Ballantine Publishing Group, 578 pp.
Stephen Baxter has turned in another magnificent epic, and has done it in a single volume this time. Evolution traces the history of human life, from its simple beginnings to its projected ending 500 million years in the future. The novel hits the perfect balance of fact and conjecture when recreating the lives of our distant ancestors. Starting 65 million years ago with a simple shrew-like creature, Baxter depicts the evolution of mankind from the burrows to the trees to the savannah and into the future. As man’s progenitors develop more and more human traits, Baxter’s writing grows richer to keep pace with the evolving species. But the development of man is only half of the story and a lesser writer would have stopped at the present. When the story moves into the future, Evolution takes on a new aspect. Where the earlier half of the story sweeps you along in an exhilarating wave of hope and progress, the latter half has an almost overwhelming sense of loss as mankind slips back down the ladder of evolution. Working from the theory that intelligence is not the inevitable end-product of evolution, Baxter creates a fanciful—yet frighteningly believable—future for the human race. The story takes one awkward sidestep early on with the “Hunters of Pangaea” chapter, which tells the tale of a race of semi-sentient saurians. Although the chapter stands well enough on its own (it was published as a short story in Analog), it doesn’t fit properly into the rest of the novel. But even with this slight flaw, Evolution remains an exciting thought-provoking novel.