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Exultant Mass Market Paperback – Oct 25 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Military SF fans will relish the second entry in Baxter's Destiny's Children trilogy, set long after the events recounted in 2003's Coalescent. When navy pilot Pirius and his crew violate protocol during a skirmish with the alien Xeelee and end up capturing a ship from "mankind's most ancient and most powerful foe," instead of accolades, two versions of Pirius—Pirius Red and Pirius Blue, from different time lanes—receive punishment. Pirius Red accompanies the eccentric Nilis (we know he's odd because he never wears shoes) to the Earth system to research the captured ship and concoct a way to end the war, while Pirius Blue is sent in disgrace to the Xeelee front for army combat training. As Pirius Red explores the solar system, picking up clues to create a strategy to defeat the Xeelee by striking at their home system, Pirius Blue narrowly escapes death in combat and grows into a leader. Both come to question the doctrines that guide their lives as they realize the extent of their military conditioning. Weak characterization mars an otherwise well-told story as fast-paced action sequences flip to long, dry discussions about physics. Not content with one drop-dead hard-science idea, Baxter concatenates them, one building on the other; even his aliens represent ideas. Female readers may wish the author would take some lessons on portraying romance from Sharon Shinn.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School–In humankind's Third Expansion, the species has spread throughout the galaxy and assimilated all challengers but the mysterious Xeelee; in a 20,000-year stalemate, humans have kept them at bay in the galaxy's center. Time travel (used by both sides to gather intelligence) creates numerous "drafts" of time lines, but apart from this uncertainty the endless war has brought about a strangely static human society. Soldiers and pilots are bred in vats near the Front and taught only war; few survive past their teens. When Prius, a young pilot, captures a Xeelee ship and takes it to the recent past for study, an innovative program is begun to develop new weapons technology. While Prius Blue (the pilot from the future time line, now stuck in this one) is sent to the Front, the younger Prius Red (from this time line) must travel throughout the solar system with an eccentric but brilliant scientist in a quest for knowledge needed for the anti-Xeelee weapon. Working with widely differing elements of society, Red learns many secrets he'd rather not know, adjusts to new knowledge, and grows into a leadership role: he heads up Exultant, the elite squadron tasked with deploying the new weapon. Even in a genre characterized by unfettered imagination, Baxter's future universe is extraordinary in its depth, breadth, and richness of invention. Cutting-edge physics, subtle humor, time-travel paradoxes, and loopy twists combine to give readers a wonderfully original sci-fi experience. It can be read independently of Coalescent (Ballantine, 2004), which is set in the same universe but mostly in the present age.–Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
A young man named Pirius is the commanding officer on a ship, deep in the heart of of the galaxy. The Xeelee, a powerful alien race bent on human destruction, have attacked and destroyed Pirius's home base and killed everyone on board. Pirius's only chance now is to escape to the one place left for him to go: the past. He travels back in time a whole 2 years to warn himself of the upcomming attack. Instead of being welcomed as a savior, Pirius (Blue) gets arrested and sent to a forced labor camp for disobeying orders to hold the line in the future attack of his base.
The younger Pirius (Pirius Red) gets ejected from his academy for his future crime, but is luckily rescued from sharing older Pirius's fate. An old scientist/ecologist named Nilis takes Pirius Red back to the Sol system in an attempt to find out how to stop the ensueing destruction of the Human race at the hands of this relentless enemy.
Stephen Baxter takes us to a human hive colony on Mars, an ancient multi-dimentional labratory on one of Jupiters moons, and even a long forgotten cloning facility on Pluto where an ancient alien race has been rivived for study under the watchful eyes of some rather eccentric scientists. All in all, the book is a fantastic sci-fi acion adventure novel, with enough real quantum-physics and enough pseudo-science to keep you science buffs happy.
I highly recommend this to any sci-fi/techno-fic fan.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
That said, I was just a little disappointed in Exultant. The theme of a stagnant civilization delivered from entropy by the heroic actions of the protagonist has been visited too many times in this genre. As with all of Mr. Baxter's works there is no shortage of thought-provoking ideas, but this work failed to integrate the ideas. The exposition of the true nature of the black hole at the center of the galaxy just didn't work--by the time our hero makes his fateful choice this reader didn't have enough invested in the whole question to really make a value judgment, which seemed to be the whole purpose of the work.
The galactic civilization stuff has been done before. Coalescent was brilliant: made you really think about issues of human evolution and possibility. Exultant would get a much higher review had I not been familiar with Mr. Baxter's other works. He remains on my "must purchase" list and I will anxiously await his next effort.
