Evolution [NOOK Book]

Overview

It’s the job of a science fiction writer to visualize extrapolations of the future. But there are those who go far beyond, venturing into realms of breathtaking science. That kind of cutting edge talent is as rare as a supernova—and, in its own way, just as powerful. Arthur C. Clarke had it. So did William Gibson. Now, with Evolution, Stephen Baxter delivers what is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year—and shows once again ...
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Evolution

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Overview

It’s the job of a science fiction writer to visualize extrapolations of the future. But there are those who go far beyond, venturing into realms of breathtaking science. That kind of cutting edge talent is as rare as a supernova—and, in its own way, just as powerful. Arthur C. Clarke had it. So did William Gibson. Now, with Evolution, Stephen Baxter delivers what is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year—and shows once again why he belongs among the select company of science fiction writers who matter.

Stretching from the distant past into the remote future, from primordial Earth to the stars, Evolution is a soaring symphony of struggle, extinction, and survival, a dazzling epic that combines a dozen scientific disciplines and a cast of unforgettable characters to convey the grand drama of evolution in all its awesome majesty and rigorous beauty.

Sixty-five million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, lived a small mammal, a proto-primate of the species Purgatorius. From this humble beginning, Baxter traces the human lineage forward through time. The adventure that unfolds is a gripping odyssey governed by chance and competition, a perilous journey to an uncertain destination along a route beset by sudden and catastrophic upheavals. It is a route that ends, for most species, in stagnation or extinction. Why should humanity escape this fate?

A generation from today, a group of concerned scientists—distant descendants of that primitive Purgatorius—gathers on a remote island to discuss this very question. The ceaseless expansion of human civilization has triggered an urgent environmental crisis that must be solved now if the Earth is to survive as a place hospitable to human life. But just when a peaceful solution seems within reach, two acts of shocking violence set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events that will expose the limitations of human intellect and adaptability in the face of the blind and implacable processes of Darwin’s dangerous idea.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
It's 2031, and human-induced climate change is wreaking havoc on the earth and all its inhabitants. Mass extinction of species is occurring at a record pace. Major coastal cities are completely flooded; tens of millions of people are displaced. Civilization is crumbling. In large part due to the actions of humankind, the depleted and polluted earth is dying -- along with almost every organism that lives on it. The brightest scientists from around the world gather at an ecological conference to try and figure out a way to stop the imminent extinction event. Paleontologist Joan Useb has the answer, but it may already be too late.

With Useb's story as a loose framework for this epic Darwinian drama, Baxter goes back 65 million years to the Cretaceous period, when the ancestors of humankind were small, nocturnal, rodentlike creatures living in fear of predatory dinosaurs. Every million years or so, Baxter revisits the descendants of those early primates and follows the slow evolution of humankind from squirrel-like tree dwellers to tool-making hominids to the very first agriculturists. Then Baxter goes episodically 500 million years into the future. What humankind eventually evolves into is both tragic and, in an odd way, triumphant.

There are good books, there are great books, and there are Significant books -- profoundly powerful works that actually change the way a reader looks at the world. Stephen Baxter's Evolution is one of those rare novels that will touch readers on a much deeper, more permanent -- I daresay spiritual -- level. It's disturbing, depressing, chilling, and, in the end, compelling. Like Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt and Baxter's own Manifold trilogy (Manifold Time, Manifold Space, and Manifold Origin), Evolution examines where humans came from and what we could possibly evolve into. Ambitious, apocalyptic, and awe-inspiring, Evolution is a must-read if there ever was one. Paul Goat Allen

The New York Times
Evolution, by Stephen Baxter, is a work of outrageous ambition. Baxter's goal is nothing less than to dramatize the grand sweep of primate development, beginning with a rodentlike Eve scrabbling for survival in the dinosaur-dominated forests of North America 65 million years ago and extending to an imaginary whimper some 500 million years in the future. To say that Baxter's reach exceeds his grasp is to state the obvious. 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. — Gerald Jones
Publishers Weekly
Taking a page from SF saga writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and Brian Stableford, British author Baxter (the Manifold trilogy) portrays humanity's origins, growth and ultimate disappearance in a loose-knit series of brutal vignettes spanning millions of years of evolution. Beginning with the gritty slice-of-life tale of a small, ratlike proto-primate called Purga (short for species Purgatorius), the story travels from the end of the Cretaceous through the millennia as primates slowly evolve into creatures more and more recognizably human, learning to make and use tools, developing language and the ability to feel empathy-the trait that Baxter selects as definitive of true humanity. Resonating with that theme, the vignettes are linked by a thin near-future frame about scientists meeting in the midst of ecological and political chaos to find a way to save humanity from itself through the "globalization of empathy." More concerned with technical detail than character or plot, the book rises above its fragmented narrative and frequently repetitive violence to reach a grim and stoic grandeur, which (despite a tendency toward preachiness) clearly has humanity's best interests at heart. Here is a rigorously constructed hard SF novel where the question is not whether humanity will reach the stars but how it will survive its own worst tendencies. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
As a group of scientists gathers in the South Pacific for a conference to save the human race from extinction, their actions represent the culmination of millions of years of struggle by their primate ancestors to survive in an ever-changing world. The author of the Manifold trilogy (Manifold: Time; Manifold: Space; Manifold: Origin) uses a modern-day story as a frame within which he relates a series of vignettes tracing the history of the evolution of intelligent life on Earth, from its mammalian beginnings in the Cretaceous era to the present. Spanning more than 165 million years and encompassing the entire planet, Baxter's ambitious saga provides both an exercise in painless paleontology and superb storytelling. Highly recommended for sf as well as general fiction collections. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Bulky assemblage-it's a stretch to call this a novel-of animated dioramas endeavoring to illustrate the story of primate evolution. The token frame here concerns the journey of two friends, paleontologist Joan Useb and primatologist Alyce Sigurdardottir, to attend a conference in Darwin, Australia, in 2031. The planet's ecology and climate are threatened, the huge volcano on nearby Rabaul is close to exploding-and to cap it all, terrorists attack the conference. Meanwhile, robots on Mars succeed in replicating themselves. Baxter (Icebones, 2002, etc.) intersperses this with dramatic paleontological reconstructions and speculations. Proto-primates beat the competition in the Cretaceous. Brainy dinosaurs, unknown in the fossil record, become extinct in the Jurassic. Primates evolve and adapt swiftly during the Tertiary. Monkeys arrive in the New World. Dinosaurs survive on Antarctica until ten million years ago. Five million years later, apes descend from the trees. Hand axes become popular about 1.5 million years ago. Politics, murder, and beer are invented before 10,000 b.c. Fifth-century Rome seethes with treachery. Finally, in 2031, the volcano explodes, devastating Earth. Mars, meanwhile, is eaten up by the replicating machines, which go on to colonize the galaxy. A millennium after the volcano, a group of British servicemen awaken from cryonic suspension to find that primitive post-humans have already lost the power of speech. Devolution, thereafter, continues rapidly. The last primates, half a billion years hence, subside with barely a gasp.

