Known for his hard SF, Baxter (the Manifold trilogy) explores social and historical issues as well as human evolution in the first of his Destiny's Children trilogy, with mixed results. In the present, George Poole discovers that he has a twin sister who belongs to a mysterious, ancient quasi-religious order in Rome; in crumbling post-Roman Britain, Regina, founder of the order, longs to recapture the days of her girlhood, when she lived a life of stability and privilege. In alternating chapters, George and Regina each make their way to Rome. George meets his sister and begins to learn something of the order that took her in; Regina-complex, bitter, obsessive-crafts the order that lasts to George's day. Regina digs under the streets of Rome into catacombs for secure living space. George, distantly related to Regina, feels the familial pull of the women still living in the warrens underground, but when he befriends a young, pregnant member of the order, he realizes that they have evolved into a new life form, a coalescent one comprising drones working within a decentralized social order. Regina's carefully researched world never quite comes to life-Baxter tells rather than shows-and the feminist implications of a coalescent life form that exploits and alters femininity are not addressed. Still, Baxter provokes thought by plausibly creating specific circumstances that result in evolution. For now, it's unclear whether a coalescent structure is good or bad, though presumably later books will provide some resolution. (Dec. 2) FYI: Baxter has collaborated with Arthur C. Clarke on two novels, the first of which, Time's Eye, is due in January. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The death of George Poole's father sparks George's discovery of a twin sister he never knew and evidence of a secret society called the Order. His quest takes him from England to Miami and, finally, to Rome, where he confronts the reality of a new kind of humanity. This tale from the author of the "Manifold" trilogy and Evolution takes place on two levels-the near future and the distant past amid the ruins of the Roman Empire. Excelling at both action-packed storytelling and philosophical speculation, Baxter's latest belongs in most sf collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
First of a new three-book series, Destiny's Children, imagining the future course of human evolution. Upon the death of his father, middle-aged computer programmer George Poole returns to Manchester, where he meets old friend and neighbor Peter McLachlan, now a member of a weird group called the Slan(t)ers. Pondering his family-his maternal grandfather was an Italian-American GI; his sister Gina now lives in Florida-George discovers an old photograph showing him with a twin sister! Equally strange, his father made substantial monthly payments to a secretive Catholic organization in Rome. But what happened to George's twin? When questioned, Gina proves curiously hostile and professes to know nothing; but she gives George the names of other American relatives who might know more. Meanwhile, alternating chapters relate the story of Regina, a noblewoman born during the last days of Roman Britain. Early in the fifth century, the legions leave, commerce collapses and brigandry increases; Regina's father commits suicide, and her mother flees to Rome. Eventually, Regina, via King Arthur's camp, makes her way to Rome to found a mysterious organization-the same organization that, shaped by Regina's distinctive social engineering, has survived and prospered for 1600 years. But what did it want with George's twin sister, and how is George himself involved? Among the complications: a huge, tetrahedral object discovered orbiting in the Kuiper Belt, and Slan(t)er paranoia about an invisible war between all-but-imperceptible dark-matter aliens. Baxter (Evolution, Feb. 2003, etc.) will never win prizes for style, but he's much more convincing when he writes about physical science and engineering (theManifold series) than biology: Tepid.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR STEPHEN BAXTER
“GRIPPING . . . THE PERFECT SCIENTIFIC ROMANCE OF OUR TIME . . . The miracle of Evolution is that it makes the triumph of life, which is its story, sound like the real story.”
–The Washington Post Book World
“EVOLUTION IS A WORK OF OUTRAGEOUS AMBITION. . . . What is astonishing is how successfully he brings to life a wide range of facts and conjectures, and how entertaining as well as informative this book–an episodic novel with evolution as its protagonist–manages to be.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“A STAGGERING NOVEL! If you ever thought you understood time, you’ll be quickly disillusioned when you read Manifold: Time.”
