The year is 2010. More than a century of ecological damage, industrial and technological expansion, and unchecked population growth has left the Earth on the brink of devastation. As the world’s governments turn inward, one man dares to envision a bolder, brighter future. That man, Reid Malenfant, has a very different solution to the problems plaguing the planet: the exploration and colonization of space. Now Malenfant gambles the very existence of time on a single desperate throw of the dice. Battling national sabotage and international outcry, as apocalyptic riots sweep the globe, he builds a spacecraft and launches it into deep space. The odds are a trillion to one against him. Or are they?
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