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Two years ago I was at the DiscWorld Convention in Birmingham, and was drawn for a place in a kaffeeklatsch with Stephen Baxter, who had just begun his Long Earth collaboration with Terry Pratchett, but whose work I have known and (often but not always) enjoyed for many years. I suppose I can summarise my feelings about Baxter's writing by saying that I always appreciate the breadth and scope of his vision - the commitment to sensawunda if you like - but that he doesn't always succeed in communicating it in a human way to me. The cold emptiness of the vast deserts of space and time sometimes need a personal dimension beyond empty vastness to make them interesting.

So I was surprised and perhaps a little apprehensive when Baxter revealed over that coffee in 2010 that he had also been commissioned to write a Second Doctor novel by the BBC. He waxed lyrical about The Mind Robber (demonstrating his good taste) and about the Jamie/Zoe era in general, which went some way to reassuring me. But then last year we had Michael Moorcock's bending of the Whoniverse to write a Jerry Cornelius story, and I began to wonder if an established SF author could ever adapt his or her style to written Who. Still, I tracked the publication schedules and was set to put in an order for the book when it came out next month.

And then I spotted it in a Belfast bookshop last week and grabbed it off the shelf. There have been various interruptions to my schedule over the last few days, but I managed to finish it on the train to work this morning. (Holiday over, dammit!) As the Belgian fields whizzed by me I was transported to the moons of Saturn, courtesy of S. Baxter. It was a warm day today in Belgium, so I was glad of the icy relief.

And, basically, I was relieved in all ways. This is a good Who novel, and a decent Baxter novel. The vast emptinesses are tempered both by the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe's experiences (and all three get some excellent stretching as characters) and by the internal dynamics of the human colony (a classic Troughton-era base under siege, with added marital discord and stroppy teenagers). Yet at the same time he has ancient, weird aliens, and a mystery stretching across millions of years, which entirely convince the reader that this is a Stephen Baxter novel. There are also various pleasing references both to Who continuity and to Baxter's other work, none of them crucial to enjoying the book. Much much better than the last Who book I read set in this corner of the Solar System, and recommended both to Who fans and readers who find Baxter interesting; and indeed to SF readers generally.

(Though I must point out that "The Wearing of the Green" is not a Jacobite tune. Wrong island, and more than half a century out.)

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