Evolution

Baxter, Stephen

Published by Del Rey
ISBN 10: 034545782X / ISBN 13: 9780345457820
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Synopsis: It’s the job of a science fiction writer to visualize extrapolations of the future. But there are those who go far beyond, venturing into realms of breathtaking science. That kind of cutting edge talent is as rare as a supernova—and, in its own way, just as powerful. Arthur C. Clarke had it. So did William Gibson. Now, with Evolution, Stephen Baxter delivers what is sure to be one of the most talked-about books of the year—and shows once again why he belongs among the select company of science fiction writers who matter.

Stretching from the distant past into the remote future, from primordial Earth to the stars, Evolution is a soaring symphony of struggle, extinction, and survival, a dazzling epic that combines a dozen scientific disciplines and a cast of unforgettable characters to convey the grand drama of evolution in all its awesome majesty and rigorous beauty.

Sixty-five million years ago, when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, lived a small mammal, a proto-primate of the species Purgatorius. From this humble beginning, Baxter traces the human lineage forward through time. The adventure that unfolds is a gripping odyssey governed by chance and competition, a perilous journey to an uncertain destination along a route beset by sudden and catastrophic upheavals. It is a route that ends, for most species, in stagnation or extinction. Why should humanity escape this fate?

A generation from today, a group of concerned scientists—distant descendants of that primitive Purgatorius—gathers on a remote island to discuss this very question. The ceaseless expansion of human civilization has triggered an urgent environmental crisis that must be solved now if the Earth is to survive as a place hospitable to human life. But just when a peaceful solution seems within reach, two acts of shocking violence set in motion a cataclysmic chain of events that will expose the limitations of human intellect and adaptability in the face of the blind and implacable processes of Darwin’s dangerous idea.

Review: Following up his cosmic Manifold series, Stephen Baxter peers back on a more prosaic history in the worthy yet uneven Evolution. The book is nothing less than a novelization of human evolution, a mega-Michener treatment of 65 million years starring a host of smart, furry primates representing Homo sapiens's ancestry. Each stage of our ancestry is represented by a character of progressively increasing intelligence, empathy, and brain size, who must survive predation and other perils long enough to keep the natural-selection ball rolling. While Baxter carefully follows some widely accepted theories of evolution--punctuated equilibrium, for instance--he also strays from the known in postulating air whales and sentient, tool-wielding dinosaurs. And why not? There's nothing in the fossil record to contradict his musings about those things, or about the first instances of mammalian altruism and deception, which he also lets us observe. From little Purga, a shrewlike mammal scurrying under the feet of ankylosaurs, all the way through Ultimate, the last human descendant, Baxter adds drama and a strong story arc to our past and future. But he spends too much time on details of the various prehumans' lives, which can become repetitive: fight, mate, die, ad infinitum. And readers eager for a science-fictional adventure will only find satisfaction in the posthuman chapters at the end. Despite these flaws, Evolution grips the attention with an epoch-spanning tale of the random changes that rule our genetic heritage. Recommended. --Therese Littleton

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Title: Evolution
Publisher: Del Rey
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: New

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