On Sale: September 12, 2003
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Phase Space is a collection of 25 SF stories by Stephen
Baxter, many thematically linked to his "Manifold" trilogy
(Time, Space and Origin) and other novels of cosmic
scope. "The phase space of a system is the set of all
conceivable states of that system," says the first page.
As with "Manifold" these stories explore possible (and
significantly linked) states of Earth and the universe,
alternate timelines offering different solutions to
Baxter's favourite cosmological question--the Fermi
Paradox. It's a simple idea. According to our best
scientific theories there's nothing special about Earth or
the Solar System. Intelligent life has evolved here--
ourselves. It's likely to evolve elsewhere. The skies
should be full of other intelligences. Where are they?
Perhaps our theories are wrong and we're in a galactic
quarantine. Perhaps what we see through our telescopes is
a clever fake--but supposing we overload the capabilities
of the fakers? Maybe intelligence always destroys itself
before crossing interstellar space, or something kindly
takes emerging life away to a safer place. Perhaps there's
teeming intelligence out there, but we're not listening on
the right wavelength. Perhaps they're hiding...? Another
Baxter theme revisited again in this mind-stretching
collection is the high-tech romance of the space programme
and walking on the Moon. Alternate histories of space
exploration are deftly conjured up, some of them
wonderfully paranoid. Yet another theme is deep time--the
unthinkable gulf from Big Bang to the final extinction of
the universe and possibilities of life at both extremes.
Baxter at his best has a bleakly lyrical view of the
remote future, reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke. There are
homages to other classics, including Asimov's "Nightfall"
and even Dante's Divine Comedy whose final vision of
paradise takes on a highly unexpected SF meaning. --David
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