Stephen Baxter possesses one of the most brilliant minds in modern science fiction. His vivid storytelling skills have earned him comparison to the giants of the past: Clarke, Asimov, Stapledon. Like his great predecessors, Baxter thinks on a cosmic scale, spinning cutting-edge scientific speculation into pure, page-turning gold. Now Baxter is back with a breathtaking adventure that begins during the catastrophic collapse of Roman Britain and stretches forward into an unimaginably distant, war-torn future, where the fate of humanity lies waiting at the center of the galaxy. . . .Destiny's ChildrenCOALESCENTGeorge Poole isn't sure whether his life has reached a turning point or a dead end. At forty-five, he is divorced and childless, with a career that is going nowhere fast. Then, when his father dies suddenly, George stumbles onto a family secret: a sister he never knew existed. A twin named Rosa, raised in Rome by an enigmatic cult. Hoping to find the answers to the missing pieces of his life, George sets out for the ancient city.
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. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Coalescent by Stephen Baxter
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 absent 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 caf's and bars, and the noise fades.