DEEP FUTURE, by Stephen Baxter
Gollancz, 2001, Hardback, 215pp, £18.00
ISBN 0-575-07195-8

See also my reviews of Coalescent, Exultant and Mayflower II

You might also like to read my (very) short story, "Tell Stephen Baxter Not To Worry", published in Matrix a while back.

Stephen Baxter's fiction minus (plot plus story) equals Deep Future! It's blindingly obvious, really; in fact you have wonder why it's taken him this long to produce a Deep Future. The inner dust jacket alone will set your mouth watering, I promise.

Starting very tamely by asking "How different will life be at the end of the 21st century?" Baxter edges onwards to "…Can we make a home on the harsh planets…of our solar system?" before finally going all-out Extropian and asking "[..] Can we survive the end of time itself?" That's the kind of thing the deep future is going to involve. Whew!

If the less adventurous of you are already trying to tiptoe out the back then let me reassure you now. There's no crazy transcendent New Age stuff (this is Stephen Baxter, remember!) only a reasoned and engaging look at where we might be going and how long it might take us to get there.

In truth, less than 10% of this book is about the "deep future" - which is millions, billions and even trillions of years down the line - most of it is about more familiar and conceivable periods, that is, within the next thousand years or so. There's talk of mining asteroids, colonising the planets, terraforming Mars and other heady ideas leavened with (this is Stephen Baxter, remember) critiques of NASA and the Space Shuttle. Ensuing chapters leap exponentially forward in time so we meet star-makers, black hole miners and finally a "humanity" - in fact an entire universe - of cold plasma.

I couldn't shake the impression that Deep Future isn't quite sure what it wants to be: it's not hard science but nor is it sf, and Baxter's remit seems too wide to make it as "Pop science", so my main concern about Deep Future was that it's neither fish nor fowl, unsure of the readership it might be aimed at.

That said, this is a fascinating read overflowing with ideas and wonders, one that resonates strongly with Arthur C. Clarke's Profiles of the Future (a book that had a powerful effect on me when I was young) and, consciously or not, only adds to the already strong sense of Baxter as Clarke's natural successor.

My main grumble I had about Deep Future is that it's much too short - which is of course, also a compliment. Looking forward to reading it, I zipped through and was staring at the barcode almost before I realised, still hungry for more. The writing is clear and concise, the chapters well organised and thought provoking. Ideas, propositions and speculations fly off the pages, propelling you through the book with dizzying speed, but too many of them, particularly in the later chapters, deserve more detailed treatment - as in Baxter's fiction, perhaps?

There is a "Further Reading" section included but for £18 I really wanted more in THIS book.

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