Timelike Infinity

Last updated

Timelike Infinity
First edition cover
Author Stephen Baxter
Cover artist Chris Moore
CountryUnited Kingdom
Series Xeelee Sequence
GenreScience fiction
Publisher HarperCollins (UK)
Publication date
7 December 1992
Media typePrint
ISBN 0-00-224016-5
OCLC 27959074
Preceded by Raft  
Followed by Flux  

Timelike Infinity is a 1992 science fiction book by British author Stephen Baxter. [1] The second book in the Xeelee Sequence, Timelike Infinity introduces a universe of powerful alien species and technologies that manages to maintain a realistic edge because of Baxter's physics background. It largely sets the stage for the magnum opus of the Xeelee Sequence, Ring (as opposed to Vacuum Diagrams, Flux, or Raft, which concern themselves with side stories). [2] [3]


Plot summary

Set thousands of years in the future (AD 5407), the human race has been conquered by the Qax, a truly alien turbulent-liquid form of life, who now rule over the few star systems of human space – adopting processes from human history to effectively oppress the resentful race. Humans have encountered a few other races, including the astoundingly advanced Xeelee, and been conquered once before – by the Squeem – but successfully recovered. [4]

A human-built device, the Interface project, returns to the Solar System after 1,500 years. The project, towed by the spaceship Cauchy , returns a wormhole gate, appearing to offer time travel due to the time 'difference' between the exits of the wormhole (relativistic time dilation), with one end having remained in the Solar System and the other travelling at near lightspeed for a century. The Qax had destroyed the Solar System gate, but a lashed-up human ship (a great chunk of soil including Stonehenge, crewed by a group called the Friends of Wigner) passes through the returning gate, travelling back to the unconquered humanity of 1,500 years ago.

One of the crew of the Cauchy returns with the Friends, Miriam Berg. The Friends have a complex scheme, which does not include a simple military return-and-rescue – the 1,500-year technology gap makes this "risible". From the Wigner thought experiment they have postulated an unusual theory on the ultimate destiny of life in the universe. They believe that quantum wave-functions do not collapse like the Copenhagen interpretation holds, nor that each collapse actually buds off separate universes (like the quantum multiverse hypothesis holds) but rather that the universe is a participatory universe: the entire universe exists as a single massive quantum superposition, and that at the end of time (in the open universe of the Xeelee Sequence, time and space are unbounded, or more precisely, bounded only at the Cauchy boundaries of "Time-like infinity" and "Space-like infinity"), when intelligent life collects all information (compare the final anthropic principle and the Omega Point), it will transform into an "Ultimate Observer" and make the "final Observation", the observation which collapses all the possible entangled wave-functions generated since the beginning of the universe. They believe further that the Ultimate Observer will not merely observe, but choose which world line will be the true world-line, and that it will choose the one in which humanity suffers no Squeem or Qax occupations. However, the Ultimate Observer cannot choose between worldlines if no information survives to its era to distinguish worldlines- if the UO never knows of humanity, it cannot choose a worldline favourable to it. In other words, some way is needed to securely send information forward in time.

As a consequence of this necessity, they intend to turn Jupiter into a carefully formed singularity and use the precisely specified parameters as a method of encoding information. Miriam Berg is more concerned over the immediate fate of humanity, with the threat of the future Qax, and transmits a 'help' message to the gate designer Michael Poole.

The Qax, naturally, panic a little at the escape to the past. A complex, unavoidably fragile species in their huge living Spline spacecraft, the few Qax present are somewhat at a loss. They decide to build their own Interface, with major human-collaborator assistance (headed by Ambassador Jasoft Parz), to create a link to their future to gain aid in resolving the problem – with more modern GUT-engine spacecraft they can make a 500-year link in just eighteen months. A startling high-technology future vessel (in truth, one of the legendary Xeelee nightfighters, an advanced and long-range fast scout ship), with a future Qax comes through the gate. Its first act is to execute the Qax Governor of Earth and gather up Parz, before passing through the original portal after the Friends and all humanity. The future Qax takes two Spline ships (presumably leaving behind the nightfighter; this might be the nightfighter that is discovered by the crew of The Great Northern millennia later in Ring ) through the gate and on the journey reveals to Parz the reason behind its desire to completely destroy the human race.

The Ring

The future Qax tells Parz that over the centuries, the Qax had worn down humanity through constant oppression, and had eventually decided to eliminate its space-faring capabilities. But before they did, as economical traders, they wished to get as much value out of their human pilots as possible. So certain pilots were dispatched on a number of dangerous or quixotic missions.

