Evolution – Stephen Baxter

Every now and again I am dumb enough to wish for something aloud. Sometimes when this happens I end up getting what I want, and end up severely regretting it.

Case in point, Stephen Baxter’s Evolution. There was once a point in my life where I might have said that this is the exact book I wanted. Now that I have read it, I am not sure.

Without giving away too much, Evolution is about evolution. It follows a romanticized account of certain species that ultimately gave way homo sapiens. That, unfortunately, is it for the spoiler free review.

There is a much easier synopsis of Evolution. Simply put, Baxter did an Olaf Stapeldon.

For those of you unfamiliar, Olaf Stapeldon was a philosopher and science-fiction writer who wrote sevral notable work. Two of these give a very rough sketch of future human history from a largely accurate scientific minded point of view. It makes for a fascinating read, although it is indeed rather dull. Way back when I read Olaf Stapeldon, I was well of two minds about the work. I wanted so much more from an already long read, and I couldn’t help but feel like so many of the interesting details were missing. I felt that Olaf merely wanted to be the executive producer of a much larger series of books, written by a bunch of other people.

And then Stephen Baxter came a long and wrote Evolution. I genuinely felt like Baxter must have felt exactly what I felt while reading Stapeldon. But once again I found myself of two minds about it. In the parts of the novel describing pre-humanity species, I frequently found that the descriptions were over anthropomorphized to an extent that annoyed me. I was a lot more interested in the post humanity parts, (and here I will struggle to describe the scenes for fear of ruining things) but found that the broader strokes of humanity’s journey were terribly under-described in the other direction. There were moments between one stage of humanity’s evolutionary journey and the next where I was painfully curious as to how they got from one to the other. But it just wasn’t described. What was instead described is the plot of a member of one of the two species going on a little journey that was, ultimately, pointless and anticlimactic. I wasn’t sure what point it served to the story.

In my personal life, I am very much a skeptic and an atheist. I believe in hum drum little lives that largely don’t go anywhere and, more often than not, nothing of note happens to us in these lives. But I frequently find that the best fiction is largely the opposite. The stories I appreciate most often have those larger notions of purpose and destiny. Bad for real life, good for fiction. Baxter misses that with his ending to this novel.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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