The very far future: The Galaxy is a drifting wreck of black holes, neutron stars, chill white dwarfs. The age of star formation is long past. Yet there is life here, feeding off the energies of the stellar remnants, and there is mind, a tremendous Galaxy-spanning intelligence each of whose thoughts lasts a hundred thousand years.
Proxima tells a few stories throughout, but the ultimate crux of it is the manned mission to Proxima Centauri, then the subsequent tangents that come from the great time spent developing their own world in small clusters there. The technical side of it is sound, it feels like Baxter knows what he’s talking about, which is all that really matters. He’s not talking about googly eyed alien fiends, so that’s a start.
And Yuri, the lead, is a good, interesting character, one of the main redeeming features of a book that is generally messy. Stories overlap, they’re clunky, they’re drawn out at times. Time itself is infinite, and surviving a few years in some undesirable situation needs fleshing out to reflect that timespan, that length. Much like Bono and his ever-powerful finger clicks, every time he clicks his fingers, four years has passed in one tiny sentence. It just passes. That’s it. The balance is off – excruciating detail is given to unnecessarily elements when the sheer span of the book (it literally goes over generations) is described as similarly as a Tuesday through to Thursday.
And the ambiguity of it is kind of infuriating. It was difficult to get so consumed in the reading that you’re swept along, speeding through the pages, so when you do finally reach the end, the fact he makes no attempt to really tie up anything is a pain. It’s the first in a series, seemingly, but that doesn’t mean you should treat it as one super long book and just cut it at a random point to build up tension without any resolution.
It looks from the cover like an intelligent sci-fi, and ultimately Proxima is smart and it’s well written, but it feels like he didn’t settle on one story and kind of jumped around without much care.