Stephen Baxter's Xeelee novels span no less than a million years of alternate history, from the dying days of the Roman Empire to the... well, I won't spoil it. Think big. And then quite a lot bigger than that.

Most of the novels are set within the next 10-20,000 years. In an all-too-brief golden age, mankind begins interstellar exploration in mult-generation starships miles in length, with a program to seed wormholes across the Solar System and beyond. This attracts unwanted attention, and most of the advanced tech is lost in two resulting alien occupations of Earth. After overcoming the ruthless Qax, mankind begins another, more brutal expansion, a war for control of the Galaxy. While the claw-like "Greenships" are churned out by the billion, the capital ships are the altogether stranger Spline : huge space-dwelling creatures that hire themselves out as a sort of job security. Until finally there is no-one left to fight except for the enigmatic, fabulous Xeelee, owners of the Universe.

I made two animations from this. The first depicts one of the massive primitive starships of the sublight era. Three miles long and a mile wide, the GUT (Grand Unified Theory, the energy source which powers it) ship Mayflower II is sent on an intergalactic voyage to escape a harsh, totalitatian regieme that seizes control of Earth in the wake of the overthrow of the Qax. The story is - like most of Baxter - dark. Too dark. So while the ship in the novel has a very conventional, claustrophobic feel, I based this version on descriptions of other, similar ships in the sequence from humanity's golden age. So my version has skyscrapers, forests, a lake, a football field... that's the size of the thing we're dealing with. I think Baxter may have forgotten that one mile is really frickin' huge.

The second video depicts a Xeelee nightfighter - the most powerful ship in the saga. The Xeelee are enigmatic aliens who have manipulated their own timelines to alter their evolution. They populate every galaxy in the Universe, waging a war against an even more unusual foe... all other races are hopelessly primitive by comparison, and scramble for a few precious, abandonded Xeelee artifacts scattered throughout the Galaxy. Xeelee ships employ a "sheet discontinuity drive", deploying wings of folded spacetime which can be hundreds of kilometers in extent. And that makes them go forwards, somehow.

My version is deliberately Hollywoodised, staying true to the novel would have made for an easier ship to model, but one which would be harder to make look visually interesting.

Eventually humanity subdues or exterminates every other species in the galaxy, save the Xeelee. Thus begins an epochal war of attrition against the Xeelee fortress at the center of the Galaxy. Asteroids are turned into gun emplacements, with human crews digging trenches to hide themselves from the Xeelee starbreaker beams (gravitational wave lasers), although this is really more to give them someting to do than offer any real protection. I found the image of humans scrambling out of trenches to fire at the huge black sycamore-seed Xeelee, attendant Spline and Greenships filling the sky, to be something worth exploring. It can't be properly shown in a still picture, so here's a panorama (unfinished). Shift and ctrl zoom in and out, left click and drag to look around. But it's far, far better if you download it so you can view it fullscreen.

Text links take you to hi-res images and prints available for purchase at StockTrek images. 

"A ship, a living ship, full of... strange, alien lifeforms..."

 Shuttle approaching Spline


Baxter's universe does not feature classic movie wormhole-style hyperspace, but I wanted to do this anyway.

 Greenship in hyperspace

Flocks of Greenships and Spline accompany the asteroid gun emplacements

Assimilator's Claw

 Spline schematic

Assimilator's Claw, rear view

Assimilator's Claw, front view

One crewman per arm, each controlling a starbreaker cannon.

 Assimilator's Claw gun blister

Three miles long, a mile wide, using an asteroid for propellant.

Mayflower II hull

The ship is sent on a doomed intergalactic escape voyage.

Mayflower II front view

Mayflower II rear view


 Mayflower II mid section

The ship rotates, so that "gravity" acts toward the outer wall.

 Mayflower II lifedome

Unfinished shot, I'd run out of patience to add the details that would have improved this. The green and yellow rectangles are crops. Terraces and restaurants on the top of the curved skyscrapers provide a surreal view over the interior of the ship.

 Mayflower II circular city

Xeelee fleet

Xeelee fleet side view


Xeelee rear view


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