This third and final book in Baxter's ambitious trilogy, whose vast scale calls to mind Asimov's Foundation series, shares the same strengths and weaknesses as the two previous volumes, Manifold: Space and Manifold: Time. More anthropology than hard SF, the novel follows the disjointed adventures of series hero Reid Malenfant's wife, Emma Stoney, on the hostile surface of an alien red moon that mysteriously replaces Earth's moon. Using multiple viewpoints (sometimes within the same paragraph), the author details the primitive thinking of at least five hominid races (higher humans included) that inhabit the red moon and of a super-race that's been manipulating human evolution. Once Emma sorts out the evolutionary differences, she favors the Runners (Australopithecines) and Hams (Neandertals) over the higher humans, who have foisted their crude fundamentalist religious beliefs on the other races. A variety of characters speculate on the simpler aspects of Darwinian theory, but somewhat disappointingly they all reach the same conclusion. Gratuitous violence from time to time offers relief from the challenge of keeping straight the host of loosely related story lines. Baxter fans should be well satisfied, but those who prefer more thought-provoking SF will need to look elsewhere. (Feb. 1)
FYI:The second book of the trilogy, Manifold: Time, was nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke Award.