The novel “Ark” by Stephen Baxter has been published for the first time in 2009. It’s the sequel to “Flood“.
In 2025 the sea level continues to rise and Patrick Groundwater must use all his resources with other rich and far-sighted people to give a future to his daughter Holle. Working together with what remains of the American governmental structure plans are prepared to try to ensure the survival of future generations.
One such plan is to build a spaceship to send a group of young people among the stars but to have a real hope of success it needs a warp drive that can travel faster than light. Candidates to be part of the crew are trained very hard since their childhood to provide them all the necessary skills.
The Space Ark is also a project of social engineering that should help astronauts work together but in a world full of desperate people willing to do anything to take something from those who have more than them there’s little room for rational planning. The astronauts will face unpredictable problems, will they reach a habitable planet?
“Ark” is a little peculiar as a sequel as the events are largely parallel to those of “Flood”, as they start in 2025 and only a few characters of the first novel appear. It’s even possible to read only “Ark” because there’s some brief explanation of what’s happening in the world, however a more or less important part of the development of the characters already appeared in “Flood” gets lost.
Despite the Star Trek-like premise, “Ark” has a tone very different from that of the famous TV saga, if anything in some ways it recalls “When Worlds Collide”. If in “Flood” there was already the bleakness of a world that is progressively submerged, in its sequel the survivors must take very hard decisions to try to survive, even with the risk of paying a very high price.
The creation of a spaceship to be launched into space using atomic bombs and a warp drive for interstellar travel is based on concepts actually developed by various scientists. Thus the project has its plausibility and Stephen Baxter confirms he’s one of the most important hard science fiction writers.
If in “Flood” the total amount of scientific concepts was rather limited, “Ark” is a far more typical Stephen Baxter’s novel from this point of view. In fact the author brings together many concepts sometimes already expressed in other of his stories, involving different scientific disciplines.
Obviously the main speculations concern the possibility of a faster-than-light propulsion and what kinds of planets we might find in star systems nearby. It also extends the description already begun in “Flood” of how generations of children born over the sea would grow up adding generations born in a spaceship. In fact a topic typical of Stepehn Baxter is the way in which humans adapt when they have to cope with new situations.
Stephen Baxter isn’t very optimistic about human nature and in most cases the characters of “Ark” are rather unpleasant. Actually not all the characters are well developed and on the other hand there are too many of them to make this possible. However also due to the fact that the story goes on for over half a century at least the main characters are developed. For example when Holle Groundwater leaves on the starship she looks like a spoiled kid while at the end of the novel she’s ruthless in the decisions she takes to try to accomplish her mission.
For its cosmic dimension “Ark” can be considered a novel even better than “Flood”. If neither is to be recommended to those who have a tendency to depression instead it may delight Stephen Baxter’s fans and hard science fiction fans in general.