Mayflower II by Baxter, Stephen, 2004

Mayflower II by Baxter, Stephen - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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I have never been a big fan of Stephen Baxter, but I cant think of any reason to dislike him either. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised when I read his 2004 novella, Mayflower II. For those of you familiar with Baxter's work, you will recognize elements of his Xeelee sequence, particularly references to Michael Poole from, I am told, Transcendent. Based on the strength of this novella, I am certain I will seek out and purchase more Baxter works.

Since I don't know much about Baxter's Xeelee sequence, its hard for me to tell you how it fits in with those other numerous books. On its own however, it does shine pretty brightly. It is the story of a generational slowboat ship on the run from a very repressive government called the Coalition that takes power after defeating the Qax, an alien race that had dominated humanity for some thousands of years. The inhabitants of this ship are the descendants of 1000 citizens of an ice ball called Port Sol whose leaders had collaborated with the Qax. The Coalition wants the heads of Port Sol's five near-immortal human leaders (made immortal by the Qax in exchange for complicity in Qax doings and desires) for that crime. However, the story really belongs to Rusel, one of the crew made immortal by Andres, one of the five, and is partly about his maturity from someone with an outsider mentality to a God-like ruler, and partly about the power of genes to reproduce themselves.

Andres and her group of neo-immortals, including Rusel, decide early on that they need to be very hands on so that the crew doesn't drift into laziness and die in their petri-dish in space. Their proposed journey is to one of the Milky Way's satellites, over 26,000 light years and more than 50,000 years away. At the start of the voyage Rusel is troubled by the way that he and virtually everyone else on the ship fought and killed to get to the ship in time before the invading force arrived. Rusel, you see, is a bit of a worry-wort. He does do some pretty bad things to survive, but never reconciles any of it with the fact that he did survive. Ask yourself these questions: Is it worth it to hit someone with a car to get to the ship, when the government has already condemned that person to die? Is it worth it to leave a girlfriend to face the invaders while you leave? Should Rusel accept a medical treatment that will result in permanent separation from family he has on the ship? While these questions may pose moral conundrums, they are not entirely difficult to answer, especially in the heat of the moment. Rusel, however, does not realize this until almost 24,000 years have passed, and the crew has evolved into a new species of man that is closer to chimps than us. He watches the cruelty that they can inflict on each other, and decides that none of it really matters. Its just the genes job to copy themselves, and not to worry about what their vessels do in the meantime.

In addition the the various musings on what it means to be a human, Baxter does give us some interesting views on the evolution of linguistics, culture, society, and ultimately species when in a very enclosed space. These things are played out slowly (or rather, as slowly as possible in a 24,000 word novella), so I wont to into a lot of detail here. You should enjoy it all though. Baxter even manages to work a hydraulic despot or two into this story.

This work is available as a hardbound chapbook novella, or it can be found in Garnder Dozois' 2005 volume (the 22nd).

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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