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The Thousand Earths

The Thousand Earths

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I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Stephen Baxter’s work sprawls, narratively, spatially, temporally, conceptually, and cosmologically. He also has a fondness for extravagantly displacing his protagonists and for setting his stories in strange and mysterious environments. And he does love a comprehensive, apocalyptic disaster – see his recent World En­gines: Destroyer or Galaxias. What I find espe­cially interesting is how many ways he manages to reconfigure these motifs, tropes, and options in his latest, The Thousand Earths. The novel alternates two narrative threads whose precise relationship is hinted at but not made clear for most of the book’s length. The novel is named for the setting of one thread: some­where and somewhen, there is a flat, artificial, human-inhabited world, one of ‘‘the bright blue-green diamonds of the thousand Earths in their regular array’’ (perhaps along the lines of a Dyson swarm), and it is decaying – literally crumbling along its edges at a predictable rate of 60 meters a day. The girl Mela sees this for herself at age 12 when her parents take her to the Perimeter to witness the destruction as it proceeds: Interspersed is the tale of a young woman Mela, whose Iron Age world platform is literally crumbling away at a steady rate, like cliffs falling into the sea each year. Up in her sky are hundreds of other earth-type synthetic worlds, but she can't get there. The unbelievable point is that nobody ever asks if they could go anywhere. Remember Land and Overland? I think someone would be developing space travel but they don't get any further than barges being towed. Mela’s world is coming to an end. Erosion is eating away at the edges of every landmass – first at a rate of ten metres a year, but fast accelerating, displacing people and animals as the rising Tide destroys everything in its path. Putting more and more pressure on the people – and resources – which remain. An Epic Odyssey through the imagined epochs of humanity's future: "The Thousand Earths" by Stephen Baxter

Apart from some ambitious ideas and a premise with some potential, this wasn't very good. If you had told me this was a debut novel by a self-published author, I could easily have believed that. From the sleep-inducing storytelling to the poorly thought-out world, this had none of the imagination or creativity I expected from a far-future story like this. She and her people have always known that this long-predicted end to their home, one of the Thousand Earths, is coming – but that makes their fight to survive, to protect each other, no less desperate . . . and no less doomed. The Book is very languid, even pedestrian at times, as we follow Mela and her family on their travails. This is not always a bad thing, as it heightens the expectation of things to come.Baxter really extends the timelines with humanity surviving for billions of years with the result being post-biological consciousness and boredom. The thousand earths is seen as a sort of science project where one of the worlds takes it all too seriously and polarizes the culture into two camps. It is almost as if humanity itself creates life as a simulation for idle pleasure. The story takes readers on a mind-bending journey through a multitude of parallel Earths, each with its own unique history, civilizations, and possibilities. Baxter's exploration of the concept of the multiverse and the interconnectedness of these Earths is awe-inspiring, offering a tantalizing glimpse into the infinite variations and potential futures that exist.

This is not helped by the fact that Baxter continues to write in his favorite genre - (extremely) hard SF, focused on deep time and dealing with cosmological questions. I know he has made some excursions in the past, writing about mammoths and some historical fiction thrown in, as well as writing about near future space exploration, but now he seems to be firmly entrenched in this one corner of the genre. Then there's the fact that his prose and characterisation do not seem to develop in huge steps from novel to novel (I found the characterisations in one thread here to be among his best, however). His prose is functional (which does not deter me, because I don't read Baxter for the prose) and his characters tend to be rather flat and often serve only to further the plot. However, as another reviewer on here noted, 'One reads Baxter for his sense of wonder and boundless enthusiasm for the possibilities and potential posed by science and technology, and not for his literary affectations.' Much of the first part of the book though seems to be smaller in scale, revolving around the lives of two sisters, Ish & Mela. Told by focussing on Mela, it seems like a fairly typical space colonisation tale, which becomes much vaster when it is revealed that the girls and their parents are on an Earth-like planet surrounded by a thousand (well – 999, I guess) others.

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Mela and her family are in turmoil, watching on while the countdown to their planet's collapse continues relentlessly. Helpless and desperate, fighting to survive in a world without hope. This human quality is shown through an interesting dichotomy between two religious factions on Mela’s planet, which become more important as the world’s end becomes imminent. It doesn’t help that Mela’s father Tenn is a Perseid, a religion with “a human warmth” determined to do their best for “the Immies”, whilst her estranged mother Salja is a Starrist, believing in “cosmic austerity” and involved in trading property before it disappears into The Tide. (How did those two ever get together?)

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