Fresh from his latest collaboration with Terry Pratchett on the Long Earth sequence Stephen Baxter now returns to the mysteries and challanges first hinted at in his acclaimed novel PROXIMA.
In PROXIMA we discovered ancient alien artifacts on the planet of Per Ardua - hatches that allowed us to step across light years of space as if we were stepping into another room. The universe opened up to us.
Now in ULTIMA the consequences of this new freedom make themselves felt. And we discover that there are minds in the universe that are billions of years old and they have a plan for us. For some of us. But as we learn the true nature of the universe we also discover that we have countless pasts all meeting in this present and that our future is terrifyingly finite. It's time for us to fight to take back control.
This is grand scale, big idea SF of the best possible sort. It is set to build on the massive success of PROXIMA and define Stephen Baxter's work going forward.
©2014 Stephen Baxter (P)2014 Tantor Media
When you buy a Stephen Baxter book you know certain things about the plot; it will span generations and end in an astronomical catastrophe. A new technological development will enable new expansion, usually spearheaded by a billionaire philanthropist. The West will be thrown into rivalry with China; the Chinese will always be repressed statists with a penchant for heavy engineering. A Machiavellian AI has its own plans for humanity. The ending will be a let down.
Ultima breaks none of these Baxterisms, and indeed seems to borrow many of them directly from his earlier books. But I wanted a moderately listenable doorstop to entertain me on long bus rides, and with Baxter that's exactly what you get (and no more).
Baxter often likes to mess about with parallel worldlines, and Ultima is no exception; but here he seems to have gone for the utter laziest of possible worlds. We are first introduced to the inevitable Roman empire which never fell, which (of course) seems like a carbon-copy of the Empire of the 3rd century, despite its possession of interstellar spacecraft. Baxter has done precisely zero work extrapolating the historical, technological and social development of Rome. This gets even worse when we're later introduced to an Incan empire which never fell - an empire powerful enough to /disassemble the Moon/ into a giant space habitat but which still fights with swords and spears. Again, they appear to be a carbon-copy of the Empire of the 15th century; Baxter has done precisely zero work extrapolating the historical, technological and social development of Cuzco.
Having destroyed the Earth in Proxima (those damnable Chinese!) and then the inner Solar System (the Chinese again. Baxter really is a Sinophobe), Baxter moves on to ramming the dwarf planet Ceres into Mars. The only way he can think of to top this - since all Baxter books MUST end with an astronomical catastrophe - is to destroy the Multiverse. This is accomplished via specious handwaving about "infinities being a human construct, therefore the Multiverse has an edge" and "it is statistically unlikely for humanity to not be in the middle of the Universe's life span, therefore it'll end much sooner than current physics predicts" - this is known as the Doomsday argument, and the fact that it is anthropocentric nonsense born of a misunderstanding of statistics has not prevented Baxter using it in the past, or from recycling it here with minimal effort.
Ultimately, the Universe drifts into the edge of the Multiverse (rather like a sailing ship falling off the edge of the world) with little fanfare, and it comes largely as a relief.
McCarley's narration is ... odd. I'm not sure what accent he's using, or what accent he's trying for - it seems like he's attempting British Received Pronunciation and is overdoing it. This is a little distracting, but it's not ruinous - most of the time you can forget he's speaking and just listen to the book, if that makes sense.
I always know what I'm getting into with a Baxter book, including the fact that it will be a disappointment; Ultima did not disappoint. It was a mildly entertaining way to distract myself on the bus. The primary draw of Ultima was its length; for one ticket you get 22 hours of mildly entertaining distraction, which - depending on how often you take the bus - can last quite a while.
"OMG - Why would you write this drivel?"
Simple answer to this one is no! After working through Proxima and then suffering Ultima I've decided that Baxter has lost not only the plot but any respect that I once held for his talent.
No, I will always read good science fiction. Proxima and Ultima however are rambling fantasy stories which Mr. Baxter should submit as his Ancient history thesis as there was more effort put into discourse about Roman/Mayan society than anything else really.
Not particularly. I'm British and even I found some of the pronunciations peculiar and by the end of 20hrs listening it was still irritating.
These books, Ultima and it's predecessor Proxima are really, really dull and lifeless. The main characters do not endear themselves to you in any way and the story limps tediously along in some weird time distorted Roman based tragedy. There are glaring holes all over the plot and if you removed the fixation on all of the social explanations and other non science fiction you could read both books in about an hour. Sorry Mr. Baxter but after your collaborations with Arthur C' I expected way better science fiction than this.
"Wonderful , engaging , why did it have to end?"
The second book continued directly from where the first left off. An impossible idea with a huge story to tell. Permitting glimpses of what would come the characters grew , we felt the exhilaration and sometimes sadness but always onwards. "In fact it reminded me of the time" .... (Read the book an in story.
I doubt there will be a follow up but if there is I will read it 110% sure of that .
After the first book in the series, I had high hopes. This however, was disappointing.
I found it completely implausible, the fact that space travel could be achieved without advanced technology and no real attempt was made to explain this, ruined the book for me.
"Why, I remember once on campaign..."
Performance: At first I thought there were one or two strange pronunciations: "shone" pronounced as "shown" which I had not heard before. However, the narrator's grasp of different accents from "northern English" to Australian to Roman to Inca was masterful, especially when switching between so many so quickly in a conversation. The most nuanced of all was the Col U.
You can feel the relish of both the author and narrator for Titus's wonderful catch-phrase, and the last utterance is particularly apt.
Story: the epic length through generations (a Baxter favourite device I think) and the different locations (in various ways) really developed wonderfully the promise of Proxima (mostly involving isolation and survival)
The two books are like ripples in a pond where the lives and deeds of Uri (initially) and Steph(growing) spread out to interact with, and affect, all the other characters.
At this time, this is the only series (Proxima and Ultima) that I have listened to twice. I recommend it to all.
"Great narrator, engaging storyline"
The story is full of twists and turns, it is very engaging to read. The science is explained clearly.
The narrator uses voices that could be ealily separated from each other and give a distinct sound to each character.
"Full of grand ideas but not very well completed"
This was both a frustrating and fascinating book to listen to. It was frustrating because it was badly narrated with the most fake RP accent I've ever heard. The pronunciation was sometimes quite bizarre. The book also laboured under several tonnes of exposition. An editor with a ruthless pair of scissors would have helped greatly.
That said, Baxter has some amazing ideas and it's hard to think of grander scale science fiction than this.
"labours some points"
pretty much follows trad sci fi. predictable. odd pronunciation. Some history lessons. not clear why conundrum choices at end.
"the third rocky film"
the story feels over work and a rehash of the first two. there is little plot development and even less character development.
to use the books own words: just another book
"Excellent Sequel to Proxima"
Took longer to get in to at the start than the first but worthwhile sticking with.
"Good, but could be better"
I liked the story, but feel like the writer sort of ran out of ideas and just went with the same theme again. I feel like there should have been MORE to this book. It's still worth a read if you've do be the first one though.
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