Infotainment: glum, dyspeptic, and depressing.

From the Publisher
“Spectacular . . . What is astonishing is 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

“MAGISTERIAL AND UPLIFTING . . . A brilliant, grand-scale sampling of sixty-five million years of human evolution . . . It shows the sweep and grandeur of life in its unrelenting course.”
—The Denver Post

“Strong imagination, a capacity for awe, and the ability to think rigorously about vast and final things abound in the work of Stephen Baxter. . . . [Evolution] leaves the reader with a haunting portrayal of the distant future.”
—Times Literary Supplement

“A BREATH OF FRESH AIR . . . 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

“A work of outrageous ambition. Baxter’s goal is nothing less than to dramatize the grand sweep of primate development. . . . Evolution is a cautionary tale, warning of the dire consequences to contemporary humans if we persist in behavior that threatens the survival of our ecosystem.”
—The New York Times Book Review

“Baxter’s depictions are brilliant, with some inspired conjectures to spice up events. . . . I highly recommend Evolution. . . . [It] provide[s] food for thought, confronts our notions of what it means to be human, and gives warning that nothing can be taken for granted in the ongoing struggle for survival.”
—scifi dimensions

“Baxter chronicles the epic survival of the mammalian family that ultimately ended up with us. . . . The sheer timescale makes a great story that is panoramic in extent. I felt I was watching Walking with Beasts rolled into The Human Journey. Baxter’s ability to turn science into exciting and readable fiction makes him one of the most accessible SF writers around.”
The Times (London)

“The overall narrative [is] a big, thick, geophysical stick upside the head to remind us all that things can change, at any moment, for any reason.”
—The San Diego Union-Tribune

“I recommend this novel to anyone who appreciates novels that take chances. . . . Baxter is not shy about painting big pictures about big ideas. . . . [He] painstakingly moves us from the shrewlike creatures that coexisted with the dinosaurs through the walking, tool-using hominids of Africa, through Neanderthals, through humans, to an entirely speculative future that is beyond brief description.”
—sfrevu.com

“A powerful fusion of science and imagination . . . Baxter makes an impressive job of putting flesh on to the bones of the scientific theory and in its imaginative vision Evolution deserves comparison with SF epics such as Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men or Alfred Doblin’s Mountains, Seas, and Giants. Baxter leaves you with a memorable yet unsettling sense of our insignificance in the scheme of things. In the story of evolution, as in all good thrillers, an extinction event is always lurking just around the corner.”
The Guardian (London)

“A tour-de-force . . . A sprawling, ambitious chronicle spanning millennia . . . The account of the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction and the rise of mammals as the dominant life-form is particularly fascinating. . . . Similarly well crafted is Baxter’s projection of a posthuman future.”
Booklist

“Taking a page from SF saga writers like Kim Stanley Robinson and Brian Stableford, British author Baxter portrays humanity’s origins, growth, and ultimate disappearance in a loose-knit series of brutal vignettes spanning millions of years of evolution. . . . The book rises above its fragmented narrative . . . to reach a grim and stoic grandeur, which clearly has humanity’s best interests at heart. Here is a rigorously constructed hard SF novel where the question is not whether humanity will reach the stars but how it will survive its own worst tendencies.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Highly recommended . . . Spanning more than sixty-five million years and encompassing the entire planet, Baxter’s ambitious saga provides both an exercise in painless paleontology and superb storytelling.”
—Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345457844
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/1/2003
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 108,629
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Stephen Baxter is a trained engineer with degrees from Cambridge (mathematics) and Southampton Universities (doctorate in aeroengineering research). Baxter is the winner of the British Science Fiction Award and the Locus Award, as well as being a nominee for an Arthur C. Clarke Award, most recently for Manifold: Time. His novel Voyage won the Sidewise Award for Best Alternate History Novel of the Year; he also won the John W. Campbell Award and the Philip K. Dick Award for his novel The Time Ships. He is currently working on his next novel, a collaboration with Sir Arthur C. Clarke.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

dinosaur dreams

Montana, North America. Circa 65 million years before present.

