This is the middle book in a trilogy, and is self-published. The author used to be published by a "proper" publisher but is no longer. That is of course, a terrible recipe, and his work must, of course, be rubbish. But it ain't. Sure, it's not high art. But it's engaging and entertaining. And that's what ultimately makes a novel a good one. I've actually read this book before, but it was a coupla years ago, and given that the third and final part in the series is finally out, I thought I'd better re-read it to refresh my memory before tackling the last installment. And I'm glad I did. I polished it off during a 4.5 hour train journey, without getting bored even once. Worth buying.
I've been waiting for this for a long time, and the wait was worth it. The only real shortcoming (bearing in mind that I knew it was going to be modern pulp fiction) is that the resolution of the whole three book series is dealt with very quickly, almost skipped over. We see it beginning to take shape, but the reader is left to assume that events proceed exactly as predicted by a numerical simulation. I'm afraid that I lack the necessary faith in computers to fully accept that! The author's "Antares" series has the same simulation problem, although events are at least shown happening after the simulation in the finale of that series. Even so, good book, worth buying.
As was fashionable amongst British sci-fi authors of his generation (much of John Wyndham's work is fairly similar) this is a tale of a world-ending catastrophe, whose protagonist and other players are ordinary people to whom nasty things happen. There's no particularly happy ending and the author's explanation of events - and indeed the event itself that sets up the story - are laughable to a modern reader, but even so, it's a well-told, well-constructed, and well-written tale. Recommended.
Like the previous book, the world ends and ordinary people struggle to survive. There's a nice couple of twists too which make what would otherwise be fairly predictable (especially if you've read any other of his books) into a gripping tale.
In the afterword, the author tries to make excuses: "this is a novel. I have tried to dramatise the grand story of human evolution ... I hope my story is plausible". Well, no, it's not. That isn't a mortal sin in itself - plenty of really good stories are implausible, starting with one of the oldest stories that we have, the Iliad. But in dramatising, Baxter has made up a load of rubbish, including monkeys (and their far more primitive ancestors) giving each other names and all kinds of other silliness. I don't see why you can't tell the undeniably dramatic story of human origins factually, without introducing cuddly anthropomorphised Purgatorius, tool-using dinosaurs, and pterosaurs the size of whales.
Having laid into it like that, I do have to admit that it's a rollicking story whose silliness only made me want to scream a handful of times. I recommend it, although I aso recommend turning your brain off first, and not paying full price.
I've been waiting for a long time - it's eight years since the previous Culture novel! - for this, and thankfully it doesn't disappoint. It's rather more accessible than a couple of the previous books in the series have been, but without sacrificing Banks's usual inventiveness. It would make a good introduction to The Culture if you've not read any of the books before, and if you have it's a great continuation. Buy it.