“Reading Manifold: Time is like sending your mind to the gym for a brisk workout. If you don’t feel both exhausted and exhilirated when you’re done, you haven’t been working hard enough.”—The New York Times Book Review
The year is 2010. More than a century of ecological damage, industrial and technological expansion, and unchecked population growth has left the Earth on the brink of devastation. As the world’s governments turn inward, one man dares to envision a bolder, brighter future. That man, Reid Malenfant, has a very different solution to the problems plaguing the planet: the exploration and colonization of space. Now Malenfant gambles the very existence of time on a single desperate throw of the dice. Battling national sabotage and international outcry, as apocalyptic riots sweep the globe, he builds a spacecraft and launches it into deep space. The odds are a trillion to one against him. Or are they?
“A staggering novel! If you ever thought you understood time, you’ll be quickly disillusioned when you read Manifold: Time.”—Sir Arthur C. Clarke
Baxter is well known for both realistic near-future, alternate-history novels (Voyage) and the wildest sort of hard-science speculation (Flux; Timelike Infinity). In this first volume in his Manifold trilogy, he combines both types of story, beginning with what appears to be the straightforward tale of Reid Malenfant, a millionaire industrialist who tries to circumvent a near-moribund NASA and start his own on-the-cheap space program. Things soon take a strange turn, however, when Malenfant receives evidence both that humanity will be wiped out within the next 200 years and that proof of this claim can be found on a near-Earth asteroid named Cruithne. Throw in a race of mutant, starfaring squid; the sudden appearance on Earth of children with superhuman intelligence and a mysterious connection to the artifact Malenfant finds on Cruithne; a Cook's tour of literally hundreds of alternate universes; and a spectacularly unsuccessful romance with at least two endings, and you've got a novel that's as overgrown as it is misshapen. Baxter is the equal of Gregory Benford or Greg Bear when it comes to describing spectacular astronomical phenomena and truly weird science, and he shares with Arthur C. Clarke and Olaf Stapledon the ability to portray enormous vistas of time and space to great effect, but his characters can be clumsily drawn and his plots unwieldy. The first half of this novel could easily have been cut by 50 pages or so with little loss. Still, faults aside, there's plenty here to spark the veteran SF reader's sense of wonder.