I

At the edge of the clearing, Purga crept out of a dense patch of ferns. It was night, but there was plenty of light--not from the Moon, but from the comet whose spectacular tail spread across the cloudless sky, washing out all but the brightest stars.

This scrap of forest lay in a broad, shallow lowland between new volcanic mountains to the west--the mountains that would become the Rockies--and the Appalachian plains to the east. Tonight the damp air was clear; but often mists and fogs blew in from the south, born over the great inland sea that still pushed deep into the heart of North America. The forest was dominated by plants that could extract moisture from the air: Lichen coated the gnarled bark of the araucaria trees, and even the low magnolia shrubs dripped with moss. It was as if the forest had been coated with a layer of thick green paint.

But everywhere the leaves were soured, the moss and ground cover ferns browned. The rains, poisoned by gases from the great volcanic convulsion to the west, had been hard on plants and animals alike. It wasn't a healthy time.

Still, in the clearing, dinosaurs dreamed.

The thick night dew glistening from their yellow-black armor, ankylosaurs had gathered in a defensive circle, their young at the center. In the gentle Cretaceous air, these cold-blooded giants stood like parked tanks.

In the milky light Purga's large black eyes had fixed on a moth. The insect sat on a leaf, brown wings folded, fat and complacent. With an efficient lunge Purga caught her prey in her paws. She severed off the wings with a couple of nips of her tiny incisors. Then, with a noise like the crunch of a tiny apple, she began to munch with relish at the moth's abdomen. For this brief moment, with food in her mouth, Purga found a scrap of contentment in her crowded, difficult life.

The moth quickly died, its sparklike awareness incapable of recording much pain.

The moth consumed, Purga moved on. There was no grass cover here--the grasses had yet to dominate the land--but there was a green covering of low ferns, mosses, ground pine, horsetails, and conifer seedlings, even a few gaudy purple flowers. Through this tangle, scuttling between scraps of cover, she was able to progress almost silently. In the dark, solitary foraging was the best strategy. Predators worked by ambush, exploiting the shadows of the night; no group could have been as invisible as a lone prowler. And so Purga worked alone.

To Purga the world was a plain picked out in black, white, and blue, lit up by the uneasy light of the comet, which shone behind high scattered clouds. Her huge eyes were not as sensitive to color as the best dinosaur designs--some raptors could make out colors beyond anything that would be visible to humans, somber infrareds and sparkling ultraviolets--but Purga's vision worked well in the low light of night. And besides she had her whiskers, which fanned out before her like a tactile radar sweep.

Purga looked more rodentlike than primate, with whiskers, a pointed snout, and small folded-back ears. She was about the size of a small bush baby. On the ground she walked on all fours, and she carried her long bushy tail behind her, like a squirrel. To human eyes she would have seemed strange, almost reptilian in her stillness and watchfulness, perhaps incomplete.

But, as Joan Useb would one day learn, she was indeed a primate, a progenitor of that great class of animals. Through her brief life flowed a molecular river with its source in the deepest past, its destination the sea of the furthest future. And from that river of genes, widening and modifying as thousands of millennia passed, would one day emerge all of humanity: Every human ever born would be descended from the children of Purga.

She knew none of this. She didn't give herself a name. She was not conscious like a human--or even like a chimp or monkey; her mind was more like a rat's or a pigeon's. Her behavior was made up of fixed patterns, controlled by innate drives that constantly shifted in balance and priority, reaching a new sum each moment. She was like a tiny robot. She had no sense of self.

And yet she was aware. She knew pleasure--the pleasure of a full belly, the safety of her burrow, the snouts of her pups as they nuzzled her belly for milk--and, in this dangerous world, she knew fear very well.

She crept among the feet of dreaming ankylosaurs. As she moved beneath the immense bellies Purga could hear the huge rumble of the dinosaurs' endless digestion, and the air was thick with their noxious farts. With their crude teeth, all the work of processing and digesting their coarse food had to be done in the dinosaurs' vast guts, which labored even as the ankylosaurs slept.

The ankylosaurs were herbivorous dinosaurs. But this was a time of huge, ferocious predators. So these animals, larger than African elephants, were covered with armor, a fusion of bones, ribs, and vertebrae. Great yellow-black spines were embedded in their backs. Their skulls were so heavily reinforced there was little room left for brain. Their tails ended in heavy clubs that could smash legs or skulls.

The dinosaurs were too huge for Purga to comprehend. Hers was a small world, where a fallen log or a puddle was a major obstacle, where a scorpion could be a significant predator, where a fat millipede was a rare treat. To her, the dozing ankylosaur herd was a forest of immense stumpy legs and drooping tails that had no connection to each other.

But for Purga there was a rich prize here: dinosaur dung, immense heaps of it scattered in the muddy, trampled ground. Here, in fibrous mountains of roughly digested vegetation, she might find insects, even dung beetles, laboring to destroy the tremendous turds. She burrowed into the steaming stuff eagerly.

Thus had been the role of the ancestors of humanity, all through the long dinosaur summer: relegated to the fringe of the reptiles' great society, emerging from their burrows only at night, foraging for a living from dung, insects, and the small pickings of the forest.

But tonight the rewards were meager, the droppings watery and foul-smelling. The volcano-damaged vegetation had provided poor fodder for the ankylosaurs, and what came out the other end was of little value to Purga.

She moved across the clearing and into the forest. Here conifers towered grandly, rising to spreading mats of leaves far overhead. Among them were smaller trees a little like palms, and a few low bushes bearing pale yellow flowers.

Purga scrambled briskly into the angular branches of a ginkgo tree. As she climbed she used the scent glands in her crotch to mark the tree. In her world of night, scent and sound were more important than sight, and if others of her kind found this mark, any time within the next week, it would be a sign like a neon light, telling them she had been here, even how long ago she had passed.

