Science Fiction Chronicle
Manifold: Space (Manifold Series #2)by Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter's Manifold novels have struck the world of science fiction like a meteor. Heralded by Arthur Clark as “a major new talent,” Baxter stands time and space on their collective heads, envisions the future reflected in the past, and the past in the galaxy's most distant reaches and unformed speculations.See more details below
Stephen Baxter's Manifold novels have struck the world of science fiction like a meteor. Heralded by Arthur Clark as “a major new talent,” Baxter stands time and space on their collective heads, envisions the future reflected in the past, and the past in the galaxy's most distant reaches and unformed speculations.
Science Fiction Chronicle
Author of Darwin's Radio
Read an Excerpt
By Stephen Baxter
Random HouseStephen Baxter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTITLE: MANIFOLD: SPACE
My name is Reid Malenfant.
You know me. And you know I'm an incorrigible space cadet.
You know I've campaigned for, among other things, private mining
expeditions to the asteroids. In fact, in the past I've tried to get you
to pay for such things. I've bored you with that often enough already,
So tonight I want to be a little more personal. Tonight I want to talk
about why I gave over my life to a single, consuming project.
It started with a simple question:
Where is everybody?
As a kid I used to lie at night out on the lawn, soaking up dew and
looking at the stars, trying to feel the Earth turning under me. It felt
wonderful to be alive-hell, to be ten years old, anyhow.
But I knew that the Earth was just a ball of rock, on the fringe of a
As I lay there staring at the stars-the thousands I could pick out with my
naked eyes, the billions that make up the great wash of our Galaxy, the
uncounted trillions in the galaxies beyond-I just couldn't believe, even
then, that there was nobody out there looking back at me down here. Was it
really possible that this was the only place where life had taken
hold-that only here were there minds and eyes capable of looking out and
But if not, where are they? Why isn't there evidence of extraterrestrial
civilization all around us?
Consider this. Life on Earth got started just about as soon as it could-as
soon as the rocks cooled and the oceans gathered. Of course it took a good
long time to evolve us. Nevertheless we have to believe that what applies
on Earth ought to apply on all the other worlds out there, like or unlike
Earth; life ought to be popping up everywhere. And, as there are hundreds
of billions of stars out there in the Galaxy, there are presumably
hundreds of billions of opportunities for life to come swarming up out of
the ponds-and even more opportunities in the other galaxies that crowd our
Furthermore, life spread over Earth as fast and as far as it could. And
already we're starting to spread to other worlds. Again, this can't be a
unique trait of Earth life.
So, if life sprouts everywhere, and spreads as fast and as far as it can,
how come nobody has come spreading all over us?
The universe is a big place. There are huge spaces between the stars. But
it's not that big. Even crawling along with dinky ships that only reach a
fraction of light speed-ships we could easily start building now-we could
colonize the Galaxy in a few tens of millions of years. One hundred
One hundred million years. It seems an immense time-after all, one hundred
million years ago the dinosaurs ruled Earth. But the Galaxy is one hundred
times older still. There has been time for Galactic colonization to have
happened many times since the birth of the stars.
Remember, all it takes is for one race somewhere to have evolved the will
and the means to colonize; and once the process has started it's hard to
see what could stop it.
But, as a kid on that lawn, I didn't see them. I seemed to be surrounded
by emptiness and silence.
Even we blare out on radio frequencies. Why, with our giant radio
telescopes we could detect a civilization no more advanced than ours
anywhere in the Galaxy. But we don't.
More advanced civilizations ought to be much more noticeable. We could
spot somebody building a shell around their star, or throwing in nuclear
waste. We could probably see evidence of such things even in other
galaxies. But we don't. Those other galaxies, other islands of stars, seem
to be as barren as this one.
Maybe we're just unlucky. Maybe we're living at the wrong time. The Galaxy
is an old place; maybe They have been, flourished, and gone already. But
consider this: Even if They are long gone, surely we should see Their
mighty ruins, all around us. But we don't even see that. The stars show no
signs of engineering. The Solar System appears to be primordial, in the
sense that it shows no signs of the great projects we can already
envisage, like terraforming the planets, or tinkering with the Sun, and so
We can think of lots of rationalizations for this absence.
