world has intersected something very nasty, very invasive, and potentially able to destroy all of the many Earths and with them all of humanity if it is allowed to spread. Somehow it must be stopped, and to save the worlds, sacrifices must be made.

There is much that is great and grand about the Long Earth. The characters are well-crafted, and the writing is excellent. But there is something missing. It feels like two great writers at play, wondering what they should do next, with no real objective other than exploration. Will there be any resolution to all of their assorted plot-lines? Well, there is one last long earth novel to come.

Published by Doubleday

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

The Long Mars

The “alternate earths” concept is not new in science fiction, there are even multiple role-playing games and campaign settings based around the idea, but I have to admit that Pratchett and Baxter have gone somewhere original with it. Apparently, it is all based on an unpublished short story, The High Meggas, which Pratchett wrote while The Colour of Magic was being published. Discussing the idea with Stephen Baxter in the 2000s led to this collaboration. Unusually, they haven’t gone for alternate history – there are no Britannias or Reichs here – but alternate biology, geology, even astronomy. And it is the latter that is the key to “The Long Mars”, because among an infinite number of Earths, there is the Gap, where Earth has been smashed to fragments by a catastrophic cosmic collision. Which makes it a whole lot easier to get to the Mars of the Gap. It’s a Long Mars, of course, which means that there must be sentient Martians out there somewhere among the infinite alternates of the Red Planet.

While Sally, Willis and Frank explore the Long Mars in stepper-equipped modified gliders, Captain Maggie Kauffmann leads an airship expedition further west into the Long Earth itself than anyone has been before, to versions of the Earth that become increasingly alien. Closer to home is Joshua Valianté, and the problem of the Next; young people who despite their human appearance have somehow evolved beyond human. And let’s not forget the Datum itself, still devastated by the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano some twenty years after Step Day.

If that’s sounds confusing, it was… mainly because I came to The Long Mars without reading either of its predecessors, The Long Earth and The Long War. I loved the ideas here, but there was a bit too much going on, maybe even too many narrative threads. And at the back of my mind was a niggling doubt – not about the Long Earth itself – but about infrastructure and logistics, the practical issues of a series of new, wild Earths. Step sideways into an uninhabited Earth-like world… how long can you survive? How long does it take to build a civilisation from the ground up? Never mind having a sizable chunk of the Earth you came from being blown up and the rest thrown into the deep freezer of a volcanic fimbulwinter! Maybe it’ll make more sense with the two books in the series yet to come.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

iron winterIt seems that Baxter really does believe in torturing the inhabitants of his alternate history with natural disasters far beyond anything that happened in the actual past. In “Iron Winter”, in the equivalent of our fourteenth century, he ramps up the “Little Ice Age”, bringing in the cool climate change much faster and harder than actually occurred. Extelur rapidly ices up, and millions of people across Europe die or are displaced. The Hatti evacuate and head for Carthage (in this world, Hannibal won, the Romans lost) where they are not exactly welcome…

It’s in the midst of this turmoil that Baxter sends one of his central characters, the aging philosopher Pyxeas, all the way from Extelur, across Europe and then along the Silk Road to Cathay, seeking the missing pieces of the puzzle that will explain why the world is cooling. I’m not entirely certain that Baxter’s explanation works to account for the full amount of variation from reality, but it’s credible enough for the story.

This is an epic disaster movie of a novel – and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It has a great background, and strong characters, struggling to survive in a world that is rapidly turning hostile. Yes, that sometimes turns them against each other, but the great enemy is not in the least human, it is the implacable force of climate change. Are there lessons to be learned here, as our society faces a similar enemy? Quite possibly, and in any case, this is undoubtedly a good read.


Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui

Bronze Summer review

bronze summer Now, I’ll admit that I cheated. I borrowed a copy of “Stone Spring” from the library to read first and get some of the background before reading “Bronze Summer” as it is the second book of the trilogy. Now, while it did give some setting and context, it wasn’t essential as the three books are set millennia apart, and have an entirely separate cast of characters.

The “Northland” trilogy is an unusual take on alternate history in that the turning point is so far back that we are actually talking alternate pre-history. “Stone Spring” is set deep in the Mesolithic, when the ice caps are melting and the seas rising, threatening Etxelur, the drowned lands beneath the North Sea that archaeologists know as Doggerland. Baxter brings a character all the way from ancient Jericho to introduce new building techniques—featuring the humble brick—and those skills are used to construct a wall to hold back the sea.

Which brings us to “Bronze Summer”. It’s now the Bronze Age, around 1159 BC, and everything is about to go to custard with the eruption of one of the more notorious Icelandic volcanoes, Hekla a.k.a. the Hood. The Greeks have demolished Troy—and our primary villain is an obsessive Trojan who finds his way to Etxelur. Our heroine is Miliqa, daughter of the Annid of Annids, matriarch of Etxelur—who was thought to have died in a hunting accident. But she was assassinated, an iron arrowhead found in her chest. Miliqa must find out who did this, and why… and then she must save the Wall, or Etxelur will perish. The Year of the Fire Mountain is a year without a summer, which means famine, which that leads to war, across the known world. This is not a small-scale story!

Baxter has done his homework, and his altered world is almost perfectly believable. I just had the odd quibble about marching entire armies across Bronze Age Europe in time of famine. Mind you, Alexander the Great got to India…


Supplied by Hatchette New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui