Stephen Baxter is one of the few writers who manages to publish collections with a 100% hit rate and Vacuum Diagrams is no exception. It’s a companion volume to his early Xeelee sequence (Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux, Ring) and covers stories from the first time humanity ventures beyond the Earth up to the farthest future where the sad remnants of humanity try to escape a Xeelee-build pocket universe. The breadth of Baxter’s future history is truly astonishing and makes for some fascinating reading material. Each story is a little gem: engaging characters, marvelous settings and neat explorations of hard SFnal ideas.
Baxter isn’t for everyone, typically for British writers this is a far cry from the gung-ho optimism of American science fiction. His stories can be rather depressing at times (no wonder when you have a government that understands 1984 as a How To Guide), but at least there’s always a glimmer of hope. There are no Hollywood endings, but mere survival in the face of death or worse never felt sweeter.