Stephen Baxter has been on the periphery of my awareness for years. I have read one of his stories, only one, a novella called Starfall. I enjoyed it and meant to read more. When he published Flood and Ark, I added them to my wish list. Both were exactly the sort of novel I love: post-apocalyptic adventure followed by an exodus to new planets with all the inherent science and problems. Shamefully, I have yet to read either.
When given the opportunity to read Universes, a collection of short fiction from three of Baxter’s universes, I noted that three of the stories were set in the Flood/Ark universe, and subsequently snapped it up. Short stories are a great way to taste the flavour of an author and sample one of their universes. In addition to three stories set in the Flood/Ark universe—one previously unpublished—there are two stories in the Jones & Bennet universe and another three in the Anti-Ice universe. All universes involve hard science and characters devoted to investigating it—which appears to be a trademark of Baxter’s writing. Given he has degrees in mathematics and engineering, it’s hardly surprising.
For the uninitiated, the Jones & Bennet stories are during the cold war era. Chapman Jones and Thelma Bennet work for an organisation known as DS8, or the UK Ministry of Defence Secretariat 8. They investigate un-catalogued phenomena and unusual life forms. Myths and legends. Anti-Ice is an alternate history setting where nineteenth century Earth receives a gift from the stars—a comet bearing anti-matter and alien life forms. The discovery and exploitation of these powers a new industrial revolution and steam powered rockets!