Turning back the tide in the first book of the Northland saga
He’s one of the few SF writers for whom comparisons with Arthur C Clarke are completely warranted, but for all of Stephen Baxter’s imaginative forays into hard SF, he’s just as interested in our distant past. With novels like Evolution and series like Time’s Tapestry, he’s looked at history from some truly mind-bending angles, and his latest novel kicks off a series that’s close to being a prehistoric companion piece to Flood , his ecological disaster novel of 2008.
Set 10,000 years ago in the Mesolithic period, Stone Spring takes place in Doggerland, an expanse of land that used to link Britain to mainland Europe, and which is home to a variety of tribes. Among these are the people of Etxelur, but their usual struggles for survival are swept aside when a tsunami devastates their home, and it becomes plain that Doggerland is gradually sinking under the waves.
So far, so historical, and for the first half of Stone Spring it’d be easy to think that Baxter is just playing out the events of Flood in a different, non-SF setting. However, what makes the book more than just an engaging and gritty portrait of the Mesolithic era is what happens next, as one girl in the Etxelur tribe sets out to do the seemingly impossible and build a wall that will stand against the oncoming flood.
Suddenly we’re in an alternate history, and Baxter maps out a different course for the Mesolithic while still giving us a gripping and often startlingly violent human drama. He does a fantastic job of evoking the book’s harsh and brutal environment, utilising plenty of convincing world-building while keeping the story moving along at a gripping pace. A couple of moments don’t quite convince, but this is still an impressive and relevant novel that sets up some very intriguing directions for the rest of the Northland saga to go in.