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Time (Manifold 1) by Stephen Baxter

Time (Manifold 1) (original 1999; edition 2000)

by Stephen Baxter

Series: Manifold (1)

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1,575246,781 (3.53)26
Title:Time (Manifold 1)
Authors:Stephen Baxter
Info:Voyager (2000), Paperback, 464 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Time by Stephen Baxter (1999)

  1. 10
    Existence by David Brin (Aarontay)
    Aarontay: Another resolution of the Fermi's Paradox.
  2. 21
    The Man Who Sold the Moon by Robert A. Heinlein (jseger9000)
    jseger9000: Both stories deal with a strong willed man struggling to leave the Earth relying on private enterprise and their own force of will. The stories do diverge wildly though.

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Excellent read. Be prepared to think about quantum concepts that Baxter tosses into the narrative. ( )
  rondoctor | Jun 13, 2017 |
A really solid "broad spectrum" hard SF novel. It begins much like an updated Heinlein "Man who sold the moon" story, as Elon Musk-like Reid Malenfant (quite the surname) launches his own program to return to space, after being rejected by a moribund NASA (much disparaged here). But then Baxter mixes in large doses of Greg Egan, first on the biology side as Malenfant's astronauts are squids with genetically engineered brains, who begin to evolve rapidly once free of Earth. A message from the future redirects the mission and from there thing move into Stapledon territory, as we get not one, but two logarithmically scaled tours, in time and in space. Egan returns as the very nature of the physical universe is brought into play. As with Egan, things become pretty hard to follow, but for the most part, Baxter is far more successful at keeping the narrative flow moving and tracking the arcs for a handful of believable if not complex characters. There are the usual time loop paradoxes. The one part that did not work for me at all was the way in Baxter portrayed the world's responses to several events predicting humanity's ultimate outcome. I've never understood why SF authors are so fond of the scenes where the planet's population responds in some unified way to some semi-mystical discovery or message from beyond. When has that ever happened?

Despite that, this is a book that promises big things, science fictionally, and delivers. Highly recommended for hard SF fans. ( )
1 vote ChrisRiesbeck | Nov 9, 2016 |
JohnGrant1's synopsis is really all you need. Compelling scientific and philosophical ideas, but a novel much more fun to summarize than read. ( )
  CSRodgers | Jun 22, 2016 |
Highly evolved squid fly to an asteroid with a portal to other universes. Overall brilliant, but a little loose around the edges -- especially the last fifty or so pages traveling through the multiverse. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
This is an extraordinarily ambitious and complex novel . . . and in it I have at last found an sf story that accords with the pejorative phrase Margaret Atwood uses to diminish all the science fiction she doesn't write herself: yes, this is the skiffy novel that has talking squid in it! In fact, the way Baxter has handled the sections featuring the squid impressed me greatly: I found myself empathizing with the creatures in a way I would not have thought possible.

In a future so near we've actually reached it -- the novel's set in the year 2010 (Baxter, recall, was writing a decade ago) -- roguish entrepreneur and obvious naughty boy Reid Malenfant has a dream of thwarting the bureaucracy of NASA and returning humanity to space. In the remote Mojave desert he has gathered shuttle castoffs on the pretext of using the engines as the ultimate incinerator for toxic wastes; in fact he's building a Big Dumb Booster capable of launching a craft to the asteroid belt. Said craft is to be crewed by an enhanced squid, whose immersion in an aqueous environment will offer much protection from radiation. (The rationale for using a squid rather than, say, a robot was the book's weakest plot element, I thought; but I liked the squid so I wasn't complaining.)

Into Malenfant's life comes Cornelius Taine, creepy representative of a shadowy organization called Eschatology whose conviction it is that humankind has at best 200 years to live. This conviction is based on a probabilistic observation (which for the purpose of the novel is called the Carter Catastrophe): if humanity's future stretches for millions or even just hundreds of thousands of years, with a rising or even just a stable population, the odds against any particular individual humans -- you and me -- being alive today, right at the beginning of humankind's story, are infinitesimal. Since we are alive today, the odds must be heavily in favour of humankind's history not having a whole bundle of time left to run. Hm. I know that lots of probabilistic conclusions are strikingly counterintuitive, but even with that in mind I'm not sure I can go along with this one. Surely it's the case that, no matter how long or short human history will be, some humans have to be alive in 2010 -- somebody has to be "it", just in the same way that somebody has to be the one who tosses 100 tails in a row. If it's near-infinitely improbable that I should be born into the species so early in its history, think how unlikely it would be for, say, Shakespeare to have been born into it several hundred years earlier. And the chances are so slender for Plato and Aristotle and Pythagoras that we can say with some confidence that they never existed at all.

