Manifold: Time is the first of the Manifold trilogy (so far) written by Stephen Baxter. In his previous series of books such as the Xeelee series (including Flux and Raft) Baxter has established himself as one of the newest and best hard science fiction authors. He has previously worked along side the Arthur C. Clarke in The Light of Other Days (another superb hard science fiction book).

Hard science fiction differs from the more "pulp" science fiction of space opera that many of us are familiar with. In hard science fiction, close detail is paid to the minute points of physics - this makes it a joy for geeks to read and sometimes a bore for others. These books often include significant appendixes or bibliographies citing where the debatable points of physics can be found and discussed. Other such writers include:

Several of the authors listed above have advanced degrees in astrophysics and other space sciences. Robert L. Forward especially is the most guilty of writing research paper with a plot rather than a work of science fiction with exacting details (personally, I love it that way).

So, Manifold: Time itself...

Drawing from a similar view of the world as his earlier book Titan (published 1998) we are presented with a world in which push for space has disappeared. NASA has become content with launching unmanned satellites and the space program is all but gone.

Reid Malenfant is the hero of the series - after failing to make it in NASA and disgusted with the loss of the stars he is working on getting there himself. In Manifold: Time he seeks to get to the Near Earth Asteroids and harvest materials. However, as part of his "back to space" attitude he has attracted many UFO types and some others. One of these others is Cornelius Taine, an eschatologist predicting the end of the world soon and even the colonization of the solar system and the rest of the galaxy is not enough to save humanity.

Reid has his fingers in things all across the world trying to bring his dream of back to the stars to fruition from special schools for a group of children who take the symbol of a blue circle and are incredibly gifted to teaching intelligent squid to pilot space craft (the 3-D sense being better than humans). In the process of exploring an asteroid hinted at by a message from the future he is given a glimpse of the end of the universe - and decides to go there himself - to the asteroid and to the end of the universe.

Though this is a trilogy, it is not necessary to read it in order - or all of them for that matter. Each book stands on its own (in many ways) introducing you cleanly to Reid Malenfant (the visionary) and his ex-wife Emma Stoney (very grounded woman) without requiring any knowledge from another book.

I highly recommend this book - it is fascinating reading with a multitude of plot lines that are clearly tied up at the end (though you keep guessing as to how). A must for any fan of hard science fiction. I dare not tell too much of the plot for fear of spoiling it - it is that good.

ISBN: 034543076