–SIR ARTHUR C. CLARKE
“BREATHTAKING IN ITS ORIGINALITY AND SCOPE . . . [AN] IMPRESSIVE PARADE OF WONDERS.”
–The Washington Post
“UTTERLY ENGROSSING . . . A book that challenges and provokes . . . Origin leads you to ask questions about sentience and existence.”
Read an Excerpt
I have come to stay in Amalfi. I can’t face going back to Britain—not yet—and to be here is a great relief after the swarming strangeness I encountered in Rome.
I’ve taken a room in a house on the Piazza Spirito Santo. There is a small bar downstairs, where I sit in the shade of vine leaves and drink Coke Light, or sometimes the local lemon liqueur, which tastes like the sherbet-lemon boiled sweets I used to buy as a kid in Manchester, ground up and mixed with vodka. The crusty old barman doesn’t have a word of English. It’s hard to tell his age. The flower bowls on the outdoor tables are filled with little bundles of twigs that look suspiciously like fasces to me, but I’m too polite to ask.
Amalfi is a small town nestling in a valley on the Sorrento Peninsula. This is a coast of limestone cliffs, into which the towns have been carved like seabird nesting grounds. People have adapted to living on a vertical surface: there are public staircases you can follow all the way to the next town. Nothing in Italy is new—Amalfi was a maritime power in the Middle Ages—but that sense of immense age, so oppressive in Rome, is ab- sent here. And yet much of what shaped the horror in Rome is here, all around me.
The narrow cobbled streets are always crowded with traffic, with cars and buses, lorries and darting scooters. Italians don’t drive as northern Europeans do. They just go for it: they swarm, as Peter McLachlan would have said, a mass of individuals relying on the unwritten rules of the mob to get them through.
And then there are the people. Just opposite my bar there is a school. When the kids are let out in the middle of the day—well, again, they swarm; there’s really no other word for it. They erupt into the piazza in their bright blue smocklike uniforms, all yelling at the tops of their voices. But it’s soon over. Like water draining from a sieve, they disperse to their homes or to the cafés and bars, and the noise fades.
And, of course, there is family. You can’t get away from that in Italy.
Amalfi used to be a center for making rag paper, a technique they learned from the Arabs. Once there were sixty mills here. That number has dwindled to one, but that one still supplies the Vatican, so that every papal pronouncement can be recorded forever on acid-free rag paper, now made fine enough for a computer printer to take. And that surviving Amalfi mill has been operated without a break by the same family for nine hundred years.
The swarming crowds, the thoughtless order of the mob, the cold grasp of ancient families: even I see visions of the Coalescents everywhere I look.
And I see again that extraordinary crater, collapsed in the middle of the Via Cristoforo Colombo, with the plume of gray-black tufa dust still hanging in the air above it. Workers from the offices and shops, clutching cell phones and coffees and cigarettes, peered into the hole that had suddenly opened up in their world. And the drones simply poured out of the crater, in baffling numbers, in hundreds, thousands. Obscured by the dust, they looked identical. Even now there was a kind of order to them—but nobody led. The women at the fringe would press forward a few paces, blinking at the staring office workers around them, and then turn and disappear back into the mass, to be re- placed by others, who pushed forward in turn. When it reached the edge of the road, the flowing mob broke up, forming ropes and ten- drils and lines of people that washed forward, breaking and recombin- ing, probing into doorways and alleyways, swarming, exploring. In the dusty light they seemed to blur together into a single rippling mass, and even in the bright air of the Roman afternoon they gave off a musky, fetid odor.
I suppose I’m trying to compensate. I spend a lot of my time alone, in my room, or walking in the hills that loom over the towns. But a part of me still longs, above everything else, to go back, to immerse myself once more in the Coalescents’ warm tactile orderliness. It is an unfulfilled longing that, I suspect, will stay with me until I die.
How strange that my quest to find my own family would lead me to such mysteries, and would begin and end in death.
From the Hardcover edition.