Proxima - Stephen Baxter

You know, I just can't seem to find hard scifi that really speaks to me.
I had high hopes for Proxima: interesting premise and an ex-engineer author with a history of collaborating with Terry Pratchett? Count me in.

But the book just wasn't for me. I honestly didn't plan on reviewing it because I just don't feel strongly enough about it to want to write about it, and it was so incredibly memorable that a few weeks after I read it, I'm struggling to remember the plot. The book itself is long, and the plot is widereaching without ever feeling personal. The book can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a new-world pioneer survival story or a superpower political struggle, so it tries to do both. There's a lot of brain-dead politicking that made me want to smash the whole cast's heads together. Probably the greatest weakness was the characters. Absolutely none of them grabbed me, not the everyman (and blank-slate personality-less) protagonist who goes by the name of Yuri Eden (get it?), not the female scientist whose potentially interesting plotline gets derailed by pure and go-nowhere weirdness, and not the billionaire scientists or the random colonists or the AI whose potentially interesting storyline lies apparently forgotten for most of the book. My absolute favourite character was the pollyanna AI unit that the colonists used. I thought its perspective, particularly on its fellow robots, was perhaps the most interesting part of the book.

But while the colonization section provided plenty of fun moments with the Col-U, the whole subplot involved what I consider to be an unhealthy obsession with rape. Rape happens multiple times in the book, both on the ship and off of it. Pretty much all of the male colonists--except for our everyman protagonist-- see the female colonists as their potential property, there to be used as breeding machines. They're not alone; that's what the expedition planned for them as well. Even our good guys are desperate for children. I don't really get the whole "biological imperative" that these sorts of stories run on. Baxter does create female characters; I give him that. They're all weak ciphers, but then, so are the male characters. But I don't understand the rape or the biological baby-breeding imperative bit. It did not make for an enjoyable read. Nor did the politics, and nor did the ending.

I know I just reeled off a huge number of negatives, and I think that's because I'm struggling to remember the plot and it's the negative bits that stuck most firmly in my mind. The book isn't a bad book, and the premise, and the science it's based on, is interesting enough. I really enjoyed the worldbuilding of Mars and Mercury, and I actually thought the ending to the political subplot was both ironic and fitting.

And so my search for personally palatable hard scifi continues. Oh, well. In the meantime, I guess there's always fantasy.