Saturday, June 02, 2007

Evolution by Stephen Baxter - my late review

I read Stephen Baxter's Evolution over a year ago. It was a chance discovery at the local library; I got rather more than I'd expected. I was a bit stunned after I finished it, but the story stayed with me. Life flew by though, and the book was long returned. I couldn't remember who wrote it, and Google was, oddly, no help at all. Apparently the book was not as famous as it deserved to be -- I couldn't find it amongst the chaos.

Today I again came across it in the library. I resolved to write an Amazon review of what was clearly an undeservedly neglected book. To my surprise I found 60 reviews ahead of me and a all-but-five star rating, with reviewers deploring the five star limit. I am hopeful that book is now being rediscovered. Despite the crowd, I added my review (reissued here): Reviews for Evolution: Books: Stephen Baxter

... I'm pleased to see that Baxter's book has earned such high ratings. It's little known, but it's one of the most remarkable books of the past decade. It deserves to be read.

It's not a comforting book, which is perhaps why it's not a best seller. On the other hand it's entertaining, even to the very end of the end. It's profoundly educational, without being didactic. If you read this book carefully, you'll understand natural selection and evolution in a new and deep way. If I were teaching an undergraduate class in introductory biology I'd make this a required text.

Like all of Baxter's books it's also a rich source of ideas. Do you think there's only been one self-aware, sentient, animal in all of evolutionary history? Baxter will make you wonder about that. In retrospect, it seems rather unlikely that we're the first to think about past, future and fate -- though we are probably the first and last to drain the earth of fossil fuels. He deals with that too.

Memorable. Educational. Disturbing. Hardly an inviting description, but it is very readable, quite entertaining, and certainly unforgettable. You can read some escapist fiction (escape from what?!) and feel you're being scholarly as well...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was depressed for almost 2 weeks after finishing it because ultimately, it made too much sense. Yes, it's a work of fiction, but what he gave us is a heck of a lot more probable than what my religion's been giving me all these years.