It was pleasing to climb, to feel her muscles work smoothly as they hauled her high above the dangerous ground, to use the delicate balance afforded by her long tail--and, most of all, to jump, to fly briefly from one branch to another, using all her body's equipment, her balance, her agility, her grasping hands, her fine eyes. She was forced to shelter in burrows on the ground. But everything about her had been shaped by an existence in the complex three-dimensional environment of the trees, where almost all primate species, throughout the family's long history, would find refuge.

But the acid rain of recent months had withered the trees and undergrowth; the bark was sour, and there were few insects to be found.

Purga was perpetually hungry. She needed to consume her body weight every day: It was the price of her warm blood, and the milk she must produce for her two pups, safe in their burrow deeper in the forest. She clambered reluctantly back down the trunk of the ginkgo. Fear and hunger warring in her mind, she tried one or two more trees, but with no better luck.

But now she lifted her head, whiskers twitching, bright eyes wide, to peer into the green dark of the forest. She could smell meat: the alluring stench of broken flesh. And she heard a forlorn, helpless piping, like that of baby birds.

She scuttled away, following the scent.

In a small clearing at the base of a huge, gnarly araucaria there was a heap of roughly piled moss. At its edge, a small patch of debris-littered silt began to move. Soon the patch rose like a lid, and a small, scrawny neck poked out of the ground and through the layer of mud and debris. A beaklike mouth opened wide.

Its little head quivering, tiny scales and feathers still moist with yolk, the infant dinosaur took its first breath. It looked like an oversized baby bird.

It was the moment the didelphodon had been waiting for. This mammal, the size of a domestic cat, was one of the largest of its day. It was low slung, with a black-and-silver coat. Now it lunged forward and grabbed the chick by its thin neck, hauling it from its shell and flinging it into the air.

The chick's life was a handful of brief, vivid impressions: the cold air beyond its cracked shell, the blurred glow of the comet, a sense of flying. But now a hot cavern opened beneath it. Its skin still smeared with yolk, the chick died instantly.

Meanwhile more chicks were pushing out of the ground, hatching all at the same time. It was as if the ground were suddenly swarming with baby dinosaurs. The didelphodon, and more predatory mammals, closed in to feed.

An ancient survival strategy had been operating. Dinosaurs were reptiles who laid their eggs on the ground. Though some parents stayed with their brood, there was no way all the vulnerable eggs and chicks could be protected. So dinosaurs laid many eggs, and their hatchings were synchronized. There should have been dozens of broods hatching right now, scattered through this area of forest: hundreds of chicks. The idea was that suddenly the forest floor would be overwhelmed with baby dinosaurs, far too many for even the hungriest of predators. Most of the chicks would die, but that didn't matter. It was enough that some would survive.

But here, tonight, the strategy had gone wrong--horribly so for the dinosaur chicks. The mother of these chicks was a hunter isolated from her pack. Confused, hungry, scared of predation herself, she had laid her eggs in the old, familiar place--this rookery was millennia old--and covered them with rotting vegetation for warmth. She had done just what she should have done, save that it was the wrong time, and the eggs had been forced to hatch without the cover of hundreds of others.

The air was filled with the stink of blood, the low growls of the predators, and the sad peeping of the doomed chicks. There were many species of mammals represented here at this grisly banquet. The largest was the big didelphodon. There was a pair of deltatheridiums, ratlike omnivores, neither marsupial nor placental, a unique line that would not outlive the dinosaurs. Many of the creatures here had potential far beyond their present standing; one unprepossessing little creature was an ancestor of the line that would lead to the elephants.

But for now, all that concerned them was their empty bellies. Dissatisfied with the slow emergence of the struggling hatchlings, the mammals had already started to dig into the loose silt, seeking unbroken eggs, scattering the cover of moss laid over the nest by the mother dinosaur.

By the time Purga arrived the rookery had become a killing pit, a squirming mass of feeding mammalian bodies. Purga, late to the fray, burrowed eagerly into the dirt. Soon tiny bones crunched in her mouth. And, so deeply did she immerse her head in search of the deep-buried goodies, she was the last to sense the return of the mother dinosaur.

She heard an angry bellow, felt the ground shudder.

Her snout sticky with yolk, Purga pulled her head out of the dirt. The other mammals were already vanishing into the forest's welcoming green black. For one instant Purga saw the whole creature, an unlikely feathered monster suspended in the air, limbs splayed, mouth gaping. Then a vast clawed hand flashed out of the sky.

Purga hissed and rolled. Too late she learned that this was the nest of a troodon: an agile, fast-moving killer--and a specialist hunter of mammals.

The troodon's name meant "Wounding Tooth."

Wounding Tooth, the size of a dog, was not the largest of dinosaurs, but she was intelligent and agile. Her brain compared in size to that of the flightless birds of later eras she somewhat resembled. Her eyes were as large and as well night-adapted as Purga's, and they could see forward, giving her binocular vision, the better to triangulate on her small, fast-moving targets. She had legs that enabled her to spring like a kangaroo, a long sicklelike claw on the second toe of each foot, and hands like spades evolved specifically to dig out and crush scuttling mammals.

She was coated in small sleek feathers, an elaborate development of scales. The feathers weren't meant for flying, but for warmth during the night's chill. In the equable climate that swathed the Earth in these times, you didn't need a hot-blooded metabolic engine to keep warm: If you were big enough, your cold-blooded body would retain its heat right through the night, even if you lived at Earth's extremes, at the poles. But smaller dinosaurs, like the troodon, needed a little extra insulation.