One such pilot was a man named Jim Bolder. The Qax had come into possession of a Xeelee nightfighter, and had modified it to support human control. Bolder's mission was simple: go to the Great Attractor, the cause of most galactic drift, and find out why and how it exists. Bolder travelled to the bottom of the gravitational well, and found the Ring. A torus a thousand light-years in diameter, constructed of an unknown substance, rotating at a large fraction of lightspeed. The Qax goes on to speculate that the torus created a Kerr metric, and that it allowed egress from the current universe, that it was in effect an escape route for the Xeelee. Before Parz, the Spline warship, and the Qax exit the wormhole, the Qax asks, "What do Xeelee fear, do you suppose?". Regardless, Bolder escaped the Great Attractor and returned to the Qax home system, where he was supposed to be taken into custody by dozens of Spline warships wielding gravitational-wave based "starbreakers" and his priceless data on the god-like Xeelee's ultimate project secured. Bolder either did not, or somehow escaped; in the ensuing fight, the starbreakers were accidentally fired at the Qax system primary star, and true to their name, destabilised it, causing it to go nova. The Qax were forced to hurriedly evacuate. Many died, and the power of the Qax trading empire (and by extension, their Occupation of Earth) ended.


In the past, Poole joins Berg on the Friend vessel shortly before the Qax emerges, having travelled aboard his ship, Hermit Crab, from the Oort cloud. He is accompanied by a Virtual of his father, Harry. Together they elude the control of the Friends, whose project fails under the bombardment of the Spline's starbreaker beam. Miriam Berg commandeers the singularity cannon used to sculpt Jupiter and fires a pair of black holes into the Spline, which merge and disable it. Meanwhile, aided by Jasoft Parz's internal sabotage, Poole succeeds in ramming the Hermit Crab into the second Spline, killing the sapience of the vessel and the entangled Qax, second Governor of Earth, with it. Harry takes over in lieu of the higher intelligence and, at the direction of Poole, steers it back into the wormhole: when inside, Poole intends to activate the hyperdrive, shattering the fragile dimensional warping of the wormhole, and of all wormholes connecting to it, thus saving humanity from further interference by the future.

Poole's audacious plan succeeds, but with an unexpected side effect. As the hyperdrive activates, it somewhat shatters space-time, forming a long series of interconnected wormholes that hurl Poole 5 million years forward into the far future. Poole discovers a sad cosmos, in which the stars are guttering out; the Friends were wrong- intelligent life would not triumph and remake the cosmos, eventually leading to their Prime Observer.

His ship shattered and broken, Poole begins dying, but at the last moment, an "anti-Xeelee" (whom it is implied is a being created by the Xeelee to be like them, except travelling like a tachyon backwards in time, the better to mould the Xeelee's early evolutionary history) takes a liking to Poole, and converts him into an intangible immortal being of "quantum functions". In this form, Poole travels the universe, but out of boredom, eventually begins to lapse into a quasi-coma- until an unexpected event occurs: a savage in a glass box, having travelled through a wormhole like Poole himself. "History resumed." (This final event is one of the early plot points of the Ring.)


Timelike Infinity is listed in Damien Broderick's and Paul Di Filippo's book Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985–2010. [5]

Versions in other languages

Related Research Articles

Superluminal communication is a hypothetical process in which information is conveyed at faster-than-light speeds. The current scientific consensus is that faster-than-light communication is not possible, and to date it has not been achieved in any experiment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Time travel</span> Hypothetical travel into the past or future

Time travel is the hypothetical activity of traveling into the past or future. Time travel is a widely recognized concept in philosophy and fiction, particularly science fiction. In fiction, time travel is typically achieved through the use of a hypothetical device known as a time machine. The idea of a time machine was popularized by H. G. Wells' 1895 novel The Time Machine.

A wormhole is a hypothetical structure connecting disparate points in spacetime, and is based on a special solution of the Einstein field equations.

The Novikov self-consistency principle, also known as the Novikov self-consistency conjecture and Larry Niven's law of conservation of history, is a principle developed by Russian physicist Igor Dmitriyevich Novikov in the mid-1980s. Novikov intended it to solve the problem of paradoxes in time travel, which is theoretically permitted in certain solutions of general relativity that contain what are known as closed timelike curves. The principle asserts that if an event exists that would cause a paradox or any "change" to the past whatsoever, then the probability of that event is zero. It would thus be impossible to create time paradoxes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Stephen Baxter (author)</span> British writer

Stephen Baxter is an English hard science fiction author. He has degrees in mathematics and engineering.

The world line of an object is the path that an object traces in 4-dimensional spacetime. It is an important concept of modern physics, and particularly theoretical physics.

In mathematical physics, a closed timelike curve (CTC) is a world line in a Lorentzian manifold, of a material particle in spacetime, that is "closed", returning to its starting point. This possibility was first discovered by Willem Jacob van Stockum in 1937 and later confirmed by Kurt Gödel in 1949, who discovered a solution to the equations of general relativity (GR) allowing CTCs known as the Gödel metric; and since then other GR solutions containing CTCs have been found, such as the Tipler cylinder and traversable wormholes. If CTCs exist, their existence would seem to imply at least the theoretical possibility of time travel backwards in time, raising the spectre of the grandfather paradox, although the Novikov self-consistency principle seems to show that such paradoxes could be avoided. Some physicists speculate that the CTCs which appear in certain GR solutions might be ruled out by a future theory of quantum gravity which would replace GR, an idea which Stephen Hawking labeled the chronology protection conjecture. Others note that if every closed timelike curve in a given space-time passes through an event horizon, a property which can be called chronological censorship, then that space-time with event horizons excised would still be causally well behaved and an observer might not be able to detect the causal violation.

