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Stephen Baxter and some thoughts about Galactic Evolution and Humanity's Ultimate Fate [Jul. 28th, 2009|10:17 am]
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I've recently finished reading Stephen Baxter's "Manifold: Time" (available as a free e-book from http://www.suvudu.com/freelibrary/ ) and "Manifold: Space" and they have inspired fresh thoughts about what humanity's place in the universe might be. The Manifold in the titles refers to the concept of multiple universes and divergent timestreams. "Time" focuses on one of these universes and humanity's near future exploration and manipulation of the universe and the basic principles underlying it while dealing with the seemingly inevitable doomsday scenario inherent in the supposition that if the humans alive today are in a random place in the whole human history timeline, chances are we are about halfway through it. And even if we manage to escape that doomsday and spread to the farthest reaches of this and other galaxies, humanity (and everything that we evolve into) must still somehow deal with the expanding universe and its eventual heat death. The three main characters in this story (including astronaut/space entrepreneur Reid Malenfant) go through a series of stargate-like devices that reveal the ultimate fate of the universe and all seems hopeless until the downstreamers (our descendants, who may be time travelers) reveal that they have a plan to reshape our evolution and the nature of the universe itself.

"Manifold: Space" focuses on a universe where humanity is not alone, where in fact life evolves in all sorts of places (even the moon). But the aliens are mostly really alien and can not or do not care about making meaningful contact with humanity (kind of like John Varley's Invaders). And some of them want to use our solar system as raw materials in a desperate, hopeless bid to outrace the periodic galactic extinctions caused by gamma ray bursts from binary neutron stars colliding and similar events. In this universe no sentient species is given the time needed to evolve on a truly galactic scale because of the extinction events. Everything seems fragmented and hopeless until one of the more advanced alien races reveals there is a galactic plan to escape one of the extinction events and thus gain time to evolve beyond them. And it turns out that humanity and an alternate version of astronaut Reid Malenfant has a part to play in that plan.

These books are like catnip to me and I can't wait to read the third one in the series, "Manifold: Origin." I've probably been curious about the eventual fate of humanity since I read John 14:2 in the Kings James Bible:

"In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you."

This helped me realize that there may be more to the world than what I'm thinking, feeling, and doing right now. Reading Issac Asimov's "I Robot" got me hooked on science fiction, in large part because I was fascinated by the concept of Asimov's robot evolution. Fred Saberhagen and his "Berserkers" advanced that concept more for me as well as Greg Bear's "Forge of God" and "Anvil of Stars."

I encountered similar concepts concerning humanity in other SF books. David Brin's "Uplift" books were a real eye-opener and mind-blower because of his concepts of technology driven-evolution and galactic migration towards becoming transhuman (transentient?). Vernor Vinge's "Marooned in Realtime" and its singularity meme gave me still more brain food. And Larry Niven's "Known Space" books dealt with these themes too. David Weber's "Dahok" series uses some of these themes in an optimistic, space opera fashion.

I know I'm forgetting many things that have influenced me on these subjects over the years. Over time I've seen these themes permeate the popular media. "The Sarah Conner Chronicles" was exploring the nature of machine evolution and humanity's response to it and "Battlestar Galactica's" finale gave a pessimistic, but still science-fictional solution to the "endless cycle of rises and falls of civilization" quandary. I like the fact that BGS's solution resonates with Baxter's "it doesn't matter if our specific civilization survives as long as civilization eventually survives" theme. Unlike Reid Malenfant, I'll probably never live to see the ulitmate fate of humanity, but I remain hopeful that we will have an ultimate fate, not just an unnoticed fall into oblivion.

[User Picture]From: trinfaneb
2009-07-30 02:29 am (UTC)
I get headaches reading some of the "big ideas" SF books, but Baxter goes down pretty smooth.

I give 50-50 odds between in the blink of an eye and a slow, painful end :)
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