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Vacuum Diagrams: Short Stories in the Xeelee Sequence [Paperback]

3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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At the instant of his birth, a hundred impressions cascaded over him. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Big Chunks of SF Goodness Nov. 22 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
First off, I the only reason I didn't give this book 5 stars is because, like others have said in their reviews, character development is kind of lax. In Baxter's defense however, the story is told in little vignettes spanning 5 million years. Of course you're going to have to leave old characters behind and introduce new ones. In my opinion, he does a passable - but not outstanding - job of character development.
You don't need a degree in physics or quantum mechanics to understand the concepts Baxter presents, but an "armchair" familiarity with these disciplines will help. Still, Baxter does a very good job explaining difficult concepts within the stories. The scope of the overall story arc is amazing and it left me with a very warm feeling and a little more optimistic opinion about Humanity's future. For a scientist come late to writing, Baxter has achieved far more, in my opinion, than most of his hard SF contemporaries.
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Format:Mass Market Paperback
This compilation of Baxter's short stories comprising the Xeelee Sequence is awesome in scope, but at times too heady. For me the book began to pick up steam with the last few stories, when there is a nice balance between plot and science lesson. This is real HARD SF! Baxter knows his physics and quantum mechanics, and uses them bravely throughout the book. It's not an easy read, but, if anything, will leave you contemplating its many themes and ideas.
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3.0 out of 5 stars possibly? June 24 2002
By P. Falk
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This novel is long, and it does get dry at some times, but some of the stories are remotely interesting. I liked parts of the book, (it's made of 23 short stories SB wrote and published in magazines.) but the characters were constantly being throw out, leaving you wondering: why? Overall, I use this book as a guide of what NOT to do to a character in a novel, but it also gives you an okay, and somewhat comprehensive idea of what quantum physics are about. Read Hawking's "Brief History of Time" for clarification on some points. I just don't understand what some stories had to do with the novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Introduction to Baxter's Mithology. June 18 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I started backwards. I think I should have read first this book and then gone to Flux, Ring and other Baxter's novels, but I started by Ring. I specially liked its first chapter, and then I discovered it was originally a short story, contained in this book.
I have to concur with other reviewers: I like the science in Baxter's books, even if sometimes he is too dense. The four stars come from this. Sometimes the main interest lies not on the plot, but in the ideas presented.
Why should you read it? Standalone, it is interesting. In the Xeelee Universe, this book gives the background to others, through its short stories. I finally understood why the Xeelee Ring is associated with a human name, and some other details about the Xeelee and other races.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mindbending ideas, tedious execution May 13 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I really liked parts of this book, but it was a struggle to keep going. Finally, with about 20 percent to go, I gave up when yet ANOTHER new character was introduced. The concepts are big and bold and almost always interesting, but the characters and storylines cannot carry it off. I really wanted the author to succeed, but after this attempt I doubt I'll ever try another one of his works.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Great ideas, weak stories Jan. 25 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I leave this book wondering how anybody could top it. It ends, literally, with the very last humans in the universe managing to leave the universe itself, through an artifact (the "Ring" of an earlier novel) thousands of light-years across. I don't think anybody will surpass the boldness of Baxter's imagination.
A previous reviewer mentioned that the characters are flat. So they are, but I think that really doesn't matter in this type of fiction, which instead offers mind-bending ideas, exciting struggles, etc. However, I have other issues with the book. It took a second reading before I realized that the stories aren't really stories, but more like series of events. They end with some wild idea or image (that the people depicted are about 1/20,000 of an inch tall, for example, or that a character literally doesn't have a past). There is nothing that makes you care what happens next. Of course, the book alludes huge struggles between immensely powerful races, which would work well to advance the plot (see Lord of the Rings), except we don't actually see the struggle. At one stage in the sequence, humans vie with the Xeelee for mastery of the universe, but we never see that struggle. Instead, we see very, very minor, incidental events.
Another qualm is that the science comes very close to hokum, at least partially, on a second reading. A computer driven mad by "quantum loneliness"? Baxter goes for the "gee whiz" without really earning it. The best hard science fiction (Benford's Eater, or Cosm, for example) doesn't just invoke science, it absorbs it and works within it. The result can create wonder, not just at the writer's imagination, but at the world itself.
Telling stories set against a vast backdrop is not easy.
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