<i>Phase Space</i> (story collection) Book by Stephen Baxter

Phase Space is a 2003 science fiction collection by British writer Stephen Baxter, containing twenty-three thematically linked stories, in which the human relationship with the universe is explored: whether humanity is truly alone in the universe, if there are other intelligent species, if these have turned their backs on us, or if expansion itself is destined to fail.

"Blue Shift" is the tenth story chronologically to appear in Stephen Baxter's collection of linked stories anthology novel Vacuum Diagrams. "Blue Shift" was originally published in Writers of the Future volume 5 in 1989.

The chronology protection conjecture is a hypothesis first proposed by Stephen Hawking that laws of physics beyond those of standard general relativity prevent time travel on all but microscopic scales - even when the latter theory states that it should be possible. The permissibility of time travel is represented mathematically by the existence of closed timelike curves in some solutions to the field equations of general relativity. The chronology protection conjecture should be distinguished from chronological censorship under which every closed timelike curve passes through an event horizon, which might prevent an observer from detecting the causal violation.

A temporal paradox, time paradox, or time travel paradox, is a paradox, an apparent contradiction, or logical contradiction associated with the idea of time travel or other foreknowledge of the future. While the notion of time travel to the future complies with the current understanding of physics via relativistic time dilation, temporal paradoxes arise from circumstances involving hypothetical time travel to the past – and are often used to demonstrate its impossibility.

A Krasnikov tube is a speculative mechanism for space travel involving the warping of spacetime into permanent superluminal tunnels. The resulting structure is analogous to a wormhole or an immobile Alcubierre drive with the endpoints displaced in time as well as space. The idea was proposed by Sergey Krasnikov in 1995.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">J. Richard Gott</span> American astrophysicist

John Richard Gott III is a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. He is known for his work on time travel and the Doomsday argument.

<i>Ring</i> (Baxter novel) 1994 novel by Stephen Baxter

Ring is a 1994 science fiction novel by British author Stephen Baxter. The novel tells the story of the end of the universe and the saving of mankind from its destruction. Two parallel plots are followed throughout the novel: that of Lieserl, an AI exploring the interior of the sun, and that of the Great Northern, a generation ship on a five-million-year journey.

<i>Flux</i> (novel) 1993 novel by Stephen Baxter

Flux is a 1993 science fiction novel by British author Stephen Baxter. It is the third book in Baxter's Xeelee Sequence.


Resplendent is an English language science fiction collection by British writer Stephen Baxter, published in 2006. It is the fourth and final book in the Destiny's Children series.

Destiny's Children is a science-fiction series by Stephen Baxter. It takes place within his larger series, the Xeelee Sequence. Like his previous Manifold Trilogy, the books are not direct sequels to one another, but are instead thematically linked by the appearance of concepts, themes, and sometimes characters in multiple books. Examples of this include:

The Xeelee Sequence is a series of hard science fiction 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 intergalactic war with an enigmatic and supremely powerful Kardashev Type V alien civilization called the Xeelee, and the Xeelee's own cosmos-spanning war with dark matter entities called Photino Birds. The series features many other species and civilizations that play a prominent role, including the Squeem, the Qax, and the Silver Ghosts. 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).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wormholes in fiction</span>

A wormhole is a postulated method, within the general theory of relativity, of moving from one point in space to another without crossing the space between. Wormholes are a popular feature of science fiction as they allow faster-than-light interstellar travel within human timescales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Far future in fiction</span> The far future as a theme in fiction

The far future has been used as a setting in many works of science fiction. The far future setting arose in the late 19th century, as earlier writers had little understanding of concepts such as deep time and its implications for the nature of humankind. Classic examples of this genre include works such as H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895) or Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930). Recurring themes include themes such as Utopias, eschatology or the ultimate fate of the universe. Many works also overlap with other genres such as space opera, science fantasy or apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.


  1. "Timelike Infinity (Xeelee Sequence #2) by Stephen Baxter". Goodreads . goodreads.com. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  2. "Timelike Infinity (1992) (The second book in the Xeelee series) A novel by Stephen Baxter". Fantastic Fiction. fantasticfiction.com. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  3. Luciani, Massimo (30 April 2012). "Timelike Infinity by Stephen Baxter". english.netmassimo.com. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  4. "Timelike Infinity by Stephen Baxter". SF Book. sfbook.com. 1 May 1999. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  5. "Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 — Nonstop Press". Archived from the original on 26 April 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2013.
  6. "Title: Das Geflecht der Unendlichkeit".
  7. "Czasopodobna nieskończoność".