Xeelee Redemption – Stephen Baxter

Xeelee Redemption

Summary

Having set out for vengeance on the Xeelee that attacked Earth, Michael Poole and his crew cross the galaxy and much of time to get their way.

Review

It’s been a while since I read a new(ish) Stephen Baxter books. The last ones I did, Flood, The Long Earth, and The Long War, were pretty disappointing. Still, this book promised to bring the whole Xeelee saga to a close and, while I didn’t read all the stories in it (I skipped most of the short stories), I did read and enjoy most of the novels.

Still, when I started in on this book, I had a moment of worry. Baxter is intensely dry, and I worried about the 450 pages ahead of me. A few chapters in, though, I fell back into the rhythm of what Baxter does well – hard SF with interesting characters. While Baxter sometimes writes about emotion, you seldom feel it, so these are not the most emotive characters, but they’re clever.

Things went pretty well for the bulk of the book – though since I didn’t remember the other books that well, I was hopelessly lost in his whole ‘second try at the universe’ thing. But at the end, Baxter gets carried away with trying to wrap up the entire complex series (Amazon calls this Book 8 of 3; Goodreads calls it #17), including books that I take it on faith are part of the universe, but don’t recall knowing when I read them (like the Destiny’s Children series – there’s a lot of Coalescent in here). The book suffers for it as the plot stutters along from one ‘Remember? I wrote about this!’ moment to the next, all while the larger arcs of the story and the mechanics that get us there vanish into the background only to be yanked back, the worse for their absence. And the culmination of the whole thing – the final, face to face encounter with a Xeelee – just doesn’t really make much sense and is passed by quickly. The same is true of most of the hard science doodads Baxter spends so much time building up. Some are just forgotten, and some ignored. The whole ending has a sense of epilogue, without ever actually having reached the climax of the story. A long buildup to a firework show that’s a damp squib.

And the rationale for the whole trip – vengeance on the Xeelee – really just doesn’t hold up, though it takes a new generation to mutter from the sidelines that maybe it’s wrong (but not do anything about it).

It’s a shame, because until the last quarter of the book (maybe the last third), I was enjoying the ride, even when parts of it were more author-convenient than logical. Maybe if I’d been more of a Xeelee aficionado, I’d have been more excited. But the truth is, I was one until Baxter just wore me out. Sadly, I feel more ‘glad that’s done’ than ‘hey, that was cool!’

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