Small or not, she had one of the largest brains of all dinosaurs. All in all, she was a well-equipped hunter. But Wounding Tooth had problems of her own.

She could not know it, but they had been caused by the widening of the Atlantic, the huge geological event that had dominated the whole of this Cretaceous period. As the Americas were pushed west, North America's huge inland seaway had shallowed and drained, and close to the western coast--just a few hundred kilometers from the troodon's hatching site--that line of new volcanoes had erupted like an angry wound. The volcanism had disturbed the complex web of life in many ways. The young volcanoes were almost continually active, belching out smoke and ash ladened with sulfur that, mixing with the rain, turned to acid. Many species of plants had vanished, and trees on the higher ground had been reduced to bare trunks. Elsewhere the destruction had been more direct, with vast fingers of cold lava reaching deep into the forest.


From the Hardcover edition.
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First Chapter

dinosaur dreams

Montana, North America. Circa 65 million years before present.

I

At the edge of the clearing, Purga crept out of a dense patch of ferns. It was night, but there was plenty of light--not from the Moon, but from the comet whose spectacular tail spread across the cloudless sky, washing out all but the brightest stars.

This scrap of forest lay in a broad, shallow lowland between new volcanic mountains to the west--the mountains that would become the Rockies--and the Appalachian plains to the east. Tonight the damp air was clear; but often mists and fogs blew in from the south, born over the great inland sea that still pushed deep into the heart of North America. The forest was dominated by plants that could extract moisture from the air: Lichen coated the gnarled bark of the araucaria trees, and even the low magnolia shrubs dripped with moss. It was as if the forest had been coated with a layer of thick green paint.

But everywhere the leaves were soured, the moss and ground cover ferns browned. The rains, poisoned by gases from the great volcanic convulsion to the west, had been hard on plants and animals alike. It wasn't a healthy time.

Still, in the clearing, dinosaurs dreamed.

The thick night dew glistening from their yellow-black armor, ankylosaurs had gathered in a defensive circle, their young at the center. In the gentle Cretaceous air, these cold-blooded giants stood like parked tanks.

In the milky light Purga's large black eyes had fixed on a moth. The insect sat on a leaf, brown wings folded, fat and complacent. With an efficient lunge Purga caught her prey in her paws. She severed off the wings with acouple of nips of her tiny incisors. Then, with a noise like the crunch of a tiny apple, she began to munch with relish at the moth's abdomen. For this brief moment, with food in her mouth, Purga found a scrap of contentment in her crowded, difficult life.

The moth quickly died, its sparklike awareness incapable of recording much pain.

The moth consumed, Purga moved on. There was no grass cover here--the grasses had yet to dominate the land--but there was a green covering of low ferns, mosses, ground pine, horsetails, and conifer seedlings, even a few gaudy purple flowers. Through this tangle, scuttling between scraps of cover, she was able to progress almost silently. In the dark, solitary foraging was the best strategy. Predators worked by ambush, exploiting the shadows of the night; no group could have been as invisible as a lone prowler. And so Purga worked alone.

To Purga the world was a plain picked out in black, white, and blue, lit up by the uneasy light of the comet, which shone behind high scattered clouds. Her huge eyes were not as sensitive to color as the best dinosaur designs--some raptors could make out colors beyond anything that would be visible to humans, somber infrareds and sparkling ultraviolets--but Purga's vision worked well in the low light of night. And besides she had her whiskers, which fanned out before her like a tactile radar sweep.

Purga looked more rodentlike than primate, with whiskers, a pointed snout, and small folded-back ears. She was about the size of a small bush baby. On the ground she walked on all fours, and she carried her long bushy tail behind her, like a squirrel. To human eyes she would have seemed strange, almost reptilian in her stillness and watchfulness, perhaps incomplete.

But, as Joan Useb would one day learn, she was indeed a primate, a progenitor of that great class of animals. Through her brief life flowed a molecular river with its source in the deepest past, its destination the sea of the furthest future. And from that river of genes, widening and modifying as thousands of millennia passed, would one day emerge all of humanity: Every human ever born would be descended from the children of Purga.

She knew none of this. She didn't give herself a name. She was not conscious like a human--or even like a chimp or monkey; her mind was more like a rat's or a pigeon's. Her behavior was made up of fixed patterns, controlled by innate drives that constantly shifted in balance and priority, reaching a new sum each moment. She was like a tiny robot. She had no sense of self.

And yet she was aware. She knew pleasure--the pleasure of a full belly, the safety of her burrow, the snouts of her pups as they nuzzled her belly for milk--and, in this dangerous world, she knew fear very well.

She crept among the feet of dreaming ankylosaurs. As she moved beneath the immense bellies Purga could hear the huge rumble of the dinosaurs' endless digestion, and the air was thick with their noxious farts. With their crude teeth, all the work of processing and digesting their coarse food had to be done in the dinosaurs' vast guts, which labored even as the ankylosaurs slept.

The ankylosaurs were herbivorous dinosaurs. But this was a time of huge, ferocious predators. So these animals, larger than African elephants, were covered with armor, a fusion of bones, ribs, and vertebrae. Great yellow-black spines were embedded in their backs. Their skulls were so heavily reinforced there was little room left for brain. Their tails ended in heavy clubs that could smash legs or skulls.

The dinosaurs were too huge for Purga to comprehend. Hers was a small world, where a fallen log or a puddle was a major obstacle, where a scorpion could be a significant predator, where a fat millipede was a rare treat. To her, the dozing ankylosaur herd was a forest of immense stumpy legs and drooping tails that had no connection to each other.

