Spanning across eons, Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence is very unique take on a galactic war. It’s a universe where the humans were effectively a bit player, a minor faction at best. Oblivious to the greater war around them, as humanity’s power waxed and waned, two other species fought in a greater clash, slowly leading the galaxy to its heat death. Noted for its grand scale, mind expanding ideas and fascinating use of scientific concepts, it has become one of the essential hard science fiction series all should read alongside 2001. This latest release, Endurance, serves to combine a multitude of tales throughout the timeline, further expanding upon humanity’s plight in this setting.
The real strength of Endurance stems from the broad scale, with its stories covering everything from the life and death of a man in a unique world to one of disaster and survival. While still retaining a keen cerebral edge, there’s solid variety on offer here to keep any reader interested, with the gaps filled in via brief outlines of the decades passing. Much like Dune, it manages to accomplish a true sense of gradual progression and development over time. Rather than merely advancing or altering technology, each era feels gradually more alien than the last, and the themes on hand become truly fascinating. Starfall in particular stands out exceptionally well, and depicts Baxter’s ability to utilise more human and likable characters than novels often do when handling such massive concepts.
Despite spanning an era which the books have previously explored, with readers already knowing how certain key events will play out, there’s a sense of exploration here. The way certain events are worked through and tie into the varied themes of existence helps it work as its own microcosm to a degree. While some knowledge of outside events is certainly needed, it remains oddly open to new readers.
If there is one problem to cite, it’s more down to personal preference with Baxter’s writing style. Lacking some of the grandiose descriptions and vivid imagery other authors favour, it can be hard at times to truly imagine the futuristic scale or nature of these settings. As a result, it can be sometimes difficult to feel the full impact of the far off time the book depicts.
However, despite one minor hiccup this is a worthy entry into the Xeelee Sequence and a fantastic release for this year. If you’re in search of some gripping science fiction utilising big concepts and backed by brilliant writing, look no further than Endurance.
XEELEE ENDURANCE / AUTHOR: STEPHEN BAXTER / PUBLISHER: ORION BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 17TH