Ark by Stephen Baxter (read in 2015)
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
At the end of Flood, the planet Earth had been covered in water, right up to the very top of Mt. Everest. The only life left on Earth was floating around on top of the seas, in various states of civilization. This story overlaps the events of Flood, showing preparations for saving humanity in other ways. The primary focus is on an ambitious space program—Ark One—that will launch a spaceship that is destined for another solar system, a decade of traveling distance away. Arks Two and Three are only hinted at, but also exist.
The first part of the book follows the travails of the candidates for the Ark, until its final launch, which doesn’t go according to plan, but the technology holds up. Several candidates who were pre-selected don’t make it because they are replaced by children of rich and power people. Others are pushed off by members of the military who forced their way onboard at the last moment before launch.
The Earth drowns. The Ark heads for nine years toward Earth II, but it proves to be far less attractive than originally hoped. Factions onboard have gotten more stratified and there are three main paths proposed: settle the planet below, continue onward for 30 more years, to another system, or go back to Earth. They end up doing all three, splitting into three parties, splitting the bolo of two ship bodies that provided gravity.
The group that returns to Earth finds it completely flooded, but they make contact with survivors on the surface as well as in Ark Two, which is on the ocean floor. The group that went onward goes through many tribulations, finally arriving at the destination planet. It’s better than Earth II, but troubles along the way lost them a shuttle, so they have to colonize with children to maximize genetic diversity. The colonists settle in, while the survivors on the orbit further.
““And if you can’t cope with that,” said the boy next to Kelly, twisting back, “you can go back to the kiddie schools and play with the plastic bricks. There’s always somebody ready to take your place.” He grinned. “Don Meisel. Who the hell are you?””
This feels like a clone of Ender’s Game.
“The government was considering sending troops into the Friedmanburgs, the troubled new cities on the Great Plains, where residents were protesting against exploitation by the rich who had bought up the land and funded much of the development in the first place.”
I think it’s relatively safe to say where Baxter’s politics lie: with Ms. Ayn Rand.
“which was still remote from this place, and frightened of the waves of eye-dees for the dirt and disease and hunger they brought and the space they used up, and people were frightened of each other, for in the”
He’s pretty relentless on this line of “useless eye-dees”. Didn’t they find Liu among the refugees?
“Holle frowned. “And though we might exclude religion, we can’t leave religiosity behind.””
“a school full of rich kjds—only one of whom was chosen from the refugees—and they’re all dedicated and smart? Mr. Baxter, you are using a cudgel. Oh! And no religion, too? Do you need a minute alone?”
“Holle recognized a lot of the faces around her, including the rich men and women of LaRei, some of them parents of Academy students themselves.”
“The air was already hot. The aircon was juddery, even here in the Capitol building. Everything was breaking down.”
This reminded me strongly of the meeting at NASA in Interstellar, though I’m not sure which would have inspired which.
“But they lost control of the main entrance and there’s some kind of pitched battle going on around the old school group entrance. You wouldn’t believe it, that it’s come to this.” “That’s the flood for you,” Patrick said. “It reaches us all, in the end.””
Baxter is telling the woeful story of the rich and the greedy, ungrateful—and happily faceless—poor grasping at resources they didn’t earn.
“There were people everywhere, confronting lines of cops and National Guard troopers.”
Baxter doesn’t see a need to provide a reason as to why these troops are so loyal.
““See that pillar of smoke over there?” Kenzie said harshly. “The State Capitol building burning to the ground. These people make me sick. They should be building fucking rafts. Not taking it out on the cops or smashing stuff up or screaming at a bunch of kids.””
Thirty percent into this book and still no sign of counterbalancing from the author. I’m losing hope that he’s faking this viewpoint to make a point.
“Holle didn’t even think about it. She hurled herself into the struggling mob.”
Good training, Holly! Ammirite?
“[…] all that would actually hook these kids’ interest in something other than food and swimming games and each other’s pretty bodies. Thandie suspected Boris’s brain was dissolving like those of the rest of his generation.”
“But, Grace thought, all this planet-hunting and exponentiating scientific theorizing had nothing to do with the complex human reality unfolding within the shabby walls of the Ark.”
It’s above as below: the majority live out their mean little lives, acting as support system for the individuals that drag the race forward.
““Odd matches. We’re supposedly fleeing from a flood, but Earth II was in a constellation called the River. Flood, river? To find our destination in the starscape you look for Orion—and yet we claim that we were launched from Earth by a drive also called Orion. Zane argues that these name matches are symptoms of a lazy design regime. Or maybe they are clues smuggled in by some dissident sim designer to help us figure out the truth of our situation.” “It’s just coincidence!” “No such thing as coincidence in Zane’s world. Only conspiracies. There’s more. To find where we’ve come from you look back at Opiuchus, the serpent-bearer. That part of the sky is blanked out, so you can’t see Sol, the home of man. But why the serpent-bearer? Zane has been into the archive and he found an account of Ouroboros, a myth of ancient Egypt, a serpent endlessly devouring its own tail. So, Zane says, what we see behind us isn’t any kind of warp cone but the mouth of Ouroboros, continually devouring our fake reality, just as a fresh reality is continually constructed ahead of us to give us the illusion of movement.””
“Magda pointed at Holle and screamed, “You left my baby to die! You left her to die! All you had to do was reach out—” She struggled, but Grace held on tightly. The strength went out of Magda, and she broke down into wretched sobbing. “I’ll never forgive you for saving me rather than her, Groundwater. Never.””
The problem with Baxter is that he never addresses the elephant in the room: why bother saving a humanity that so often ends in such stupidity? There is literally zero philosophy in this book and it’s crying out for it.