Maybe there is something that kills off every civilization like ours
before we get too far-for example, maybe we all destroy ourselves in
nuclear wars or eco collapse. Or maybe there is something more sinister:
plagues of killer robots sliding silently between the stars, killing off
fledgling cultures for their own antique purposes.
Or maybe the answer is more benevolent. Maybe we're in some kind of
quarantine-or a zoo.
But none of these filtering mechanisms convinces me. You see, you have to
believe that this magic suppression mechanism, whatever it is, works for
every race in this huge Galaxy of ours. All it would take would be for one
race to survive the wars, or evade the vacuum robots, or come sneaking
through the quarantine to sell trinkets to the natives-or even just to
start broadcasting some ET version of The Simpsons, anywhere in the
Galaxy-and we'd surely see or hear them.
But we don't.
This paradox was first stated clearly by a twentieth-century physicist
called Enrico Fermi. It strikes me as a genuine mystery. The
contradictions are basic: Life seems capable of emerging everywhere; just
one star-faring race could easily have covered the Galaxy by now; the
whole thing seems inevitable-but it hasn't happened.
Thinking about paradoxes is the way human understanding advances. I think
the Fermi paradox is telling us something very profound about the
universe, and our place in it. Or was.
Of course, everything is different now.
. . . And he felt as if he were drowning, struggling up from some thick,
viscous fluid, up toward the light. He wanted to open his mouth, to
scream-but he had no mouth, and no words. What would he scream?
I am Reid Malenfant.
He could see the sail.
It was a gauzy sheet draped across the crowded stars of this place.
Where, Malenfant? Why, the core of the Galaxy, he thought, wonder breaking
through his agony.
And within the sail, cupped, he could see the neutron star, an angry ball
of red laced with eerie synchrotron blue, like a huge toy.
A star with a sail attached to it. Beautiful. Scary.
Triumph surged. I won, he thought. I resolved the koan, the great
conundrum of the cosmos; Nemoto would be pleased. And now, together, we're
fixing an unsatisfactory universe. Hell of a thing.
But if you see all this, Malenfant, then what are you?
He looked down at himself.
A sense of body, briefly. Spread-eagled against the sail's gauzy netting.
Clinging by fingers and toes, monkey digits, here at the center of the
Galaxy. A metaphor, of course, an illusion to comfort his poor human mind.
Welcome to reality.
The pain! Oh, God, the pain.
Terror flooded over him. And anger.
And, through it, he remembered the Moon, where it began . . .
A passenger in the Hope-3 tug, Reid Malenfant descended toward the Moon.
The Farside base, called Edo, was a cluster of concrete
components-habitation modules, power plants, stores, manufacturing
facilities-half buried in the cratered plain. Comms masts sprouted like
angular flowers. The tug pad was just a splash of scorched moondust
concrete, a couple of kilometers farther out. Around the station itself,
the regolith was scarred by tractor traffic.
Robots were everywhere, rolling, digging, lifting; Edo was growing like a
colony of bacilli in nutrient.
A hi-no-maru, a Japanese Sun flag, was fixed to a pole at the center of
"You are welcome to my home," Nemoto said.
She met him in the pad's air lock: a large, roomy chamber blown into the
regolith. Her face was broad, pale, her eyes black; her hair was
elaborately shaved, showing the shape of her skull. She smiled, apparently
habitually. She could have been no more than half Malenfant's age, perhaps
Nemoto helped Malenfant don the suit he'd been fitted with during the
flight from Earth. The suit was a brilliant orange. It clung to him
comfortably, the joints easy and loose, although the sewn-in plates of
tungsten armor were heavy.
"It's a hell of a development from the old EMUs I wore when I was flying
shuttle," he said, trying to make conversation.
Nemoto listened politely, after the manner of young people, to his
fragments of reminiscence from a vanished age. She told him the suit had
been manufactured on the Moon, and was made largely of spider silk. "I
will take you to the factory. A chamber in the lunar soil, full of immense
spinnerets. A nightmare vision! . . ."
Malenfant felt disoriented, restless.
He was here to deliver a lecture, on colonizing the Galaxy, to senior
executives of Nishizaki Heavy Industries. But here he was being met off
the tug by Nemoto, the junior researcher who'd invited him out to the
Moon, just a kid. He hoped he wasn't making some kind of fool of himself.
