Origin; Manifold 3 by Stephen Baxter

Another outing in Baxter’s ‘Manifold’ sequence, starting with the same main characters, but placing them in an entirely different situation – this time, catapulted via portal to a new Moon where different prehistoric species of human co-exist, not peacefully. Certainly not a read for the squeamish, life being nasty, brutish and short in prehistory, the puzzle of the book is how come these different species of hominid a) are where they are, and b) speak English (well, some of them, and after a fashion).

A third of the way through, the focus changes and we encounter another species of hominid, one that never evolved on our Earth but which has achieved civilisation and mastery of spatial manipulation. They lead the main characters into an examination of the mechanics of the mysterious moon and give us a pointer towards the underlying concepts of the whole series.

But be warned – there is no revelation. There is no mastermind behind the events of this novel and its two prequels. But there is a solution – one that involves another answer to the Fermi Paradox, one not often considered. And this is probably the novel where Baxter discovered a taste for writing about the deep past which he then explored further in his later novels such as ‘Evolution, the ‘Time’s tapestry’ series and the ‘Northland’ trilogy (as well as that one about the mammoths).

It’s not an easy read, and it does not present a neat and tidy package. But it is certainly thought-provoking.

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