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Firstborn: The Conclusion of A Time Odyssey    by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter order for
by Arthur C. Clarke
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Firstborn are the mysterious aliens responsible for the black monolith that set the scene for 2001: A Space Odyssey, injecting an early sense of awe and wonder into the movie. In their earlierTime Odyssey books - Time's Eye and Sunstorm - Clarke and Baxter showed the Firstborn manipulating and attacking humanity with incredibly advanced technology. Now, in the conclusion to A Time Odyssey, these godlike aliens have sent an unstoppable quantum bomb to destroy Earth. It all begins with a phone call between universes.

Once a United Nations peacekeeper, Bisesa Dutt spent time on Mir - an alternate universe 'quilt of a world, a composite of time slices, samples apparently drawn from throughout human history, and the prehistory of the hominid families that preceded mankind' - in Time's Eye. Now, in 2069, Bisesa is awoken from a nineteen year hibernation by her prickly daughter Myra and covertly hustled off the planet. Bisesa, Myra, and Spacer Alexei Carel escape up the Jacob's Ladder space elevator on a cargo spider 'like a rat up a drainpipe' and, after a rendezvous with a solar-sail ship, continue on to Mars.

The science behind this journey is impeccable - as can be expected from these authors - and it will be fascinating to see if space elevator technology develops in the manner predicted (and portrayed in some detail) here. And though Bisesa and her daughter barely talk, she has intriguing philosophical debates with shipboard AIs - and rather dull ones with her overly helpful space Suit Five.

World Space Council Chair and sunstorm veteran Bella Fingal is briefed by Rear Admiral Bob Paxton on the new threat - that will destroy the planet in only twenty-one months. In addition to sending Bella's daughter Edna as captain of the antimatter-driven Liberator (on its first trial cruise) to attempt to destroy the Q-bomb, they attempt to track down Bisesa Dutt, believing that she might have knowledge key to saving the planet. They follow her to the main Mars settlement, Lowell, and to the north pole, but by then Bisesa has moved on to meet old friends and make new ones on Mir.

Exciting discoveries are made, limited help obtained from others targeted by the aliens, and a last minute sacrifice resolved upon to save Earth. Though I was able to follow Firstborn without having read the preceding books I recommend enjoying them in order. Fans of Time Odyssey and hard SF in general will be delighted with Firstborn - and with the requisite twist of an ending that leaves an opening for further books. And don't miss the Afterword that relates the science to the science fiction.

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