Stephen Baxter has been on my radar for a while now, but the poor fellow keep getting pushed back in favour of more "flavour du jour" books. He is one of the elite sci-fi writers working actively today I think (among Reynolds, Hamilton, Scalzi, Stross etc.). I did give [b:Raft|100680|Raft|Stephen Baxter|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1171468835s/100680.jpg|829085] a not very enthusiastic attempt, couldn't really make any head of tail of it within the first chapter and then I was tempted away by another book that everybody was talking about; I forget which one, I'm just too easily swayed. Any way, I often come across mentions of "The Xeelee Sequence" in my travels around the interweb and it sounds very intriguing, I mean it's a sequence
not a series for heaven's sake, who wouldn't want to read that! (Actually it is
a series, but "The Xelee Series" sounds a bit daft, naysayers may label it "that Silly Xelee Series" to the author's mortification).
To begin with Mr. Baxter did not make a very good first impression with silly sci-fi alien names like Qax, Squeem and Parz (who is not even an alien). I feel that sci-fi authors tend to simply toss in an X, a Q or a Z to make up alien names, and the names end up sounding rather silly. The exception in this book being Xeelee which I think has a nice ring to it. You can't beat Slartibartfast
for a sci-fi name though. Still, it must be very hard to come up with non-silly alien names and I certainly can not think of one so I decided to get over it. As I read on I began to appreciate why Stephen Baxter is at the forefront of today's sf writers, the quality of his plotting and world building quickly became perceivable. Better still, his writing is not at all shabby; I don't demand a lot of of literary merit from space operas and hard sf but at least the prose has to be accessible and the characters tolerable. Although the characters don't have a lot of depth to them at least some of them has some height and width. In any case Baxter excelled at the sci-fi-ness / sensawonder aspect of the story which is definitely a requirement for me.
At a mere 256 pages Timelike Infinity
packs a lot of story, ideas and world building; this relative brevity reminds me of Golden Age sci-fi by the likes of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein. I like how the Xeelees are presented as almost a myth in the background and do not actually show up because they are just too damn cool. This leaves the Qax as the alien stars of the story instead, and they are satisfactorily bizarre. The Xeelee's absence make them that much more intriguing and a nice hook to follow the series. The time travelling aspect of the book is also very cleverly done and it's great that Baxter did not rely on the old time travelling tropes about the paradoxes of meeting your past selves, killing your grannies and such. The little spaceship made from a small area of land is a wonderful concept, and one of my favourite sci-fi tropes that I never get tired of is the living spaceships. I can't get enough of these weird things with their wrinkly smelly interiors and massive eyeballs. I wish my car was like that.
All in all I am sold on this series, I'm going to rate this book five stars even though I suspect this may be too generous, I just can't think of any reason to knock off one whole star at the moment. May be one of them will go nova later on and leave only four. Time will tell.