Star Dragon – Mike Brotherton

A long distance probe has captured footage of a mysterious moving object in the accretion disc of a collapsed star. It seems to be an energy being. An exploration spaceship travels across the stars to capture this interstellar phenomenon, dubbed a “Star Dragon”. The story played out against the background of the mission is a psychological drama starring the five human and one AI crewmembers of the ship. Adding to the poignancy of their fate is the fact that the ship travels close to the speed of light to SS Cygni, a binary system 245 light years from earth. The trip is only a subjective 2 years for the crew, but when they return five hundred years will have passed on Earth. They have to abandon their entire existence in order to go hunting the mysterious Star Dragon.

This is a very strong story which manages to escape the technobabble trap of many such efforts. The characters are few but strongly threedimensional, each seeking his or her own place in the universe. With technological progress moving fast, they all have to contend with their doubts about what place they will have in the future. Contrasted with medical immortality, this becomes a serious issue. Will the future have a place for the individuality of humanity, or are we doomed to be replaced by AIs that are better than we? And if that happens, will we transcend to a utopian existence free of want? Is that where we want to go? Star Dragon is cautiously optimistic, and yet raises many important questions about our future. It s a vast universe and eternity is a long long time. Who knows what we will find?

Manifold: Time and Manifold: Space – Stephen Baxter

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.