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Stephen Baxter's novel Coalescent explores the SF possibilities of our own evolution--and whether, like ants or naked mole rats, a human community could develop a hive mind.
In modern England, George Poole learns in mid-life that he once had a twin sister, given as an infant to The Puissant Order of Holy Mary Queen of Virgins. The what? Poole tracks down what seems a perfectly respectable Rome-based organisation, not all that religious but with hints of underlying strangeness. Yet apparently they're not strangers. "They're family."
Sixteen centuries before, the Roman-British girl Regina lives through the final, painful passing of Roman law and order in a Britain increasingly ravaged by Saxon invasion. It's a grimly moving historical story, which even links to the legend of Arthur.
Hardened by much brutal experience, Regina is determined to protect her bloodline and her household gods through the Dark Ages, until this temporary disturbance is over. By luck, cunning and sheer ruthlessness she reaches sanctuary in Rome, where she founds an enclave that will survive into the modern era and beyond. Instinctively, Regina lays down rules that will fundamentally change "human nature" as the centuries slip by:
Ignorance is strength. Listen to your sisters. Sisters matter more than laughters.
A third narrative strand follows Lucia, a girl of the modern-day Order who sees these slogans on every wall, lives underground in the artificial light of the "Crypt" and is always surrounded by many sisters. No room is ever empty. When Lucia finds herself physically changing and becoming different from her workmates, the resulting upheaval has ripples that affect Poole, his own rediscovered sister and the world.
The lifestyle of the Order is a new quirk in mankind's evolution, alternately seductive and shocking. Baxter switches effectively between harrowing historical narrative and the slow revelation of a threat whose understated chill is reminiscent of John Wyndham's quieter menaces. Coalescent is a strong, standalone novel that opens a new SF sequence titled "Destiny's Children". --David Langford --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
I too enjoyed reading Baxter's account of a hive mentality and how he alternated the story line between the past and present. Read morePublished on Feb. 11 2004 by Vincent Prezioso
From the boundless imagination of Stephen Baxter comes another novel from his enviable arsenal of story telling. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by David Williams
I am only rating this a four because I am reluctant to give something by Stephen Baxter a three. At his best, he is one of the best authors and everything he writes is a five star... Read morePublished on Jan. 4 2004 by C. J. Schaps