Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Empty Space Empty Space
by Stephen Baxter

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

I have this thing about modern art – I know what I like to look at, and it generally isn’t the stuff that art critics seem to make so much of. And it seems to me that this book is a modern art installation in the form of a science fiction novel. The central image of a corpse, suspended in empty space, slowing fading away, surely belongs in an art gallery. I am sure that the literary critics will love this novel, and I’m fairly sure that many SF readers will find it as difficult to read as I did. It’s disturbing, it’s bleak, and it’s full of genitalia, many of them juvenile (which I have to admit I found very distracting, in an "is this really necessary?" sort of way).

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve seen one of the other stories in this trilogy previously, but I’m not sure that it matters that much – Empty Space is presented as a stand-alone novel, although it clearly draws on Light, and Nova Swing. There are three main threads in this novel, one set in the near future, focusing on Anna Waterman, whose first husband, Michael Kearney, was a physicist who committed suicide in one of the earlier novels. What was most interesting about her (she’s quite demented in the medical sense) was the world of 2050 she lives in – much like the world we live in, except on the other side of an economic meltdown, beginning when China collapses in 2020. But most of the action takes place farther in the future, somewhen around 4510, in the worlds around the Kefahuchi Tract, a naked singularity hanging in deep space, spitting out quantum weirdness. Fat Antoyne works on the shady side of the law, and just now he’s got a job collecting mort safes and stowing them in the hold of the Nova Swing. Meanwhile, Epstein who is a cop, Gaines the EMC fixer, and the nominally challenged assistant are all variously trying to figure out what is going on and why Toni Reno’s corpse is floating in mid-air…

At the end it all collapses together in a strange cross-temporal singularity, something I was starting to anticipate as the only way all this weirdness could end—though it did so abruptly and without quite enough exposition. That said, it is by no coincidence that this book is sub-titled The Haunting, because I guarantee it will haunt you…

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