Vacuum Diagrams: Short Stories in the Xeelee Sequence Paperback – 1998
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Top Customer Reviews
CONS: Writing style is a bit dry
BOTTOM LINE: Great collection of related stories.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of related stories set in Baxter's Xeelee Universe.
The memorable things about Baxter's stories are not so much his characters, nor his writing style, which is a somewhat stiff, but rather his ideas. Each story contained in this collection contains some form of scientific concept that defies any simple comprehension due to sheer scale, large and small. Sometimes travel spans universes, sometimes beings are microscopic in size, and sometimes artifacts are light years wide. Baxter's signature hard science is present here in a big way.
The stories average 14 pages in length but are packed with all these ideas. Many of the stories, spanning 5 million years, reference the same events or reference each other, which is always a secret thrill for a science fiction reader.
One huge plus in Vacuum Diagram's is the Xeelee Sequence Timelins listed at the back of the book. This makes it prerequisite reading for anyone wishing to dive into Baxter's 4 Xeelee novels (in Xeelee Universe order: Timelike Infinity, Raft, Flux and Ring).
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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
This compilation of Baxter's short stories comprising the Xeelee Sequence is awesome in scope, but at times too heady. Read morePublished on April 27 2003 by Roger Deforest
This novel is long, and it does get dry at some times, but some of the stories are remotely interesting. Read morePublished on June 24 2002 by P. Falk
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. Read morePublished on June 18 2002 by Armando L. Franco Carrillo
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. Read morePublished on May 13 2002 by R. D. Waters
When I first read stephen baxter's book "Time Ships", I was very satisfied with it. It has grandiose theme and very intriguing. Read morePublished on Jan. 11 2002 by Agus Wahjuamarto
I am an avid reader of science fiction but somehow Baxter had slipped under my radar until now. I picked up this book on a whim in the paperback section of a supermarket of all... Read morePublished on Sept. 6 2001 by Vincent