Proxima by Stephen Baxter book review

Hard SF titan Stephen Baxter dabbles with interplanetary romance in Proxima

It’s fair to say that Stephen Baxter marches to the beat of his own drum.

Prolific to an extent that would make Stephen King blush, barely a year has gone by without a new Baxter novel in over two decades. This output is even more impressive given that Baxter writes the hardest of hard science fiction; sometimes it seems like a physics degree is necessary to disentangle his work.

Proxima, the first of a new ‘duology,’ hits hard at one of his favourite themes – namely human adaptation, the trials of humanity following some sort of cataclysm. Saying that, Baxter does try something slightly different to his usual work by flavouring Proxima with some interstellar romance.

While this is a relatively unexplored idea, Baxter isn’t really the writer to pull it off.

A romance is only as strong as its two leads, and the central pair of Proxima is weak to say the least. Stef Kalinski, living in the shadow of her infamous father, is an insufferable know-it-all who has seemingly seen everything and done everything. Her pigheaded attitude sucks all the wonder out of the technological marvels Baxter uses as a backdrop, and the supporting characters just let her get away with it. But at least Stef is memorable. Yuri Eden wakes up after years in hypersleep on a prison cruiser headed to the titular planet and fails to develop a personality at all in near 500 pages.

Criticising a Baxter novel for thin characters is a tad unfair, as character development has never been his strong suit anyway – unfortunately he invites this criticism by exploring a story arc that is entirely character-focused.

Baxter acolytes will lap up Proxima, and more power to them. Anyone else will likely put it down before the first chapter ends.