The title links to the edition of the book I have, and which the page numbers refer to.
The ambition of this book is amazing: tell the story of human evolution, starting 65 million years ago (there is also a brief dip back further than that) and skipping ahead in successively smaller jumps approaching the present and then speed up again into the far future. It's Baxter's increasingly refined 'deep time' story framework. And it's from the point of view of various mammals, many of which are not very intelligent, with frequent info-dumps to fill in what is happening over the larger time scales and what the protagonists obviously aren't aware of. Baxter mixes current theories and scientific speculation with his own imaginative creatures and events, reading this makes me want to pick up some good science books that cover this same ground. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to explain why a particular creature will leave no fossil evidence.
Baxter wrote a lot about primates in Manifold Origin, so that territory is familiar here.
Looking back on my notes it has taken me over a month to read this large book (it's over 700 pages).
60 - Made up 'air whale'
80 - Impact crater walls to 10,000 feet? Would this really happen?
260 - Purpose of consciousness is to model other's thinking.
263 - Successful over-specialization is a dead end- if a species finds an unassailable niche they will have no reason to change.
293 - Hypervitomosis - recurring reference to how long a given animal will remember the death of someone in their family.
391 - Focus on maladies, suffering. Capacity for suffering is proportional to intelligence?
432 - Inventiveness of mother similar to the origin of the 'convent' in Coalescent.
460 - Australia suffered ecological disaster after arrival of pre-aboriginal humans.
- Alieness of living side-by-side with other pre-human species.
- Compartmentalization of mind
- Ability to anthropomorphize anything (other people, nature, abstract things like art) as an indicator of increasing intelligence.
508 - collapse of Rome similar territory to Coalescent again. Failure to keep expanding as reason for failure similar to human interstellar civilization in a Baxter short story (something about fortress stars).
Here, for Rome's collapse the rich evaded taxes, the middle class evaporated, and the taxes increasingly fell on the poor who were unable to pay much. Obvious parallels to modern society which are made more explicit when the narration reaches the near future.
574 - Death rate in ancient cities so high that constant migration from country side required. Self-sufficiency was only recently made possible by sanitory advances.
650ish - Wheat and domesticated animals will die without human care- they evolve in step with humans millions of years ago and are entirely dependent.
682 - Shades of 'Earth Abides' with the recovery of Earth after humans die out.
The most interesting idea- DNA itself grows old, more conservative, no new phyla are introduced, adaptability becomes more limited. But the end has bacteria surviving to seed other worlds - perhaps once a bacteria lands in a place completely barren of competing life, it will be able to regain creativity.