Reid Malenfant used to be an astronaut. He'd flown the last shuttle
mission-STS-194, on Discovery-when, ten years ago, the space
transportation system had reached the end of its design life, and the
International Space Station had finally been abandoned, incomplete. No
American had flown into space since-save as the guest of the Japanese, or
the Europeans, or the Chinese.
In this year 2020, Malenfant was sixty years old and feeling a lot
older-increasingly stranded, a refugee in this strange new century, his
dignity woefully fragile.
Well, he thought, whatever the dubious politics, whatever the threat to
his dignity, he was here. It had been the dream of his long life to walk
on another world. Even if it was as the guest of a Japanese.
And even if he was too damn old to enjoy it.
They stepped through a transit tunnel and directly into a small tractor, a
lozenge of tinted glass. The tractor rolled away from the tug pad. The
wheels were large and open, and absorbed the unevenness of the mare;
Malenfant felt as if he were riding across the Moon in a soap bubble.
Every surface in the cabin was coated with fine gray moondust. He could
smell the dust; the scent was, as he knew it would be, like wood ash, or
Beyond the window, the Mare Ingenii-the Sea of Longing-stretched to the
curved horizon, pebble-strewn. It was late in the lunar afternoon, and the
sunlight was low, flat, the shadows of the surface rubble long and sharp.
The lighting was a rich tan when he looked away from the Sun, a more
subtle gray elsewhere. Earth was hidden beneath the horizon, of course,
but Malenfant could see a comsat crawl across the black sky.
He longed to step through the glass, to touch that ancient soil.
Nemoto locked in the autopilot and went to a little galley area. She
emerged with green tea, rice crackers and dried ika cuttlefish. Malenfant
wasn't hungry, but he accepted the food. Such items as the fish were
genuine luxuries here, he knew; Nemoto was trying to honor him.
The motion of the tea, as she poured it in the one-sixth gravity, was
"I am honored you have accepted my invitation to travel here, to Edo,"
Nemoto said. "You will of course tour the town, as you wish. There is even
a Makudonarudo here: a McDonald's. You may enjoy a bifubaaga! Soya, of
He put down his plate and tried to meet her direct gaze. "Tell me why I've
been brought out here. I don't see how my work, on long-term space
utilization, can be of real interest to your employers."
She eyed him. "You do have a lecture to deliver, I am afraid. But . . .
no, your work is not of primary concern to Nishizaki."
"Then I don't understand."
"It is I who invited you, I who arranged the funding. You ask why. I
wished to meet you. I am a researcher, like you."
"Hardly a researcher," he said. "I call myself a consultant, nowadays. I
am not attached to a university."
"Nor I. Nishizaki Heavy Industries pays my wages; my research must be
focused on serving corporate objectives." She eyed him, and took some more
fish. "I am salariman. A good company worker, yes? But I am, at heart, a
scientist. And I have made some observations which I am unable to
reconcile with the accepted paradigm. I searched for recent scientific
publications concerning the subject area of my . . . hypothesis. I found
"My subject is infrared astronomy. At our research station, away from Edo,
the company maintains radiometers, photometers, photo-polarimeters,
cameras. I work at a range of wavelengths, from twenty to a hundred
microns. Of course a space-borne platform is to be preferred: The
activities of humankind are thickening the Moon's atmosphere with each
passing day, blocking the invisible light I collect. But the lunar site is
cheap to maintain, and is adequate for the company's purposes. We are
considering the future exploitation of the asteroids, you see. Infrared
astronomy is a powerful tool in the study of those distant rocks. With it
we can deduce a great deal about surface textures, compositions, internal
heat, rotation characteristics-"
"Tell me about your paradigm-busting hypothesis."
"Yes." She sipped her green tea. "I believe I have observational evidence
of the activity of extraterrestrial intelligences in the Solar System,"
she said calmly.
The silence stretched between them, electric. Her words were shocking,
But now he saw why she'd brought him here.
Since his retirement from NASA, Malenfant had avoided following his
colleagues into the usual ex-astronaut gravy ponds: lucrative aerospace
executive posts and junior political positions. Instead, he'd thrown his
weight behind research into what he regarded as long-term thinking: SETI,
using gravitational lensing to hunt for planets and ET signals, advanced
propulsion systems, schemes for colonizing the planets, terraforming,
interstellar travel, exploration of the venerable Fermi paradox.
All the stuff that Emma had so disapproved of. You're wasting your time,
Excerpted from Manifold: Space by Stephen Baxter Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >