Stephen Baxter. Riding the Rock. PS Publishing, 2003.

I mentioned recently that Di Filippo’s ‘A Year in Linear City’ had set PS Publishing a high standard to maintain.

Baxter maintains that standard. The classy paperback (David Hardy artwork) reeks of class.

The story is one in Baxter’s Xeelee sequence, and does benefit from awareness of other stories, although this is not crucial. Baxter is a one of a (worringly) rare breed of SF writer – someone who is at ease with a galaxy- and millennia-spanning vision. This story takes place some tens of thousands of years after the previously PS-published ‘Reality Dust’ (reviewed below), and the Interzone-published ‘Cadre Siblings’ ([reviewed here]). If you nip over to the Best SF Gateway you will find links to a couple of Xeelee stories which are online – try the ‘On the Orion Line’ if you aren’t familiar with this story sequence.

Here Baxter looks at the price humanity has to pay to defend itself – to protect ourselves a species. But if we lose that which it is to be human in the process, then we have lost ourselves as a species even if we win the war.

Not the longest novella (in fact only a longish short story), but it packs a punch. This is a volume which would grace any SF reader’s shelves.

A teeny, weeny quibble though. In the space of a couple of pages Baxter talks about something being ‘not metres away’ – a clumsy phrase to read once, and to read twice in such a short space of time was a bit of a jangle. .

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