Proxima by Stephen Baxter

Gollancz, 2013, 485 p.

Proxima cover

Proxima is set in the mid-twenty second century after the Heroic Generation has been demonised in retrospect. Yuri Eden was cryogenically stored by his parents till better times arrived. He wakes up on the Ad Astra, a starship bound for Proxima Centauri, one of many caught up in a sweep (press-ganged) to provide colonists for an Earth-like planet tide-locked to that system’s third sun.

Meanwhile back in the solar system — where, on Mercury, mysterious artefacts known as kernels have been discovered and are proving a revolutionary power source — Stephanie Penelope Kalinski is forging her career as a physicist.

Life on Proxima c, dubbed Per Ardua by the colonists, is harsh and brutal. Soon, out of his group of thirteen colonists, only Yuri and Mardina Jones, a ship’s officer of Australian aboriginal lineage, delegated/dragooned/abandoned by her commander to fill a gap in the manifest as the best genetically diverse replacement available, are left, along with an AI robot known as a ColU. Together they watch the local life forms – stick-like creatures they call builders – while trying to scratch a living from the surface. Despite mutual misgivings they have a daughter, whom they name Beth. Despite strict orders to remain where they were set down they have to migrate as their water source – a lake – is moved by the builders. Eventually, meeting other groups along the way they gravitate towards the point on the Per Ardua’s surface immediately below the sun.

On Mercury a further apparently alien device is discovered under a hatch in the bedrock. When it’s opened Stephanie finds a twin, Penelope Dianne, previously unknown to her, and her name has become Stephanie Karen, but everyone else thinks this is how it has been all along. The hatch has altered reality, created ragged edges like Steph’s memories or her mother’s headstone where Steph’s original name remains inscribed. The hatch sequences were somewhat reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke’s The Sentinel (which provided the germ for 2001: A Space Odyssey.) The link between the two narratives is then established.

This is all good, solid Science-Fictional stuff but the characters are not very engaging, limited in scope, mostly at the mercy of the plot, present only to push the story along.

Pedant’s corner:- The edition I read was a proof copy so some of these may have been corrected in the final printing. “People moving around him wearing in green shirts and hygiene caps and masks” (wearing in?) like cvNissan huts (Nissen huts – unless Baxter is essaying a pun.) “A women” (woman,) “‘And we are going -’ He pointed straight up … There.’” (that’s a continued sentence the “he” should not be capitalised,) “she understood that that the” (only one “that”,) “from Earth and moon” (traditionally Earth’s [principal] satellite is afforded proper noun status, Moon.) “The throng gathering …. were” (the throng was,) “not as fast as it would in Earth” (on Earth.) “He’d known here on Mars,) He’d known her on Mars,) “a position were the cuffs” (where the cuffs,) focussed (x2, focused,) “‘..what time it be when’” (time will it be when .) “In her dreams she had been the one seprated from the rest, in her dreams.” (repetition of “in her dreams” is unnecessary.) “The ColU continued to stress was that the” (no “was” needed.) “‘Waiting for the prize, where you?’” (were you,) “‘its relationship, of any,’” (if any,) a paragraph start doubly indented, fit (fitted,) “had been the only way route by which she” (either way or route, not both,) “‘they’ve been are about us’” (either ‘they’ve been’ or ‘they are’, not ‘they’ve been are’,) “the ancient impact created shattered the bedrock” (“created” is redundant,) “the further Proxima rise in the sky” (rose,) put-puts (putt-putts,) “a party of four of them … made their way” (a party made its way.) “On the wall opposite other was some kind of” ) on the wall opposite was some kind of,) antennas (antennae.) “There hadn’t been much opportunities” (‘There hadn’t been much opportunity’, or, ‘There hadn’t been many opportunities’.) None of their families were here” (None of their families was here,) Secretary Generals (Secretaries General,) grills (grilles,) “that the languages of widely scattered groups was so consistent” (either ‘language’, or, ‘were so consistent’,) “of the species and their culture” (its culture,) Lu (elsewhere Liu.) “A couple of crew members were” (a couple was,) “‘will be like atomised when we lift’” (no need for the ‘like’,) “there was no point holding their breath” (breaths.)

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