But for Purga there was a rich prize here: dinosaur dung, immense heaps of it scattered in the muddy, trampled ground. Here, in fibrous mountains of roughly digested vegetation, she might find insects, even dung beetles, laboring to destroy the tremendous turds. She burrowed into the steaming stuff eagerly.

Thus had been the role of the ancestors of humanity, all through the long dinosaur summer: relegated to the fringe of the reptiles' great society, emerging from their burrows only at night, foraging for a living from dung, insects, and the small pickings of the forest.

But tonight the rewards were meager, the droppings watery and foul-smelling. The volcano-damaged vegetation had provided poor fodder for the ankylosaurs, and what came out the other end was of little value to Purga.

She moved across the clearing and into the forest. Here conifers towered grandly, rising to spreading mats of leaves far overhead. Among them were smaller trees a little like palms, and a few low bushes bearing pale yellow flowers.

Purga scrambled briskly into the angular branches of a ginkgo tree. As she climbed she used the scent glands in her crotch to mark the tree. In her world of night, scent and sound were more important than sight, and if others of her kind found this mark, any time within the next week, it would be a sign like a neon light, telling them she had been here, even how long ago she had passed.

It was pleasing to climb, to feel her muscles work smoothly as they hauled her high above the dangerous ground, to use the delicate balance afforded by her long tail--and, most of all, to jump, to fly briefly from one branch to another, using all her body's equipment, her balance, her agility, her grasping hands, her fine eyes. She was forced to shelter in burrows on the ground. But everything about her had been shaped by an existence in the complex three-dimensional environment of the trees, where almost all primate species, throughout the family's long history, would find refuge.

But the acid rain of recent months had withered the trees and undergrowth; the bark was sour, and there were few insects to be found.

Purga was perpetually hungry. She needed to consume her body weight every day: It was the price of her warm blood, and the milk she must produce for her two pups, safe in their burrow deeper in the forest. She clambered reluctantly back down the trunk of the ginkgo. Fear and hunger warring in her mind, she tried one or two more trees, but with no better luck.

But now she lifted her head, whiskers twitching, bright eyes wide, to peer into the green dark of the forest. She could smell meat: the alluring stench of broken flesh. And she heard a forlorn, helpless piping, like that of baby birds.

She scuttled away, following the scent.

In a small clearing at the base of a huge, gnarly araucaria there was a heap of roughly piled moss. At its edge, a small patch of debris-littered silt began to move. Soon the patch rose like a lid, and a small, scrawny neck poked out of the ground and through the layer of mud and debris. A beaklike mouth opened wide.

Its little head quivering, tiny scales and feathers still moist with yolk, the infant dinosaur took its first breath. It looked like an oversized baby bird.

It was the moment the didelphodon had been waiting for. This mammal, the size of a domestic cat, was one of the largest of its day. It was low slung, with a black-and-silver coat. Now it lunged forward and grabbed the chick by its thin neck, hauling it from its shell and flinging it into the air.

The chick's life was a handful of brief, vivid impressions: the cold air beyond its cracked shell, the blurred glow of the comet, a sense of flying. But now a hot cavern opened beneath it. Its skin still smeared with yolk, the chick died instantly.

Meanwhile more chicks were pushing out of the ground, hatching all at the same time. It was as if the ground were suddenly swarming with baby dinosaurs. The didelphodon, and more predatory mammals, closed in to feed.

An ancient survival strategy had been operating. Dinosaurs were reptiles who laid their eggs on the ground. Though some parents stayed with their brood, there was no way all the vulnerable eggs and chicks could be protected. So dinosaurs laid many eggs, and their hatchings were synchronized. There should have been dozens of broods hatching right now, scattered through this area of forest: hundreds of chicks. The idea was that suddenly the forest floor would be overwhelmed with baby dinosaurs, far too many for even the hungriest of predators. Most of the chicks would die, but that didn't matter. It was enough that some would survive.

But here, tonight, the strategy had gone wrong--horribly so for the dinosaur chicks. The mother of these chicks was a hunter isolated from her pack. Confused, hungry, scared of predation herself, she had laid her eggs in the old, familiar place--this rookery was millennia old--and covered them with rotting vegetation for warmth. She had done just what she should have done, save that it was the wrong time, and the eggs had been forced to hatch without the cover of hundreds of others.

The air was filled with the stink of blood, the low growls of the predators, and the sad peeping of the doomed chicks. There were many species of mammals represented here at this grisly banquet. The largest was the big didelphodon. There was a pair of deltatheridiums, ratlike omnivores, neither marsupial nor placental, a unique line that would not outlive the dinosaurs. Many of the creatures here had potential far beyond their present standing; one unprepossessing little creature was an ancestor of the line that would lead to the elephants.

But for now, all that concerned them was their empty bellies. Dissatisfied with the slow emergence of the struggling hatchlings, the mammals had already started to dig into the loose silt, seeking unbroken eggs, scattering the cover of moss laid over the nest by the mother dinosaur.

By the time Purga arrived the rookery had become a killing pit, a squirming mass of feeding mammalian bodies. Purga, late to the fray, burrowed eagerly into the dirt. Soon tiny bones crunched in her mouth. And, so deeply did she immerse her head in search of the deep-buried goodies, she was the last to sense the return of the mother dinosaur.

She heard an angry bellow, felt the ground shudder.

Her snout sticky with yolk, Purga pulled her head out of the dirt. The other mammals were already vanishing into the forest's welcoming green black. For one instant Purga saw the whole creature, an unlikely feathered monster suspended in the air, limbs splayed, mouth gaping. Then a vast clawed hand flashed out of the sky.

