Wednesday, 20 November 2013

'Proxima' by Stephen Baxter

I discovered this book in my local library shortly after reading a couple of favourable reviews so had to pick it up. I used to read a lot of Stephen Baxter's books, and was particularly fond of his Xeelee series, but some of his later books I wasn't as keen on so not read any of his for a few years. This caught my eye because it is proper science fiction set in the future (he's written quite a few quasi-historical sf novels which I'm not always as keen on).

There are two plots two the book. The main one is about a small group of colonists who are basically deported from the solar system and abandoned on a world around the giant star Proxima Centauri as part of a hands off colonization effort (the authorities hope they'll breed and develop a colony outpost without them having to do anything much). The second plot is set in the Solar System and is about a futuristic Cold War between the Chinese and the United Nations. There are colonies on Mars, Mercury, the moon and one or two asteroids so it is not just about Earth. Oh and its the late 22nd century just in case you were wondering.

One of the really interesting things about this book is the colony planet Per Ardua, as it is christened, around Proxima Centauri. This is a so called 'exo-planet' similar to one of the hundreds that astronomers have discovered over the last few years. It is much larger than Earth, the planet is stationery around its star so one side is in permanent daylight, the other in permanent night. The topography, terrain and climate of the planet is very different from Earth - it shows Stephen Baxter's creative imagination as well as his scientific background.

I really enjoyed this book and it felt like Stephen Baxter is back to his best. It is imaginative, but plausible. The world of Per Ardua, and the general setup in the solar system is very interesting and well conceived. The plot is good, and the characters are decent too.

After reading, I skimmed through a few of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. It generally gets favourable opinion, but with a few criticisms. I thought I'd give my take on these.

Blurb doesn't match the book - apparently there were some problems with an initial description, but my copy was fine. It did talk about billion year old secrets and galactic threats, though all you get of these is hints towards the end. I guess this will be picked up in book 2.

Too much like a Dan Dare comic strip - I don't see the problem with this. Yes it has some action in it, but this is well balanced by the other elements in what is a really well rounded novel.

'The bad guys were paper mache who melted when given a good talking to' - this one they may have a point with, I'm struggling to think of any real bad guys/gals/aliens, and the ones there were did just disappear far too quick. But this didn't seem like a problem at the time, and if anything the environment on Per Ardua was the enemy.

Overall, if you like your science fiction to be plausible with a good plot, great world building & dark hints of cosmic danger, then I really recommend this book. If you enjoyed any of Baxter's early books, you should enjoy this. 9/10.