‘Xeelee: Endurance’ by Stephen Baxter is a collection of eleven stories and novellas, all part of the ‘Xeelee’ sequence, which at the moment encompasses seven novels and fifty-two stories. Mankind features in the ‘Xeelee’ sequence as little more than an innocent bystander in an intergalactic war between the Xeelee and another species which will eventually destroy the universe.
The stories compiled in ‘Xeelee: Endurance’ follow the human race over billions of years and cover events from its first foray into worlds beyond the solar system until the end of the universe, billions of years later. Each story has a lead-in which puts it into historical context. The chronological order provides the reader with an inkling of the Xeelee conflict which is only background noise for stories about the somewhat smaller struggles the characters face from alien invasions to exploring Saturn’s moon Titan to a war against human colonies. The stories flesh out the timeline and provide some insights into events which shape human evolution over a very long time span. It helps a lot that the book also offers a timeline which relates important events, the stories in this collection and the novels to one another.
‘Endurance’ is a fitting title for the collection as the common theme which connects all of the stories. Nevertheless, they are mostly self-contained, so you need not have read any of the other ‘Xeelee’ related books to savor this collection. The title story is the only one never published before. The other stories are compiled here for the first time, which makes the collection interesting for the ‘Xeelee’ completest as well as for new readers who fancy a first glance at the author’s universe.
‘Xeelee: Endurance’ is a stunning collection showcasing the author’s main body of work. Starting with hard Science Fiction, the style of the stories slowly changes until, in the end, when they take place billions of years from now, they read more like Science Fantasy. They always remain rooted in solid science. All the stories are enjoyable to read and communicate Baxter’s ideas in an easily accessible way. Not many authors can develop complex characters in the constraints of a short story and Baxter is not one of them, but his characters are still interesting and no cardboard figures.
This collection is essential reading for every ‘Xeelee’ enthusiast and a really good starting point for the ‘Xeelee’ sequence. If you are a fan of hard Science Fiction and have never read any of Stephen Baxter’s work give this collection a try.
(pub: Gollancz, 2015. 438 page hardcover. Price: £ 20.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-21270-1)