Transcendent Hardcover – Nov 29 2005
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From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Set in the same vast time scale and future as Coalescent (2003) and Exultant (2004, both Del Rey), Transcendent can be read independently. Michael Poole is a middle-aged engineer in the year of the digital millennium (2047) and Alia is a recognizably human (but evolved) adolescent born on a starship half a million years later. Michael still dreams of space flight, but the world and its possibilities are much diminished due to environmental degradation. The gifted teen has studied Michael's life, for the Poole family played a pivotal role in creating the human future, and thus her world. Through seemingly supernatural apparitions, Alia bridges time to communicate with Michael as they determine the future of humanity. The Pooles are a troubled family, and readers will appreciate the conflict between Michael and his son as they are forced to find common ground in a struggle to reverse the final tipping point of global warming. Teens will also understand Alia's alarm, and her growing determination to choose her own destiny, when she is selected to join the Transcendents and is rushed into their unimaginable post-human reality. This is visionary, philosophical fiction, rich in marvels drawn from today's cutting-edge science. A typical paragraph by Baxter might turn more ideas loose on readers than an entire average, mundane novel does, but all this food for thought is delivered with humor and compassion. Experienced SF readers will enjoy sinking their teeth into the story, while general readers who have enjoyed near-future, science-based suspense novels such as those by Michael Crichton will discover here that science fiction can set a higher, much richer standard than what they've experienced before.-Christine C. Menefee, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA
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Praise for Stephen Baxter
“Utterly fascinating . . . constantly surprising . . . Coalescent reveals a new side to Baxter’s vast talent.”
“A gripping read . . . Baxter continues to prove that he has phenomenal insight into humanity, giving us not only an inspired book, but more to think about in regards to our own evolution.”
“[Baxter excels] at both action-packed storytelling and philosophical speculation.”
“Baxter has an uncanny gift for mixing a punchy, cyberpunk cynicism with his resolutely hard SF story base. . . . [Exultant] rivals Asimov in its boundless vision for the future evolution of humanity.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Striking . . . chilling . . . [with] a triumphant conclusion.”
“Technically brilliant and downright exciting.”
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Can pain and suffering be banished from the world? What is a perfect society? What makes us human? This book rounds out a trilogy that explores these themes in depth. Baxter is fascinated with the principle of emergence and it shows in his fiction--the concept of the hive mind or "coalescence" is also a prominent theme in this work as are the ideas of how humanity might confront victory over aging and disease, the ability to read the minds of others, or whether intelligence is necessary to a meaningful existence. This book touches on all these issues.
Whether it is merely a plot device or reflective of the author's opinions, the "die back" and global warming themes are as prevalent in Baxter's writings as the energy crisis and population explosion themes were in early 70s science fiction. In Transcendent the pending ecological collapse provides a focus on the theme that humans are at least as expert at getting themselves into trouble as they are in getting out of trouble. One wonders, however, whether Mr. Baxter could have dreamed up something more serious than what are, essentially, tundra farts.
Though I was more satisfied with Mr. Card's resolution of the issue of unlimited power, I must admit that Transcendent made me think harder about the questions presented. Mr. Baxter seems awfully reticent to admit that he is treading upon religious ground, exploring the nature of God--however God may be defined. Though Baxter's God (the combination of post-human intelligences known as the "Transcendence") can't seem to reconcile human suffering with human perfection, perhaps the conclusion of this book is meant to show that regardless of all the philosophical arguments to be made, humanity will figure things out in the end even if the forms are not strictly obeyed.
Stephen Baxter remains a "must purchase" author--his fiction forces one to confront deeply held values and to ponder the essence of what life is about. Indeed, I have high praise for an author who does not hesitate to threaten or destroy the entire planet in order to tell a story--and then provides a story that is ultimately uplifting and life-affirming.
A very engaging and rewarding book to read for any SciFi fan, and a must for any Baxter fan. He may yet produce his own "Stranger in a Strange Land."
The bulk of the book revolves around Michael Poole, who splits his time between chasing the ghost of his dead wife and starting an eco-recovery business. The "ghost story" subplot (which culminates in a excorcism, believe it or not) seems out of place in a sci-fi novel such as this, and is wrapped up in a lot of religious and philosophical psychobabble. Likewise, Stephen is a little heavy-handed with the message of ecological responsibility, and spends too much time going through the mundane details of the startup and business deals for Poole's eco-recovery project.
The other 33% of the book revolves around Alia, who has to answer some questions about/for the godlike Transcendence, a meta-mind that's stumbling over some very basic facts of life. Even more rediculous is that the Transencdence, which is "beyond the farthest imagining of mere humans", has a proposed solution to its problem which basically amounts to "take my ball and go home." I can say no more without giving anything away, but the universe's supermind seems to have the intellect of a walnut.
It's not just the Transcendence who has issues. The Poole family relations are a non-stop car wreck, a subplot which makes the book feel like a soap opera at times. In particular, the protagonist's adult son spends the entire novel acting like a spoiled 12-year old. Likewise, the book never explains why the Transcendence would want to "join" with Alia, who also comes off as both incredibly selfish and immature.
It's also fairly odd that, 500,000 years in the future, "Lethe" is still being used as an interjection. The origin of the term is presented here, but it's fairly odd that it would stick around for for a length of time that's much greater than the length of recorded human history. Nobody uses terms like "baloney" or "balderdash" anymore, and those were in use a century ago. 500,000 years? Come on.
Last but not least, anyone who makes it past the final 50 pages deserves an honorary doctorate in philosophy. You'll be able to discuss the ontology and philosophy behind the meaning of love and intellect with the best of them. Unfortunately, you have to read through a grad school term paper to get any closure out of this book. I was tempted - multiple times - to just chalk this one up to a loss and start on something else. Mr. Baxter, you can do better.
Fifty thousands years in the future Alia who lives on a space station Witnesses Michael (learning facets of his life from birth to death). Humanity is guarded by the Transcendence, superminds who are on the verge of singularity and are ready to take the next step in man's evolution. Yet something is holding them back from that; they want Alia to join them and hope they can find the redemption to move on. Alia, who learns what being in transcendence is like is not sure that is the road she wants to travel but to save humanity, she must allow the transcendence to bend space and time so that she can find answers that only Michael Poole can supply.
Told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Michael in the first person and Alia in the third readers get a close up look at humanity at two very different crossroads of its existence. This is a thought provoking exciting work of science fiction with visual description of radically different time frames that seem realistic to the audience. The finale to Destiny's Children trilogy is a very satisfying and enriching reading experience.
Perhaps the soul of this book is the Catholic Priest character, Rosa (of course the Vatican has lightened up on that male Priest thing), who tells us Federov drew on "Marxist historical determinism, socialist utopianism, and deeper wells of Slavic theology and nationalism to come up with a 'Cosmism,' which preached an ultimate unity between man and the universe." As you can see, Rosa has the soul of a GRE question writer on a bender at the Burning Man festival.
I love a rip-roaring space opera. I also love mind-bending far-future speculation. Unfortunately, this book is neither rip-roaring nor mind-bending. Take a pass.