As usual, the physics is great. This is hard SF at its best. The most interesting parts are a back story introduced in the last third of the book consisting of very brief chapters interposed between the chapters of the main story. These tell a cosmological story of the birth of the universe and the birth of life. Along the way these brief interludes address the anthropic principle, the matter-antimatter disequilibrium, symmetry breaking and many other issues currently the subject of intense study and speculation in modern cosmology and physics.
However, the physics aside, the main story itself is just OK. Since it takes place in Baxter's familiar universe at a specified time (approximately 20,000-25,000 years in the future), from Baxter's other writings that describe events that transpire up to millions of years in the future, we know that there are constraints on how the story must end. The main characters are not so believable nor is the core around which the book is written - the idea that mankind has stagnated intellectually, socially and technologically to the extent described in the book. Nor is the idea that Nilis, who is a sort of muddled mid-level governmental functionary, can interpret old "lost" scientific literature and new scientific data to reach conclusions far advanced beyond those of his contemporary scientists that are as novel and earthshaking as those of Einstein 20,000 years ago. But maybe these are quibbles. Baxter is still a great writer and his Xeelee universe/future history is still fascinating. I look forward to the last in this series to come, and still regard Baxter as one of the best currently writing hard SF. Exultant just wouldn't be the one that I recommend to someone to introduce them to his writing.
Baxter is a man of ideas, but it seems he is too busy pondering grand concepts to put them in the proper context of a good story. There are truly mind-boggling concepts; even too many, it seems, because some have barely a page or two of development. The most extreme was 'Concept space', a mind-boggling concept which is used merely to provide a deus ex machina solution to the protagonists.
If at least the hard SF was solid enough despite the weak plot... As it happens, some concepts are hastily thrown together, then conveniently circumvented when they are no longer required. The whole "FTL Foreknowledge" concept, for instance, at the heart of the story, can be waived by the author when he needs the protagonists to fool the Xeelee. Their solution? Use the time-honored but 'risky' 'anti-Tolman manoeuver', which is never explained nor used again. Sigh.
Another pet peeve I simply cannot let pass: Commissary Nilis. Nowhere is this guy made sympathetic, with his bumbling attitude, his obvious lack of oratory skills, his habit of walking barefoot everywhere and his smelly feet and armpits(!) Yet he is seen more often than any of the main characters, because he can send Virtuals of himself to annoy all of them at every corner of the Galaxy at the same time. Whenever he let slip a 'My eyes!', I was ready to gouge my own out of their sockets.
If you're wondering whether to pick up this book because it is the sequel to 'Coalescent', then don't. Only passing references are made to Coalescent, and the difference in quality between the two books is such that it seems Exultant was written by a 13 year-old who got excited at reading Coalescent.
If you must read a Stephen Baxter book, there are much better ones than this one. Coalescent and Manifold:Time are both excellent Baxter novels. This one is not.
I think Exultant is a fine addition to the lot, and I think Exultant is tying "Coalescent" into the rest of the whole long Xeelee thing...
Also I started with "Vacuum Diagrams" and then worked my way through Baxter's other Xeelee books. So in reading more of his stories, I was frequently encountering things which had been mentioned in passing before in other books, but finally got their full treatment in the story at hand.
This is one of his trademarks that I like a lot. His overall framework, the whole Xeelee thing from the beginning to the end of the universe, is consistent enough, and yet loose enough, to allow further "zooming in" on details (and even improving the physics, as realtime passes out here and more is discovered that relates to the concepts used in the stories), without having to contradict the main history timeline.
So in Exultant we learn some more about the early days of the universe, and the Xeelee, and it doesn't really contradict his earlier books, just goes beyond them in specificity and detail.
And vice versa, in Exultant someone takes a side trip to a world of "reality dust" to find a super weapon.... well, zingo, soon after reading that, I ordered a copy of "Reality Dust" itself and read the original about the reality dust thing. Plus it got its start in one short story episode that's also in Vacuum Diagrams.
(even getting to read Flux, and Raft, AFTER Vacuum Diagrams, Ring, and Timelike Infinity, rather than before them, was an extra pleasure to me, since I read them in reverse order from how he wrote them, yet they still hang together well)
So part of the pleasure in reading was to hit something briefly in Vacuum Diagrams, then see a lot more of its consequences in Exultant, and finally pull back to fill in the details in Reality Dust.... and all this is just one minor twisty turny quirk, in his overall huge universal saga.
Also I suspect that one Baxter presumably Xeelee book I see on Amazon but HAVEN'T read yet (I guess it's out of print?), "Riding the Rock", may actually fill in the details, of the origin of the base on the asteroid, and the recurring name of their commander, which has persisted on its mission for generations, used by the Exultant team....