World Engines: Destroyer by Stephen Baxter
|World Engines: Destroyer by Stephen Baxter|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: Alex Mitchell|
|Summary: Baxter’s worldbuilding and characters shine though to create an engaging story, despite some issues with pacing.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 576||Date: September 2019|
|External links: Author's website|
The last thing Colonel Reid Malenfant remembers is his Space Shuttle crashing - until he wakes up in the mid-25th Century, on an Earth massively depopulated and patiently waiting for the coming apocalypse. Suffering from severe culture shock, he tries to adjust to this new world. But all of this is changed when he receives a message from his wife Emma...who died on a mission to Phobos all the way back in 2004. As it slowly dawns on him that their timelines don't match up, he resolves to find a way to Phobos. But, this new society doesn't believe in space travel and no-one is willing to help him, until he meets a driven young woman who desperately wants to explore as much as he does...
The protagonist of the book is Colonel Reid Malenfant, USAF and former NASA Space Shuttle pilot, who has been awakened from a rudimentary cryonic suspension and experiencing a severe case of culture shock in the mid-25th Century. He has been awakened because his wife Emma, although apparently from a different timeline, requires rescuing from Phobos, where she is believed to have died in 2004. Malenfant is accompanied on his mission by Bartholemew, a medical android with a particularly caustic sense of humour, and Greggson Deirdre, a childishly enthusiastic yet ambitious young woman who desires to see what lies beyond Earth. While Malenfant is the viewpoint character for the vast majority of the book, Deirdre is quite obviously the heroine, since she is the one who makes most of the decisions and the different sections of the book refer to ‘her’ not ‘him’.
The setting is really interesting, because not only is it set in the future, it’s also set in multiple alternate histories. In Malenfant’s home universe, Neil Armstrong died of a heart attack on the moon, which spurred a new wave of funding to NASA. As such, the design of the Saturn V was modified to enable interplanetary travel (an idea known as the Saturn C-5 that was designed, but never put into production due to funding cuts), putting men on Mars by 1985. The design of the Space Shuttle is different too, with the SRBs and fuel tank instead being replaced by another Space-Shuttle-shaped booster that gets to orbit on its own power, and has been in service since at least 1978 and has clocked in over 700 missions. Emma’s timeline, meanwhile, is broadly similar to our own, except that a joint American-Russian manned mission to Phobos was launched in 2004 (which Emma was on). As for the future segments, Earth has been taken over by a movement known as the Common Heritage, which declared an end to all space travel and colonisation, leaving the various bases to be managed by the Planetary AIs. There are also massive reforestation projects underway, with the Sahara desert now being entirely green, mostly to offset the massive amount of carbon dioxide that has been dumped into the atmosphere. Humanity now numbers less than a billion people. Also, they managed to discover Planet 9, known as Persephone (which plays a significant role later on in the book), and an object known as Shiva, the titular destroyer, which is estimated to arrive in less than a thousand years. The rich world building is by far one of the best things about the book.
My biggest gripe with the book is the pacing. At nearly six hundred pages long, and split into five different sections, you would imagine that there would be plenty of action to pack in wouldn’t you? Wrong. The first section (which takes up about half the damn book, mind you) details Malenfant awakening and adjusting to life in this new world, and aside from that nothing much happens (the only halfway interesting bit id when Malenfant acts up in order to get the news’s attention). While admittedly it does well to build the world of 25th Century Earth and how their society functions, it still doesn’t change how frustratingly slow the beginning is. The mission to Phobos to retrieve Emma doesn’t start until the second section, and after that the book becomes so much more gripping.
In conclusion, despite a sluggishly slow beginning, Baxter’s worldbuilding and characters shine through to create an engaging story.
Similar books by other authors:
Ultima by Stephen Baxter – one of Baxter’s previous works.
Existence by David Brin - a similarly comprehensive portrait of a future world, although it takes place in the mid-21st century rather than the mid-25th.
The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter - the officially-sanctioned sequel to War of the Worlds
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Lesley Mason said:
Just finished reading this...and I loved it! For lovers of space opera there is absolutely no problem of pacing. If you’re looking for action-packed, then no this isn’t the one for you, but in terms of a slow-burn, alternate pasts meshing with alternate futures, solidly science-based speculation this is Sci-fi at its absolute best – with the emphasis on the Sci. I won’t even pretend to have understood half of the theory that went into this, but Baxter gives his sources for those who can. SFX in their endorsement use the word ‘grandeur’ and that is well-earned. Visualise the long slow understanding. Because understanding is long and slow. And then you get it. I’d have given it the full 5*