Clearly I'm not the only person to regard the Carter Catastrophe as a false conclusion, because Baxter goes to the trouble of including a section (pp117-19) delineating some of the objections that can be raised to it. He does this in the form of a round-robin e-mail reminiscent of the sort of global-warming denialist communiques that come out of wingnut organizations like Newsmax and WorldNewsDaily, and some of the objections are quite clearly intended as specious, but others are less so: "Since no humans of the future are yet alive, it isn't in the least surprising that we aren't among them" (p118); in other words, if the future is short, the probabilities surely shift the other way, so that it becomes unlikely that you or I could be born so near to the end of the species's story. Even so, "No tame expert would stand up and say he or she could demonstrate the damn thing was bullshit in simple enough terms for the president to deliver to the nation, the panicking world" (p120) rings true: it's about time we stopped demanding simple explanations for everything, and took on our responsibility as adults to try to get our heads around complicated ones.

So maybe I'm talking rubbish, just concealing from myself my reluctance to grapple with something complicated . . .

Talking of complicated, back to the book:

Taine and his buddies are convinced that the folk of the future will be sending us back messages (Timescape-style) to tell us how to get round the Carter Catastrophe and thereby allow them to come into existence. If this seems in its turn counterintuitive, it becomes less so if we take on board the Feynmanesque notion that the universe is full of -- indeed, exists because of -- myriads of quantum standing waves that run "simultaneously" both backward and forward in time between pairs of spatiotemporal locations; these past-future-past "handshakes" can occur because "no time passes for a wave traveling at light speed" (p112). If you communicate in such a means with the past in order to effect a change there, you will alter the universe, which will have to repair itself by creating a whole new set of self-consistent past-future-past "handshakes" -- a new future, in simple. And it's using a similar concept -- the "Feynman radio" -- that our heroes set out to try to receive one of those putative messages from the future . . . which of course they do.

The pair of numbers they receive identifies, they eventually realize, the asteroidal body called Cruithne, sometimes called "earth's second moon" because its orbit around the sun is gravitationally linked to ours. Off they send the enhanced squid Sheena to Cruithne, where she discovers -- 2001-style -- an alien artefact: a time portal in the form of a big blue ring. What our chums didn't know when sending her was that she was pregnant; her offspring, aided by little exploration robots, start creating for themselves the beginnings of an industrial civilization on the asteroid. One of the squid, trailed by a camera-bearing exploration 'bot, takes the plunge and goes through the portal . . . to a time 75 million years in the future when Cruithne, long ago slingshot out of solar orbit, can look "down" upon a Galaxy that's obviously been moulded by the activities of intelligent life -- us. Squid and bot repeat the process several times, each time going hugely further into the future, until all that's left of the universe is a degenerated vacuum; this vacuum can, though, be used as a sort of giant, zero-energy computer RAM in which the final humans live immortally as TRON-style constructs.

Malenfant and Taine broadcast the video of all this to the world, which reacts even worse to it all than it did on receiving news of the Carter Catastrophe. The two men decide they must go to Cruithne to investigate for themselves, taking along Malenfant's ex-wife Emma Stoney (who despite not being mentioned above is arguably the novel's central character) and the boy Michael, who's one of the so-called Blue children.

Ah, yes, the Blue children. Here and there all over the world there've been emerging, born of ordinary enough parents, children who're so much more intelligent than the average that they seem like a different species -- the next evolutionary step after Homo sapiens, as it were. The reaction  of us ordinary saps to these children, even sometimes of the children's parents, is one of instinctive loathing. The special schools set up for them have to be closed down eventually, because the staff start mistreating the kids; when the US Govt takes over, promising kindness and delight, that falls apart pretty fast as well. Eventually the kids in one Govt establishment build a magnetic cage capable of trapping a travelling lump of quark matter (think along the lines of neutronium), using it to kill a Fundie staff member who was about to obey the Voice of God by murdering them; the US Govt decides the kids are too dangerous to live, and nukes the establishment. But, when the smoke clears, the kids escape in a jury-rigging craft to the moon . . .

