Asteroid mining newbie Ivan Pritchard and the crew of the Mad Astra seem to have made the strike of a lifetime. But there is a mysterious artifact close by. When the crew investigates, Ivan triggers an ancient alien booby trap, and is changed into… something else.
The story is cleverly constructed and moves along briskly. I couldn’t put it down. While rather tightly focused on a small cast of characters, the scope quickly expands, encompassing broad themes of existence, self and societal viability. Fundamental questions about the Drake Equation and the Great Filter are asked, but without detracting from the enjoyable nature of the narrative. Unlike many authors who dabble in mysterious alien artifacts and “what do they want with us?”, Mr. Taylor manages to pull off a plausible and logical conclusion that does not smell of Deus ex Machina. The signs of ecological catastrophe on Earth, initially giving the impression of being just window dressing, also contribute to the urgency of the situation presented.
Manifold is not a series per se, but rather different explorations of the theme “Are we alone in the universe?”. In “Time”, a portal is discovered in the solar system, and some fascinating stuff happens related to preserving life and intelligence in the long term. In “Space”, The Fermi Paradox is suddenly reversed, with aliens appearing everywhere and the whole universe is just one big fight for resources, to the point of utter barbarism.
I had some nasty nightmares after these, which is why I will probably never read the third book, “Manifold: Origin”. On a certain level, this is very stuff, but not like a horror movie. It scares me on a very deep level that I can’t rationalize away. The same level that knows that the goody two-shoes future of Star Trek simply is not a realistic vision. Still, I would rather watch Star Trek since I don’t want to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, however good Baxter is. Read the books if you feel you can take it. They are very good and the themes and subjects are both engrossing and fascinating.