Purga hissed and rolled. Too late she learned that this was the nest of a troodon: an agile, fast-moving killer--and a specialist hunter of mammals.

The troodon's name meant "Wounding Tooth."

Wounding Tooth, the size of a dog, was not the largest of dinosaurs, but she was intelligent and agile. Her brain compared in size to that of the flightless birds of later eras she somewhat resembled. Her eyes were as large and as well night-adapted as Purga's, and they could see forward, giving her binocular vision, the better to triangulate on her small, fast-moving targets. She had legs that enabled her to spring like a kangaroo, a long sicklelike claw on the second toe of each foot, and hands like spades evolved specifically to dig out and crush scuttling mammals.

She was coated in small sleek feathers, an elaborate development of scales. The feathers weren't meant for flying, but for warmth during the night's chill. In the equable climate that swathed the Earth in these times, you didn't need a hot-blooded metabolic engine to keep warm: If you were big enough, your cold-blooded body would retain its heat right through the night, even if you lived at Earth's extremes, at the poles. But smaller dinosaurs, like the troodon, needed a little extra insulation.

Small or not, she had one of the largest brains of all dinosaurs. All in all, she was a well-equipped hunter. But Wounding Tooth had problems of her own.

She could not know it, but they had been caused by the widening of the Atlantic, the huge geological event that had dominated the whole of this Cretaceous period. As the Americas were pushed west, North America's huge inland seaway had shallowed and drained, and close to the western coast--just a few hundred kilometers from the troodon's hatching site--that line of new volcanoes had erupted like an angry wound. The volcanism had disturbed the complex web of life in many ways. The young volcanoes were almost continually active, belching out smoke and ash ladened with sulfur that, mixing with the rain, turned to acid. Many species of plants had vanished, and trees on the higher ground had been reduced to bare trunks. Elsewhere the destruction had been more direct, with vast fingers of cold lava reaching deep into the forest.
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Interviews & Essays

An Interview with Stephen Baxter
In January 2003, Barnes & Noble's Paul Goat Allen had the honor of asking Baxter a few questions about his motivation behind writing Evolution, his future -- and the future of humankind.

Paul Goat Allen: After finishing the epic Manifold trilogy, a narrative about humankind's place in the universe that spans countless millenniums, what was your motivation to write another Darwinian epic like Evolution?

Stephen Baxter: Manifold was about humanity's position in space -- are we alone in the universe or not, and what does the answer mean for us? By comparison, Evolution is about our position in time -- how we became what we are, what it means to be us now, what we might become in the future. A lot of my work is about this kind of context, I think: the sometimes chilling perspective of modern science, and what it tells us about the meaning of our lives.

PGA: A powerful moment in this story for me was during a conversation at the ecological conference when primatologist Alyce Sigurdardottir quoted Confucius: "Those who say it cannot be done need to get out of the way of the people who are doing it." In a world where so many people just seem to accept as fact that humankind will eventually wipe itself out -- along with every other living thing on the planet -- what actions do you hope people will take after reading Evolution?

SB: In Evolution humans might seem irrelevant -- we're just a leaf on a great branching evolutionary tree, here and gone in a flash. But in fact we're the most precious creatures of all, because we're the only primates who become conscious enough to understand our position on that tree, and the great gulfs all around us. Who knows, maybe intelligence is really difficult to evolve, even on a fecund world like Earth -- and we do seem to be alone in the universe (see Manifold!) -- so if we have any purpose it surely starts with trying to preserve our own fragile spark of awareness. But one lesson that was driven home to me researching Evolution is how much we are creatures of the ecology around us, and without it we won't survive! I'm optimistic though, and I believe that if we're smart enough to have survived 50 years of nuclear weapons without blowing ourselves to bits, we can survive 50 years of ecological change and will save the world, and ourselves.

PGA: After penning the Manifold novels and Evolution, what's your next project? And how do you go about preparing to write something new after spending so much time researching and writing such a monumental story?

SB: More about human evolution -- I'm working on a new series called Homo Superior, on our destiny in the future, starting with Coalescent -- hive minds in ancient Rome -- to be published February 2004 by Del Rey. I'm also collaborating with Sir Arthur C. Clarke on two new novels, also to be published by Del Rey. I'm lucky that working hard seems to keep me fresh, my brain enjoys the exercise! But a lot of my work is about different expressions of the same themes, the same awareness, and I think it feeds off itself.

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 31 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2004

    Not with a bang, but with a whimper

    This was a great read. There were a few graphic descriptions that might have been better had they been less so, but overall it was a spectacularly depressing book and you would certainly hope that we, as a species, don't go down the road envisioned here.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 2, 2003

    This book had me until the end

    I was really enjoying this book until I reached the end. The idea of devolution is nothing new, but it was a disappointment. Baxter's writing is sometimes stilted (in my opinion) as well. It was a worthwhile read, though, but not in the top 10 books I've read lately. I'd recommend Robert Sawyer's 'Hominids' and 'Humans' over this book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2014

    This book stayed with me a long time after I read it... As a ro

    This book stayed with me a long time after I read it...

    As a rollicking science fiction tale, this book may leave the reader scratching their head. It is more a series of interrelated short stories and vignettes given from the viewpoint of creatures stretching back in time from the first tiny mammals to survive the impact which took out the dinosaurs, to the present, to the distant future when our planet is trashed and our sun has expanded to re-absorb the Earth.

