In the mid-21st century, the Kernel, a strange object on a five-hundred-year-orbit, is detected coming from high above the plane of the solar system. Could it be an alien artefact? In the middle of climate-change crises, there is no mood for space-exploration stunts – but Reid Malenfant, elderly, once a shuttle pilot and frustrated would-be asteroid miner, decides to go take a look anyway. Nothing more is heard of him. But his ex-wife, Emma Stoney, sets up a trust fund to search for him the next time the Kernel returns . . .
By 2570 Earth is transformed. A mere billion people are supported by advanced technology on a world that is almost indistinguishable from the natural, with recovered forests, oceans, ice caps. It is not an age for expansion; there are only small science bases beyond the Earth. But this is a world you would want to live in: a Star Trek without the stars.
After 500 years the Kernel returns, and a descendant of Stoney, who Malenfant will call Emma II, mounts a mission to see what became of Malenfant. She finds him still alive, cryo-preserved . . . His culture-shock encounter with a conservative future is entertaining . . . But the Kernel itself turns out to be attached to a kind of wormhole, through which Malenfant and Emma II, exploring further, plummet back in time, across five billion years . . .
You can rely on Stephen Baxter to come up with solid science fiction that does everything you'd expect a bit of classic sci-fi to do.
This is space opera on a vast scale, backed up by Baxter's customary impressive research as he seamlessly weaves planetary exploration, genome reconstruction, climate change, artifi cial intelligence and much more into the compulsively readable narrative. The opening volume of a projected series, it's Baxter at his very best.
It's another triumph for Baxter. A page turner that not only fascinates on an intellectual level, but on a science fiction thriller level too.
Hard SF science smarts... yet is great fun too.