Stone Spring is prolific science fiction writer Stephen Baxter’s latest novel, and is set in the Mesolithic period of Earth’s history dealing with a very headstrong people that decides to face nature rather than back down. This intriguing prehistoric epic is the beginning of new trilogy, all set on a now disappeared land-mass and based around the same concept. Stone Spring is not without flaws, but to those interested in it’s material it will offer a compelling plot and the chance to explore what our world could have been like, 10,000 years ago.
Ana is fourteen. Her father is missing, her mother is dead. Ana herself has perhaps another twenty years of life left to her. But in that time she is destined to change the shape of our world.
Ana lives on the North coast of Doggerland, a vast and fertile plain that 10,000 years ago linked the British Isles to mainland Europe. Life is short for Ana’s people but they live in an Eden-like world teeming with wildlife, a world yet to feel the impact of man. But their world is changing. The ice has melted, the seas are rising and one fateful year a Tsunami sweeps inland and scatters Ana’s people. But if the people of distant Jericho could build a wall to keep the world out, surely Ana’s people could build a wall to keep the sea out?
This isn’t your usual speculative genre book. For a start, it’s difficult to peg Stone Spring down as speculative since it’s really more historical. But then it’s not the most faithful historical fiction out there. Let’s be fair though: it isn’t exactly unfaithful, because there really isn’t much known about the Mesolithic period, and what is known, Stephen Baxter has included in there. For the rest it’s a mix of educated guessing and imagination for the sake of the story - it is, after all, a novel. There is no denying, though, that the setting is an attractive one. Because it’s so far back in our past it is both unknown and familiar and Baxter makes us rediscover it fully by making the first section of the book one that spans a large area geographically. We, of course, still center on Etxelur, part of the landmass between Britain and Europe, but we also take a look at prehistoric North America, the European Continent, the ancient city of Jericho in the Middle-East and, later in the novel, part of Britain. The amount of detail Baxter puts into this story is appreciated, though sometimes it can seem like he gets too caught up in them and lets the story and the characters fade a bit.
The plot itself tends to be rather straight forward, the first part being the exception as there is some jumping around going on then. Also, as the novel progresses it skips ahead increasingly often, passing over years mostly for the sake of seeing the development of Etxelur’s technology. This is what I meant about the some elements fading. If you jump ahead, missing years of the characters’ lives it’s a lot harder to identify with the characters as they evolve massively in sometimes the space of only a chapter or two. On the other hand, what Stone Spring does really well is employ devices, both plot-wise and character-wise, to ask a variety of questions: whether it’s right to resist nature, how much of an impact man should have on his surrounding, etc.
Overall Stone Spring is somewhat of an uneven book, but even irregular, its a book I enjoyed and I would gladly recommend. Beware though, if you’re not a fan of historical fiction (or history in general) then Stone Spring won’t be much good for you. For those that are interested and do read this then you can expect the sequel, Bronze Summer, around mid-2011, while the final book in the trilogy, entitled Iron Winter, is set for mid-2012. And of course, there are all the other novels Stephen Baxter’s written, if you wish to give those a try too.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Stephen Baxter's Website: http://www.stephen-baxter.com/
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