    What this story -does- do more clearly than all the snoozer science textbooks we were forced to read in high school and college is take the various critical turning points of evolution, when some new adaptation or trait emerged to help our species evolve into the species we know of as homo sapiens today. And each of those vignettes is interesting, fully explained, and will leave the lay-reader with a thorough understanding of how we ended up where we are today.

    And then Baxter journeys into our future...

    With the same thoroughness, Baxter takes us through various plausibilities, extrapolating the choices we are making as a species today to ignore environmental degradation, civil unrest, aggression, and carries our species forward into the distant future, building upon the framework he built in the first half of the book to get us where we are evolutionarily speaking today, to show us where we are headed in the future ... and it is not pretty.

    4 Evolutionary Monkeys

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    Recommended for those who have ever wondered about the past, present and future of human kind.

    The author weaves threads of palentological science into a story that is fun to read and interesting to think about. One will be surprised at how Baxter has portrayed the future of the human species. As a lover of science fiction it is must read if only for a lesson on how science has pieced together the evolution of humans from the fossil record.

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  • Posted February 15, 2012

    My fave SB book!

    This is my fave Baxter book! Starts with end of dinosaurs, proceeds up the evolutionary ladder until the end of the Earth. He's become my fave SF author in the past year. :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2008

    Great entertainment

    This book is one of my top 10 favorite books. Pure entertainment with historical and scientific fact.Great characterization of this book's heroes and heroines. Couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2007

    Captivating

    What a splendid page-turner! I had not thought that I wanted to start a book that begins with dinosaurs. Baxter begins with them because that enables him to write about the comet's crashing into our planet 65 million years ago. That lets him imagine the animals that survived. His imaginings are based on solid science. Who would have thought that a book covering millions of years could be so captivating? His pace does not let the reader slow or bog down. You can skip the Greek and Latin names because they are written about quickly and then left behind. Throughout the book I was saddened that creationists would not allow God to have had this much fun. Magnificent events went in to God's creation. Baxter even gets suspense in to a story that we know ends with us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2004

    Thought Provoking

    After continuous reading (for I could not put it down) I finished the novel, able only to think and rethink in my mind what I had just absorbed. Evolution is indeed an imaginative piece in which logic and reason are abundantly evident. Despite the numerous characters, and the short amount of time spent on each, I was compelled to care deeply for every one as they experienced their unique lives. And although the end was somewhat depressing and pessimistic, it left me pondering the events which unfolded in this novel for days afterward.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2004

    Filled with characters you care about

    Filled with a rich description of humans battling for their own humanity and future, these are characters that you will care about and remember through each time period, and although it is fictional, the narrative is fulfilling without resorting to trite conversations between the characters (as some authors resort to)even from the smallest rodentlike being through our own prsent time and beyond carrying us into a possible but cautionary future.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2004

    Is Intelligence really maladaptive?

    Stephen Baxter does succeed in painting a number of fascinating portraits of proto-humans and 'posthumans,' and his stark protrayal ecological disaster successfully forces one to pause to contemplate the current destruction of our ecosphere. Unfortunately, the premise of the novel -- that intelligence is a maladaptive trait -- presents some serious difficulties. The author would have us believe that that the brains of human beings are prepared to slide instantaneously (in evolutionary terms) back into to the state of our primitive forebears. Furthermore, we are supposed to believe that no niche for intelligent creatures arises across five hundred million years of posthuman life on earth. This rather difficult proposition leads a bleak world in which what we are today is the pinnacle of all that will ever be...a few brief flickers of intelligence sandwiched between eons of furry, ignorant beasts. This dark premise undermines the author's intent of conveying a sense of awe and wonder at the workings of life, and it mocks Baxter's concluding, oft-repeated quote of Darwin that 'There is grandeur in this view of life....' There are interesting ideas to be found in 'Evolution,' but if this is the best that popularizers of evolutionary theory can come up with in terms of Grandeur, well, 'Creationism' will continue to be popular.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2003

    Read Evolution

    I have read several other Baxter novels and this one really stands out. Here is more of Baxter's usual hard SF, but with the evolutionary pressures that confront species taking center stage. The pace of the novel is as relentless as time itself. In jumps across the millennia Baxter takes the reader up the evolutionary ladder that leads to humanity and beyond. There is plenty here that will likely surprise and move you. I highly recommend Stephen Baxter's EVOLUTION.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    deep epic look at evolution and devolution

    In 2031, the latest save the earth ecology conference is ironically being held in Darwin, Australia. The global climatic destruction threatens Homo Sapiens¿ domination of the planet and the nearby orbs. While forests burn out of control and pollution holds sway, the enormous Rabaul Volcano erupts. Mankind¿s reign seems nearly through while the Martian robots have now replicated themselves. Terrorists attack the conference as attendees discuss the battles for supremacy through the ages with the victors goes the spoils until primates evolve during the Tertiary Period. Ultimately apes leave the trees for life on the ground until they build high rises. Now in the year 2031, Earth is on the brink with the volcano being the final straw to end humanity¿s dominion. Mars appears as the next evolutionary step as machines that replicate establish colonies throughout the galaxy. This book reads more like short story vignettes than a novel, but fans of Stephen Baxter and anyone who relishes a deep look at evolution and devolution will want to read this epic. Mr. Baxter is at his best when he describes prehistorical winners and losers and speculates on the future devolution of the primate on earth. Though another form of evolutionary supremacy, the robot revolution seems to belong in a more science fiction realm than the speculative fiction employed throughout EVOLUTION. Another triumph for Mr. Baxter who has evolved into best-selling specie that Darwin would have enjoyed reading the author¿s works. Harriet Klausner

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    Posted June 10, 2011

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    Posted December 31, 2010

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    Posted October 27, 2008

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