I think Stephen Baxter is the best Science Fiction writer living in England today, and I base that opinion on absolutely nothing whatsoever.
I mean, I don't clamor around like some mangy anglophile, waiting at the docks for the latest installment of Dickens' new book, just so I can find out what happened to little Nell. I really don't read all that much English SF, so I don't have much to compare Baxter to. And now that I think about it, I guess I actually prefer J.G. Ballard as an SF writer. So, thinking about it objectively now, I guess I'd have to say that Baxter is the second best SF writer in England, right behind Ballard, which seems only right and fitting, since they fit that way alphabetically as well. One might assume that Clarke would hold third place in my estimation, since I can only really think of three English SF writers at the moment, but since two of them are dead, I return to my original assertion: Among English writers that I can think of at the moment, and who aren't dead, Baxter is definitely the best. This morning.
Neither here nor there, but Clarke doesn't even make my list. He's the most boring, self-righteous, over-rated fop I've ever read. His books are the worst sort of unimaginative claptrap, and we'll leave the allegations of pedophilia that have more or less consigned him to exile in Sri Lanka for the last thirty years aside for the moment. I don't care if Clarke did come up with the concept of the Communications satellite – someone else would have come up with it eventually, as it's useful. And it's not like he built the first communications satellite, he just thought it up and then sat on his loathsome ass doing nothing about it for the next thirty years. And in fact, he likely wasn't even the first one to think it up, just the first to write it down in English. And even if he was the first, that doesn't change the fact that Odyssey III was a very very bad book.
But I haven't called you here today to discuss my semi-irrational hatred of Mr. Clarke (Though that's kind of fun), rather I've decided to discuss someone I have a semi-irrational fondness for, Mr. Stephen Baxter. I've now read three novels by Baxter: Voyage, The Time Ships, and the subject of this review, Moonseed. All of them have sort of the same failings – dry characterizations, plodding development, slow plots, and a lot of technical exposition. These are things I would ordinarily fault a writer for, but with Baxter, it's an asset. Yes, the man's dialog is flat, yes, his female characters come across as bitchy and annoying, and yes, for an English writer who mostly writes about American characters, he really gets the conversational idioms all wrong. Even so none of this really detracts from his appeal, and perhaps it even adds to it. Because what Baxter is all about is wild-eyed awe, and some of is flat-footedness in the telling makes the gee-gosh-wow aspects of his books just that much more inspiring to behold, if that makes any kind of sense.
Beyond all that, Baxter shares the unabashed love for the Apollo Program that I, myself have, and a generalized lack of regard for the space program since 1975; including - but not limited to - a loathing for the Space Shuttle. So not only does he have Geek Creds, he's got Geek Creds that almost specifically jibe with my own.
Moonseed is easily the weakest of his books that I've read, but it's not without it's charms. The plot is made to order from all those old Disaster SF movies of the 50s, like "When Worlds Collide" or "Day of the Trifids." (The latter actually gets a name check in the novel.) Essentially, Apollo 18*, the final mission to the moon in 1973, discovers a rock sample which, 30 years later, unleashes untold devastation upon the world. First the planet Venus explodes, apparently for no reason. Then it seems that Lunar sample rock's got living superstring material confined within itself. If you don't understand what that means, don't worry, the book has plenty of quantum physics doubletalk to make it seem plausible. Anyway, due to bad quarantine practices in a lab, this quantum plague escapes in the environs of Edinburgh, Scotland, where it is named "Moonseed" by a local doomsday cult. Hence the title.
Anywhoo, in typical disaster movie fashion,