Stephen Baxter is a British science fiction author. He writes very hard science fiction, dealing with truly vast concepts, as well as engineering on a cosmological scale. Although not necessary, an understanding of the more esoteric areas in physics such as superstring theory and quantum cosmology can help in getting the most from his books. For me it is his concepts that make his books 'unput-downable'; I get the feeling reading his books he's taken an idea and thought it as far as it can go. For instance, if your civilisation is suffiecently advanced enough to make a time machine, what would you do with it? Baxter's answer to this is really the most convincing one I've ever read, he's thought far more deeply than the grandfather paradox or winning the lottery.

Here is an except from his autobiography, in his own words :-

I was born in Liverpool, England, in 1957. I have degrees in mathematics, from Cambridge University, and engineering, from Southampton University. I worked as a teacher of maths and physics, and for several years in information technology. I have been a full-time author since 1995.

My novels have won several awards including the Philip K Dick Award, the John Campbell Memorial Award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, the Kurd Lasswitz Award (Germany) and the Seiun Award (Japan) and have been nominated for several others, including the Arthur C Clarke Award, the Hugo Award and Locus awards. I have published around fifty sf short stories, several of which have won prizes, including the Writers of the Future contest.

In 1991 he applied to become an astronaut, maybe it's was his rejection that motivated him to become a writer; certainly you can see in his works a longing for the stars...

Published Novels







The Time Ships


Vacuum Diagrams



Timelike Infinity


Warning: Spoilers Ahead

While Stephen Baxter seems like a good scientist, and has some interesting ideas for plot elements, for the most part his stories are essentially minor variations on the same theme:

Earth is destroyed, but a few people escape.

Don't believe me? Let's look at some examples.

All of the stars in the universe are extinguished by Photino Birds, but a ship full of humans escapes to another universe.

The Earth is destroyed by an alien nanomachine. New heavy-lift vehicles are used to evacuate several million people to the moon.

An expedition of five people is sent to Titan. Two of them die. Meanwhile the US and China go to war on Earth, and China drops an asteroid onto the United States. They misjudge the size and eradicate all life on Earth. Then the people on Titan die too, but are resurrected by aliens.

Manifold: Space
Galactic civilization is destroyed by a chain reaction of gamma-ray bursts. A few beings (including one human) survive inside a device designed to prevent the next such catastrophe.

The age of modern man is beginning, and the mammoths are dying. A few mammoths escape to a remote island.

The island is becoming uninhabitable for mammoths, and humans are appearing. The few remaining mammoths escape to Mars.

This isn't true of all Stephen Baxter books, certainly, but it is of most. There have been collaborations with other authors which are very enjoyable, such as The Light of Other Days, with Arthur C. Clarke.

Baxter, as do most authors, allows certain themes to permeate throughout his novels and short stories. While it is true that many of these are sole survivor type affairs, in the same way that much of Tolkien's work dealt with the fear of death, it seems that this is simply a result of his normal thought process. Remember that several novels take place over thousands or millions of years, and with the photino bird accelerated death of the universe depicted in the Xeelee Sequence it is, perhaps, the order of things that everyone will die. Those that find a way to escape however will make a fine story.

Many of Baxter's tales are interesting in that he finds themes in the bending or blatant breaking of a law of physics. What if you could change the value of a component of gravity? What if you could reduce the Planck Constant?

Another method he uses is the combination of two unrelated ideas, such as religion and Burgess shale creatures or early primates and the death of the solar system.

In any of these cases you will find that he never enters into complex mathematics, but explains principles in a straightfoward manner which is neither confusing to the layman or insulting to those already familiar with certain aspects of quantum physics. This, I believe, is the primary reason Baxter is so enjoyable to read.

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