The Xeelee Sequence (//; ZEE-lee) is a series of hard science fiction space opera novels, novellas, and short stories written by British science fiction author Stephen Baxter. The series spans billions of years of fictional history, centering on humanity's future expansion into the universe, its cosmos-spanning war with an enigmatic and supremely powerful Type IV alien civilization called the Xeelee, and the Xeelee's own war with dark matter entities called Photino Birds. The series features many other species and civilizations that play a prominent role, including the Squeem (a species of group mind aquatics), the Qax (beings whose biology is based on the complex interactions of convection cells), and the Silver Ghosts (symbiotic organisms encased in reflective shells). Several stories in the Sequence also deal with humans and posthumans living in extreme conditions, such as at the heart of a neutron star (Flux), in a separate universe with considerably stronger gravity (Raft), and within eusocial hive societies (Coalescent).
The Xeelee Sequence treats ideas stemming from the fringe of theoretical physics and futurology, such as exotic-matter physics, naked singularities, closed timelike curves, multiple universes, hyperadvanced computing and artificial intelligence, faster-than-light travel, and the upper echelons of the Kardashev scale. Thematically, the series deals heavily with certain existential and social philosophical issues, such as striving for survival and relevance in a harsh and unknowable universe and the effects of war and militarism on society.
As of September 2015, the series is composed of seven novels and 52 short pieces (short stories and novellas), all of which fit into a single fictional timeline stretching from the Big Bang singularity of the past to the eventual heat death of the universe and Timelike Infinity singularity of the future. An omnibus edition of the first four Xeelee novels (Raft, Timelike Infinity, Flux, and Ring), entitled Xeelee: An Omnibus, was released in January 2010. In August 2016, the entire series of all novels and stories (up to that date) was released as one volume in e-book format entitled Xeelee Sequence: The Complete Series. Baxter's Destiny's Children series is part of the Xeelee Sequence.
Baxter first conceived of the Xeelee while hobby writing a short story in the summer of 1986 (that would later be published in Interzone as "The Xeelee Flower" in 1987). He incorporated powerful off-stage aliens to explain the story’s titular artifact, and in pondering the backstory began to flesh out the basics of what would later become the main players and setting of the Sequence: a universe full of intelligent species that live in the shadow of the incomprehensible and god-like Xeelee.
Xeelee Sequence main novels:
|Raft||1991||Nominated for the 1992 Arthur C. Clarke Award and Locus Award for Best First Novel.|
|Xeelee: Vengeance||Scheduled for publication in June 2017.|
Destiny's Children sub-series novels:
|Coalescent||2003||Arthur C. Clarke Award nominee, 2004.|
|Transcendent||2005||John W. Campbell Memorial Award nominee, 2006.|
Collections of short stories and novellas:
|Title||Year Published||Stories Contained (numbers in parentheses indicate the year in which each piece was first separately published)||Notes|
||Philip K. Dick Award winner, 1999.|
||Part of the Destiny's Children sub-series.|
Currently uncollected stories:
|Title and Year Published||Source of First Publication||Notes|
|"The Venus Generations" (2016)||Bridging Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan.|
Chronology and reading order
The novels in chronological order (as opposed to publication order) are given below. It should be noted that some of the novels contain elements occuring at different points in the timeline. The story anthologies (Vacuum Diagrams, Resplendent, and Xeelee: Endurance) contain stories taking place across the entire chronology.
|Title||Year Published||Year in Story||Notes|
|Coalescent||2003||AD 476-2005||Part 1 of Destiny's Children.|
|Transcendent||2005||AD 2047||Part 3 of Destiny's Children. The world of 21st century Michael Poole.|
|Timelike Infinity||1992||AD 3717||Majority of the plot occurs here.|
|Ring||1994||AD 3951||Before Great Northern launches.|
|Exultant||2004||AD 24973||Part 2 of Destiny's Children.|
|Transcendent||2005||c.AD 500,000||Part 3 of Destiny's Children. The world of Alia.|
|Ring||1994||c.AD 5,000,000||After Great Northern returns.|
In 2009, Baxter posted a detailed chronology of the Xeelee Sequence explaining the proper chronological reading order of all the novels, novellas, and short stories up to that year. The timeline was updated in September 2015.
When asked directly for a suggested reading order, the author wrote: "I hope that all the books and indeed the stories can be read stand-alone. I’m not a great fan of books that end with cliff-hangers. So you could go in anywhere. One way would be to start with ‘Vacuum Diagrams’, a collection that sets out the overall story of the universe. Then ‘Timelike Infinity’ and ‘Ring’ which tell the story of Michael Poole, then ‘Raft’ and ‘Flux’ which are really incidents against the wider background, and finally ‘Destiny’s Children.’"
Science fiction author Paul McAuley has praised Baxter and the series, saying:
Baxter doesn’t shrink from tackling the dismayingly inhuman implications of vast abysses of past or future time, but the universality of life introduces perspective, motion and plot into every part of his Stapledonian cosmological framework.
It is great, heady, mind-bending stuff, meticulously mapped onto cutting edge speculations about the birth pangs of the universe and the ultimate fate of all known time and space, constantly enlivened and driven forward by the narratives that its vast range of life generates.
[It represents an] accomplished and imaginative exploration, expansion and reworking of SF’s core themes. His characters contest for living space with a panoply of bizarre aliens in a galaxy crammed with ancient wonders and secret histories; his stories reinvent the baroque excesses of space opera and brace them with imaginative exploration of ideas from stellar zoology, cosmology, quantum theory, exotic mathematics, and much else. Narratives froth with moments of shock and awe, and those sudden reversals of scale that induce the metaphysical dizziness sometimes called sense of wonder. Sentences stride confidently across centuries; paragraphs encompass millennia. Individual voices carry the story forwards, but the story is always bigger than the individuals that are caught up in it.
- "Abusing the Kardashev Scale for Fun and Profit". TVtropes.org.
- "Flux". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- "Raft". Amazon.com. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
- "Coalescent". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- "Orionbooks.co.uk - Xeelee Sequence". Gollancz. Retrieved 22 March 2017.
- "The origin of the Destiny's Children series". stephen-baxter.com. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
- "The Xeelee Sequence – Timeline". stephen-baxter.com. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
- "Books". stephen-baxter.com. Retrieved 1 March 2012.
- "Orionbooks.co.uk - Xeelee Sequence". Gollancz. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- "The Origin of the Xeelee Universe". stephen-baxter.com. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
- "1992 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- "Orionbooks.co.uk - Xeelee: Vengeance". Gollancz. Retrieved 29 January 2017.
- "2004 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- "2006 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 3 August 2009.
- "1999 PKD Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
- "BSFA Awards - Previous Award Winners". British Science Fiction Association. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
- "Stephen Baxter on "The Venus Generations"". Coode Street. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
- "The Xeelee Sequence - Timeline". stephen-baxter.com.
- "Fiction Excerpts and Interviews". themanifold.co.uk.
- McAuley, Paul (January 2010). "Introduction". In Baxter, Stephen. Xeelee: An Omnibus. Gollancz. pp. viii–ix. ISBN 978-0575090415.