Manifold: Origin is the third and concluding volume of Stephen Baxter's wildly popular Manifold trilogy, a sequence of novels comparable to classics like Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Arthur C. Clarke's Rama series in both scope and pure ambition.
The first book in the trilogy, Manifold: Time, began the story of entrepreneur Reid Malenfant, a man obsessed with exploring space and colonizing the stars. While his bootstrap company launches a squid-piloted spacecraft to mine a nearby asteroid, the Earth's population falls into chaos with news of civilization's imminent end. With time running out for humanity, Malenfant discovers technology that can unveil the future by detecting coded quantum waves traveling back through time. By understanding human "downstreamers," Malenfant tries to figure out how early-21st-century humankind can survive extinction.
In Manifold: Space, Baxter showed us an alternate Reid Malenfant. At 60 years old, he and quirky Japanese researcher Nemoto discover the existence of alien intelligence in the solar system. It seems self-replicating machinelike beings have entered the solar system in strange flower ships and are mining the asteroid belt. After entrepreneur Frank Paulis sends an unmanned spaceship to check out the aliens, who are called Gaijin, and the ship is captured and dismantled, Malenfant sets out to make first contact. En route to the asteroid belt in a salvaged spacecraft, Malenfant finds a large circle of blue metal floating in space. It's some type of gateway. But Malenfant doesn't know what's on the other side. His dream of contacting the Gaijin propels him on and he floats through the circle…
In Manifold: Origins, the mysterious blue metal disc appears again, this time high above Africa. In this episode, Reid Malenfant is an aging astronaut on a public relations tour of Africa. Having just found out that he has been scratched from an upcoming shuttle mission because of a medical technicality (it was really his abrasive personality and bad attitude), Malenfant quits the tour and heads back home with his wife Emma in a borrowed jet. But when he hears there has been a UFO sighting nearby, he has to check it out. Two things happen simultaneously: a huge blue disc appears in the sky, and our familiar gray moon is suddenly replaced with a much larger red one.
Strange objects -- it turns out they're primitive hominids -- tumble out of the disc and fall to the Earth, where they are instantly killed. Wild turbulence fills the air around the disc; Malenfant loses control of the plane and is forced to eject. He lands safely, but his wife Emma is pulled through the disc and disappears. Convinced the strange object is a portal to the red moon, Malenfant vows to somehow rescue his wife. After all, it's his fault she is there in the first place. With the help of Nemoto, a young Japanese astronaut, he raises enough money for the dangerous journey.
Once on the much larger moon, Malenfant and Nemoto discover a primitive world filled with a diversity of semi-intelligent hominids: tall nomadic Runners, savage-talking chimps (called Elf folk), humanoids with tails, English speaking Neanderthals, even godlike apes.
As Malenfant and Nemoto slowly unravel the mystery of the red moon, the origins of mankind and the Fermi Paradox (if aliens existed, they would be here), Emma is desperately trying to survive among a group of savage cavemen who can't remember yesterday.
Malenfant's incredible journey through time and space not only entertains but also enlightens, raising profound questions about humanity's ultimate place in the universe. Manifold: Origin is a wonderful, thought-provoking story -- a great novel in an even better series. (Paul Goat Allen)