You’ve been staring at your monitor too long. Relax and curl up with a book unrelated to IT, end users, or networks. Weekend Reading has your review.

By Stephen BaxterDel Rey, 12/1999440 pp., hardcoverISBN: 0-345-43075-1Price: $16.80 at .

Under the guise of operating a waste-disposal facility, outrageous entrepreneur Reid Malenfant builds a rocket in the Mojave and plans to mine asteroids. After a spooky mathematician, Cornelius Taine, convinces him to build a device that will retrieve messages from the future, Malenfant begins to believe that he and his spaceship have a more important mission: ensuring the survival of the human race.

Malenfant’s story unfolds in Manifold: Time, the first volume of a planned trilogy from Stephen Baxter, whose previous novels include Voyage and The Time Ships . Baxter has received numerous literary honors, including The British Science Fiction Award.

A super squid?
In Manifold: Time, Malenfant’s first mission to the asteroid Cruithne is piloted by a smart squid. That may sound somewhat silly, but Baxter makes it seem plausible (in an afterword, he notes that the idea of intelligent squid is based on fact). Some passages in the novel even provide a squid’s-eye-view of the situation, and the reader soon begins to feel some sympathy for the cephalopod.

The squid discovers a space/time portal on Cruithne, so Malenfant launches a second mission—an illegal one he initiates just as the government tries to shut him down. The crew includes Malenfant and his ex-wife, Emma Stoney, who is still an employee of his company, as well as Cornelius Taine and a mysterious, super-smart child named Michael, whom Stoney has rescued from a prison camp where other super-intelligent children are housed because the adults of the world are afraid of them.

As Malenfant and his crew explore the portal, the other children escape to the moon where they work on a technology that may play a key role in helping humanity survive an apocalypse. But will the children have to obliterate the universe in order to save it?

Hard science and human drama
Manifold: Time is complex and a bit slow in spots, but it also includes several surprising twists as well as interesting details. For example, the description of what it’s like to travel aboard a spacecraft is gritty and realistic. And although the novel includes a lot of hard science, it also offers some soft and tender moments and other engaging bits of human drama—especially between Malenfant and his ex-wife.

An interesting aspect of the novel is that many of the characters must make difficult choices in situations where right and wrong are not easily discernable. For example, even the people who want to befriend the genius children must face the fact that it may be necessary to destroy them.

Throughout the novel—besides the main narrative—there are brief passages that represent various points of view through such devices as random e-mail messages and news reports. Instead of detracting from the story, the passages enhance it. They provide multiple perspectives and convey a sense of society’s growing panic.

The recommendation
Manifold: Time is an epic adventure that lets the reader explore space travel, time travel, and the ways in which various people face an approaching apocalypse. What better way to spend your weekend?

Thomas Pack is a freelance technology writer.