Sunday, September 25, 2016

Obelisk - Stephen Baxter

OBELISK - Stephen Baxter

Publisher: Gollancz - 18th August 2016

Source: Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Page Count: 309

Format/Genre: Hardback (Science-Fiction)

ISBN/Link To Amazon: 978-1473212749

Audience: Those who love science fiction and alternative history/future plot ideas.

Summed up in one word: Vast

Author Bio: Stephen Baxter is the pre-eminent science fiction writer of his generation. Published around the world he has also won major awards in the U.K. Us, Germany and Japan. Born in 1957 he has degrees from Cambridge and Southampton. He lives in Northumberland with his wife. (Bio from Gollancz)

First Impression: Stephen Baxter is an ambitious and talented author. I was mesmerised by his work and blown away by the scale of his writing ability. OBELISK is a collection of short stories, several based on work he has already published (Ultima and Proxima) and the rest are a compilation of alternative yesterdays, todays and tomorrows, all centred around one core element, Science.

Summary/Intro: Contained within are stories set in the worlds of the best selling duology Ultima and Proxima, which expand on the characters and worlds of that series, including two brand new short stories.

Also included are a selection of alternate histories and possible futures, building on Baxter's work with Terry Pratchett on the Long Earth series.

This collection confirms Stephen Baxter's place as one of the greatest practitioners of the SF short story.
(Synopsis from OBELISK - Stephen Baxter)

Review

Story/Plot/Narration: There is A LOT of content to cover here (I have 5 pages of notes front and back...). 17 short stories in total, so first off, you definitely get your money's with this book. Stephen Baxter is seen as a science fiction icon and I completely agree
with this idea as the writing in this book is impressive, creative and detailed.

"The whole place glowed with sourceless light; she cast no shadows. Before her, most astonishingly of all, a sea lapped. There was a horizon, blurred by the mist. The cavern roof came down behind the horizon. She thought she saw something move in the sea. A great back surfacing, like a whale, submerging again. She dug her fingers into the ground on which she sat. Gritty sand. Further up the beach, the sand was heaped up in a line of hummocky dunes." (Quote from OBELISK - Stephen Baxter p28)

There is such a range of stories available here and there is definitely something for everyone. From a student being stranded on Mars during a school trip. A journey through cybernetic infinity. An ambitious building project on Mars. A duo gambling their future for a quick adventure. An autocar race where the stakes are higher than usual. A team figuring out how a member of royalty was assassinated. The first human to walk on Mars. Time travelling vermin. Communication with extra terrestrials. A space super hero called Vacuum Lad, and many more. 

Genre/Writing Style: Stephen Baxter shows a range of both technicality and attention to detail with these stories (in terms of both history and science). Flipping (not so effortlessly) between deep space/science and historical events and figures. The difference of writing styles between each story can be disorientating, like when SB switches from a futuristic Mars setting to 19th century Victorian England. So just take each story with a fresh mind, this is not a book you sit down and devour quickly.

Setting: The settings for these stories, like the storylines themselves, have an impressive range. Mars is definitely a key location in this book, as well as England. Though we do travel to other rich and mysterious settings along the way. There are some settings that guide the characters actions and some that are redundant when you are too focused on what is going on inside the plot. For example, when the stories are set on Mars, the characters are limited to the opportunities or limitations that the red planet offers them. And when the characters are figuring out ancient booby traps or figuring out how rats are able to time travel, the setting provides very little. 

Characters: As with the other sections to this review, there is just too much going on to go into serious detail about any of the characters here. I enjoyed my time with each set of characters, ranging from scientists, to super heroes, to distant relatives of famous historical figures and beyond. Not all them caught my attention, but that is a common problem with short stories, they offer different perspectives and styles to fit many different readers and I respect that.

Themes: The imagery in this piece is phenomenal, from skies fill with suns, to harsh martian wastelands. The main theme that connects each story is science, with humanity being a close second. Humans are constantly trying to secure their future and this book takes that notion to new levels, by colonising Mars, contacting aliens and other adventures that aim to cement our presence in this universe.

Likes/Dislikes: This is a good looking book! I almost bought the whole set of books just because they please my brain. Fortunately there is wonder and amazement inside too! I said I was displeased with the choppy feel to the story placements and that is true, though once you take into account that each short story is trying to achieve its own aims, it is forgivable. Science Fiction lovers will consume this with ease, as will those who like to adventure outside of everyday thinking. Those who want a chilled read with very little mental involvement, need not apply. It takes some work to understand and appreciate where SB is coming from in a few of these stories and it is not for everyone, I barely kept up myself...

Overall Opinion: A humongous, mind bending and gratifying  9/10 for this book. It deserves a place on every SF lovers shelf and if you can take some time out to really understand these stories then you will have a great time reading this book.

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