The Blue children are, we begin to gather, another form of messages from the future folk.

Enraged because Malenfant didn't fill in all the requisite forms before setting off to Cruithne, the US Govt despatches a shipful of Marines after them. That ends badly for the Marines, because their craft is attacked first by the squid and then -- terminally -- by Taine. The one surviving Marine does her best to kill our pals; fleeing her, Malenfant grabs the badly injured Stoney and leaps through the time portal and into the first of a long, evolving sequence of universes, each just slightly more structured by its physical laws than the last, that they witness by passing repeatedly through the portal. Finally they make it back to the Cruithne that exists in our own universe and our own time.

Meanwhile another character, a US Senator who's been playing a sort of Best Supporting Actress role through all the other shenanigans, is discovering from the Blue children on the moon yet another timelike idea:

Perhaps, the children seemed to be suggesting, fundamental particles -- electrons and quarks and such -- were actually spacetime defects, kinks in the fabric. For instance, a positive charge could be the mouth of a tiny wormhole threaded by an electric field, with a negative charge the other mouth, the flow of the field through the wormhole looking, from the outside, like a source and sink of charge. [. . .:] The children seemed to be saying that the key was to regard particles not just as loops or folds in space but as folds in time as well. [. . .:] This has clear implications for causality. The properties of a fundamental particle would be determined by measurements that can be made on it only in the future. That is, there is a boundary condition that is in principle unobservable in the present . . . [. . .:] In this worldview it was this breach of causality that provided uncertainty, the famous multivalued fuzziness of the quantum world. (p359)

There's quite a lot of story still to go, including the discovery that the motives of the future folk are entirely different from the ones we'd been guessing. The novel has a sort of Stapledonian relish for big ideas and cosmic consequences. Its appeal comes less through the tale-telling -- Baxter has never been the most fluent of writers, and this applies here too -- and certainly less through the characterization (the first of the various squid is perhaps the most fully realized character of all, which says something about the others; Reid Malenfant is essentially the bastard offspring of Clark Kent and Superman) than through the juggling of mighty concepts: it's quite in keeping that the grand finale should be the initiation of the process that will destroy the universe . . . while birthing its countless "offspring". I confess I found the first half or so of the book to be hard work, and not just because some of the science required me to screw up my face and pout a bit before I could persuade myself I sort of understood it. In the second half, my reading picked up a fair momentum, and by the end I was decidedly breathless . . . and exhausted.

My brain needs some relaxation after that. I think another John Dickson Carr book is called for. ( )
1 vote JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
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To two space cadets:
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 034543076X, Mass Market Paperback)

Leave it to the consistently clever Stephen Baxter to pull the old bait and switch. A story that begins as a hoary asteroid-mining tale, set in 2010 against the by-now familiar spiel of fulfilling humanity's pan-galactic Manifest Destiny, instead takes a bold, delightful ascent into a trajectory far more ambitious. To ensure its survival, humankind need not merely master the galaxy but also the flow of time itself.

Manifold: Time's would-be asteroid-miner-in-chief is bootstrap space entrepreneur Reid Malenfant, a media-savvy firebrand who's showed those crotchety NASA folks what's what with his ready-to-fly Big Dumb Booster, piloted by a genetically enhanced super-squid. But Malenfant's near-term plans to exploit the asteroids get diverted when he crosses paths with creepy mathematician and eschatologist Cornelius Taine. Applying Bayes's theorem and a series of other statistical do-si-dos, Taine convinces Malenfant that an inescapable extinction event--the "Carter catastrophe"--is nigh, and that even working to colonize the galaxy might not be enough to save humanity. The answer: build a Feynman "radio" to listen to the future and, by detecting coded quantum waves traveling back through time, divine the fate of human "downstreamers" and find the key to their survival. Space flight, time travel, and even squid negotiations ensue, while Earth is gripped in Last Days madness.

Once again, the award-spangled Baxter gives us sci-fi at its beard-stroking best, with an imaginative, audacious plot line that's firmly grounded in good science, reminiscent of Baxter's own excellent Vacuum Diagrams. --Paul Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:46 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The end of the world news, the human race extinct in 200 years. This is the Carter Prophecy and it is irrefutable, expressed in the universal language of numbers. But what if there is still a way to survive the catastrophe?

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