Sunstorm – Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter

This is the second volume in A Time Odyssey, following straight on from Time’s Eye[1]. At the end of that book, Bisesa Dutt returned home from the fragmented world she had been transported to. Although years had passed for her, when she appears in her London flat, it’s just a day after she disappeared from Afghanistan. Sooner or later, she’ll have some explaining to do.

But then, the Earth is devastated by an enormous burst of activity from the Sun. Power systems are destroyed, and many people are killed. But worse is to come. A brilliant young scientist working on the Moon discovers that a further, much more powerful flare is to come in just a few years, and this one will destroy all life on Earth.

What follows is a fairly traditional “response to threatened disaster” story[2]. An audacious[3] scheme to construct a huge shield is launched, but will it be enough? There’s a nice range of characters – mostly scientists[4], but they’re an interesting mix.

But there is a deeper level to the story – it becomes clear that the sun’s unusual activity is not natural. Thousands of years earlier, a huge planet was deliberately aimed at the sun from another solar system, with the intent of destroying all life in our solar system. The destroyers are the same beings, dubbed The Firstborn, who created the fragmented world of Time’s Eye – more of their “Eyes” are detected.

There are echoes here of previous works by both writers – the idea of the sun being attacked by ancient intelligences with motives beyond human understanding has been used by Baxter in his Xeelee sequence of novels and short stories, and there’s a lovely Artificial Intelligence who is reminiscent of HAL from Clarke’s 2001. Which is nice.

It’s a quick read, and had me wanting to find out what happened next. I don’t know if there are any more books planned in this series, but it’s certainly open ended enough to carry on.

[1] Now in paperback:

[2] Someone does make a Bruce Willis/Armageddon joke
[3] I don’t think I’ve used that word on Losing it[1] before :laugh:
[4] Not surprising, coming from two of the masters of good old fashioned hard sf