The good news is that somebody figured out how to stop a millennia-long human-alien conflict. The bad news is they might destroy the universe doing it.
In each installment in his Destiny’s Children series, Baxter (Coalescent, 2003, etc.) assigns a different possible future for the human race, and this time the outlook is bleak. Thousands of years in the future, mankind has spread far into the galaxy, overrunning and exterminating the occasional alien race along the way, only to run up against the fearsome Xeelee. In a sort of never-ending intergalactic trench warfare, mankind has been shoveling an endless stream of manpower and materiel against the Xeelee, holding them to their fortified part of the galaxy but unable to achieve victory. Pirius is a 19-year-old pilot born on a remote base who gets tossed in destiny’s way when, after barely surviving a horrendous battle, he does the unthinkable by capturing a Xeelee nightfighter. The technology contained by the alien vessel—which appears to be made out of the fabric of a collapsing star—provides the impetus for a far-out strategy that, with Pirius’s help, could take the war to the Xeelee’s home base, the massive black hole of Chandra. Complications ensue in the form of bureaucratic pushback from military and government types who’ve been fighting this war for so long they can’t conceive of doing something to end it, and from the fact that destroying Chandra could decimate all of known reality as well. Baxter has an uncanny gift for mixing a punchy, cyberpunk cynicism with his resolutely hard SF story base—loopy paradoxes of faster-than-light travel, for example, result in two versions of Pirius meeting each other—in a manner that places him among the greats of the field. And his trim prose keeps the drama on a human scale even as he bounds across the galaxy from one perspective-walloping set piece to another.
Rivals Asimov in its boundless vision for the future evolution of humanity.