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Would you try another book from Stephen Baxter and/or Kyle McCarley?
When you buy a Stephen Baxter book you know certain things about the plot; it will span generations and end in an astronomical catastrophe. A new technological development will enable new expansion, usually spearheaded by a billionaire philanthropist. The West will be thrown into rivalry with China; the Chinese will always be repressed statists with a penchant for heavy engineering. A Machiavellian AI has its own plans for humanity. The ending will be a let down.
Ultima breaks none of these Baxterisms, and indeed seems to borrow many of them directly from his earlier books. But I wanted a moderately listenable doorstop to entertain me on long bus rides, and with Baxter that's exactly what you get (and no more).
What was most disappointing about Stephen Baxter’s story?
Baxter often likes to mess about with parallel worldlines, and Ultima is no exception; but here he seems to have gone for the utter laziest of possible worlds. We are first introduced to the inevitable Roman empire which never fell, which (of course) seems like a carbon-copy of the Empire of the 3rd century, despite its possession of interstellar spacecraft. Baxter has done precisely zero work extrapolating the historical, technological and social development of Rome. This gets even worse when we're later introduced to an Incan empire which never fell - an empire powerful enough to /disassemble the Moon/ into a giant space habitat but which still fights with swords and spears. Again, they appear to be a carbon-copy of the Empire of the 15th century; Baxter has done precisely zero work extrapolating the historical, technological and social development of Cuzco.
Having destroyed the Earth in Proxima (those damnable Chinese!) and then the inner Solar System (the Chinese again. Baxter really is a Sinophobe), Baxter moves on to ramming the dwarf planet Ceres into Mars. The only way he can think of to top this - since all Baxter books MUST end with an astronomical catastrophe - is to destroy the Multiverse. This is accomplished via specious handwaving about "infinities being a human construct, therefore the Multiverse has an edge" and "it is statistically unlikely for humanity to not be in the middle of the Universe's life span, therefore it'll end much sooner than current physics predicts" - this is known as the Doomsday argument, and the fact that it is anthropocentric nonsense born of a misunderstanding of statistics has not prevented Baxter using it in the past, or from recycling it here with minimal effort.
Ultimately, the Universe drifts into the edge of the Multiverse (rather like a sailing ship falling off the edge of the world) with little fanfare, and it comes largely as a relief.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Kyle McCarley?
McCarley's narration is ... odd. I'm not sure what accent he's using, or what accent he's trying for - it seems like he's attempting British Received Pronunciation and is overdoing it. This is a little distracting, but it's not ruinous - most of the time you can forget he's speaking and just listen to the book, if that makes sense.
You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?
I always know what I'm getting into with a Baxter book, including the fact that it will be a disappointment; Ultima did not disappoint. It was a mildly entertaining way to distract myself on the bus. The primary draw of Ultima was its length; for one ticket you get 22 hours of mildly entertaining distraction, which - depending on how often you take the bus - can last quite a while.
Performance: At first I thought there were one or two strange pronunciations: "shone" pronounced as "shown" which I had not heard before. However, the narrator's grasp of different accents from "northern English" to Australian to Roman to Inca was masterful, especially when switching between so many so quickly in a conversation. The most nuanced of all was the Col U.
You can feel the relish of both the author and narrator for Titus's wonderful catch-phrase, and the last utterance is particularly apt.
Story: the epic length through generations (a Baxter favourite device I think) and the different locations (in various ways) really developed wonderfully the promise of Proxima (mostly involving isolation and survival)
The two books are like ripples in a pond where the lives and deeds of Uri (initially) and Steph(growing) spread out to interact with, and affect, all the other characters.
At this time, this is the only series (Proxima and Ultima) that I have listened to twice. I recommend it to all.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
The story is full of twists and turns, it is very engaging to read. The science is explained clearly.
The narrator uses voices that could be ealily separated from each other and give a distinct sound to each character.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful