Saturday 23 January 2010

ARK by Stephen Baxter

As the waters rose in FLOOD, high in the Colorado mountains the US government was building an ark. Not an ark to ride the waves but an ark that would take a select few hundred people out into space to start a new future for mankind. Sent out into deep space on an epic journey, generations of crew members carry the hope of a new beginning on a new, incredibly distant, planet.

But as the decades pass, knowledge and purpose is lost and division and madness grows. And back on earth life and man, find a new way. This is the epic sequel to the acclaimed FLOOD; a stirring tale of what mankind will do to survive and the perfect introduction for new readers to one of SF's greatest tropes; the generation ship.

After reading Flood a few weeks ago, I couldn't wait to read this one. The epic story that started while the world was flooded by the rising sea levels, continues in this installment. And becomes so much more than just a disaster story.

The book opens in 2041, when Grace Gray is taken to Colorado so that she can take part in Ark One. Here, the astronaut Gordo Alonzo gives her a test--she'll have to solve a murder. Of course, at the time I had no idea who Harry Smith (the murdered man) was. Or Holle, the young woman who's charged with showing Grace around.

So it was awesome when the story jumped back to 2025. Where we meet Patrick Groundwater and his six-year-old daughter, Holle. They're attending a meeting about the very secret Ark projects. And so begins Holle's life as a potential Candidate for Ark One. We follow her and a group of kids who will be trained from a very young age, intended to be part of the crew that'll be sent on a mission to find the projected Eath II.

The idea of using a warp drive and launching a spaceship using nuclear bombs is both fascinating and frightening. Yet, it works. I love how Stephen Baxter blends the human condition and science in a way that keeps you glued to every page.

The actual ship blasting off correctly is about the only thing that goes according to plan on Launch day, because half of the crew that was supposed to be onboard actually weren't. The mission to the stars doesn't start well, as the Candidates leave a very chaotic world behind. This pretty much sets the mood for the rest of the trip.

What follows is an amazing, negative, drab, and very claustrophobic trip in search of a new planet to live in, so it can become humanity's salvation. A journey that slowly disintegrates. It was one thing to plan and imagine how this mission would go, but what actually happens is a slow deterioration of spirits, hopes, and dreams. A bunch of humans packed into a tin can that keeps them all too close. Their offspring only add to the madness. Not to mention the Split--where one group goes back to Earth, another settles in the hostile Earth II, and the final group decide to spend another 30 years in search of a better possible planet, Earth III.

I was also very excited to go back to Earth and catch up with Thandie Jones, while getting a little taste of Ark Two.

Ark is another fantastic, epic, and at often times, grim adventure. It's a race for human survival after our planet has been engulfed by the sea. It's an amazing story of human endurance and corruption, when the hard decisions have to be made for the future. The cast is also amazing. Not just the characters we met in Flood, like Thandie and Grace, but also the strong Holle, manipulative Kelly, insane and complicated Zane, and headstrong Venus who never gives up on the ultimate quest.

I absolutely LOVED this book. And I have to admit... I'm secretly hoping that Stephen Baxter writes another installment in this world. :)

Ark, October 2009, ISBN 978-057-508059-1, Gollancz Paperback

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