Review: Proxima / Author: Stephen Baxter / Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: September 19th
“A sentient mind refuses to be confined by the parameters of programming,” one of the characters in this book comments. It's a remark that could serve as an epigraph for all of Stephen Baxter's richly imaginative novels. In his latest, a group of misfits are hauled against their will light years through space to a red dwarf named Proxima Centauri and then stranded on its only habitable planet, Proxima-c. Apart from the fact that it supports life, almost nothing is known about this enigmatic world: what we have here is a hasty, bungled, under-researched interstellar land-grab, and for the hapless colonisers it's a case of sink or swim.
Initially, the main danger to the humans is from themselves, as psychoses and petty jealousies flare into violence, but slowly a few adapt to their surroundings, tilling soil that was never meant for Earth crops. Yes, slowly – because this is a leisurely paced novel, one that mimics the stately rhythms of old cowboy films about the Oregon Trail. It's not without incident though, and Baxter plays with the reader's preconceptions by springing a few Lost-style twists further down the line.
In the meantime, Proxima-c gradually reveals its wonders to the colonists. Chief among these are the Builders, busy little critters who play a vital role in managing the planet's scarce water supply. There's a real beauty and excitement to Baxter's writing as he describes the antics of these delightful creatures, and it's passages like these that make this new fictional journey thoroughly worthwhile.