Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Lakes of Light

by Stephen Baxter

An entry in the author's "Xeelee" canon, where the human race of the far future is fighting a galactic war against an enigmatic and poweful foe. This short story doesn't require knowledge of the larger context, but it suffers somewhat from the need for exposition used to supply the backstory. Seems like what Baxter really wanted to do was get to the second half of the story, where Pala is driving pole-wards and--as Liz insightfully observed--undergoes something of a conversion to other-than-human status.

If you read Clement's "Mission of Gravity," you'll recognize one basic concept. Alas, I felt a bit of homage was called for by this fact, yet Baxter didn't deliver it; he just used the same idea. Nothing wrong with that, but the similarity was so strong, that I felt the omission hurt the story.

Kind of a hard-sf tale with lost opportunities for more character development. In my view, the lessons here are many, but chiefly they are: don't crowd with backstory an otherwise good idea just to make it part of a larger canon; get to the "sfnal" part quickly enough to grab the reader; pay your due respects to those who have gone before you.


liz said...

I thought the second half of the story was very strong, with the slow metamorphosis, and the conclusion that extends from it. I would have preferred that that part of the story stand alone and he only add as much of the first part as absolutely needed to make the second part work.

Steve said...

Yup, it took too long to get going, but I am guessing that was because he was trying so hard to make it a "Xeelee" story. This really forces me to question the wisdom of the dictum that all stories must stand alone. Does this one, really? I think it almost doesn't, because it so strongly implies that it is part of a greater set of stories that one sees it as such, and is either forced or asked to forgive its laborious first half for that reason.

liz said...

I didn't mean in my comment that the second part had to stand alone from the series (though that was one thing I did say in our FtF meeting), but here I meant that I wish he'd let the story he wanted to tell stand-alone from the backstory and explanation even of why she was there. Then he could have added back anything that was absolutely necessary for the story he really was telling to be understood.

Steve said...

Which makes me wonder why he didn't do it that way, since I can see it as a perfectly viable option. Would have made it far more accessible to readers unfamiliar with the "Xeelee" stories, too.