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Incandescence Hardcover – May 1, 2008

3.3 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hugo-winner Egan (Schild's Ladder), champion of ultra-hard SF, devotes most of this slim novel to the efforts of the Arkmakers, who live in a neutron star's accretion disk at the center of the galaxy, to develop orbital physics from first principles and save the artificial world created by their more sophisticated ancestors. Meanwhile, Rakesh, a more or less human member of a distant posthuman society, sets off on an unrelated quest to find the Arkmakers and is soon trying to save them from their current danger. Whole chapters are devoted to physics problems and include a variety of diagrams and cited sources. Egan's briefly sketched characters and cultures are interesting, but this one is all about the science and won't have much interest for those without at least some understanding of celestial mechanics. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

All critics who considered Incandescence were fascinated by it. They loved Egan's descriptions of a galaxy-spanning, posthuman civilization and the intellectual acrobatics necessary to understand how bugs on a splinter of rock think about their universe. But as with many of Egan's books, one's enjoyment may not be complete unless one can keep up with the physics, of which there is no shortage. "Especially when he's showing how Roi's people derive what amounts to Einstein's theory of relativity in a very different gravitational field from Earth's, readers may feel compelled to skim," noted the critic of Io9.com. Reviewers did not exactly criticize this feature of the book but merely noted it as an essential feature of the "hard" science fiction of which Egan is one of the leading lights.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597801283
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597801287
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,658,396 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I am a science fiction writer and computer programmer. You can find information, illustrations and interactive applets that supplement my books at www.gregegan.net

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Greg Egan is one of my favorite science fiction authors, but he seems to be nearly unknown in the U.S. I have been waiting for this book to arrive for some time, so I wound up ordering a British edition from Amazon UK. This review assumes the text is the same.

Egan's story is set in the galactic core, inhabited by a race known as the Aloof, because they seem almost indifferent to any attempts at communication from the Amalgam, the loose network of civilizations that inhabit the rest of the galaxy. However, they do allow thrill-seeking members of the Amalgam to enter their transportation network, digitizing themselves for transmission at the speed of light across the galactic core, instead of the long way around it.

A chunk of rock containing DNA leads a couple to commit their efforts to tracking down the mystery of a lost alien race inside the Aloof-controlled core. That's the setup, but the real fascination of this book is the weird physics and civilization of the surviving aliens, who live on a fragment of rock in the gravity well of a neutron star. By a process of deduction and scientific measurement using primitive tools the inhabitants are able to deduce their true situation in the universe and also to come to understand the perils they face.

Much of the book consists of the scientific inquiries of the aliens, rendered in great detail, in particular the way they deduce their orbital mechanics by measuring the forces at work inside their world. It reminds me of Robert L. Foward's fantastic hard SF novel Dragon's Egg, which describes a race living on the surface of a neutron star, their bodies made out of degenerate matter, and also of Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity.
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Format: Hardcover
Egan's first novel for 6 years is set in a very far future where an evolved humanity has spread out to inhabit the galaxy's spiral arms, where lifespans are measured in millennia and travel is possible almost anywhere in the galaxy. The exception is the central galactic bulge which is inhabited by the aptly named Aloof, who exist in splendid isolation and firmly but gently repel all attempts to go there.

Sounds pretty intriguing, doesn't it? The Aloof are a mystery. Obviously highly advanced, but unwilling to interact with humanity. Until two intrepid humans accept an invitation to travel to into Aloof territory to examine a strange rock world inhabited by sentient insect-like creatures.

Still sounds intriguing, doesn't it? As always, Egan is concerned with hard science - mathematics, physics, genetics and astronomy - and indeed the nature of scientific discovery. And therein lies the problem. Incandescence suffers from the same shortcoming as did Schild's Ladder - too much science, not enough fiction. Both the human and insectoid characters are painted far too thinly to arouse any real emotion and the dialogue serves mainly as a vehicle for explaining the science rather than giving any insight into the characters themselves. As a reader I felt a kind of intellectual detachment from the events - like I was watching but not particularly engaged. Rather like the Aloof, in fact.

Nonetheless, the science is intriguing, even for a non-scientific type like me, and the ideas are really big. So, if that's your thing, you'll probably enjoy it more than I did. For me, though, the biggest most intriguing mystery of all, the Aloof themselves, remained unsolved. Indeed, I gleaned little insight into their nature or their motives. For me they remained as aloof as ever.

I still think Egan is one of the best SF writers around, but Incandescence is not his most engaging work.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the book has a wonderfully evoked sophisticated far future, that does not forgive the missing fundamental requirement that the plot go somewhere and make internal sense. The two, obviously converging plot lines don't converge. I had to go back and re-read the ending to make sure I hadn't missed something. Another reviewer here confirmed my confusion --- you can't tell if one plot preceeded or followed the other by a huge span of time. It is also possible that the Splinter of the "Splinter" plot line was NOT the populated fragment found in the other plot. The Aloof remain so from beginning to end.
I would only recommend this book to college physics students having a hard time and looking for a painless way to have orbital mechanics explained without math.
Given Egaan's earlier, much better work, I was very disappointed. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works that will tie things together. If so, would it have hurt to put a teaser to the next part so that we don't have to wonder if Egan and his editors went over the edge. Which brings me to the title for my review. Where were the editors? A published book is not just the work of the author. Decent editing could have saved this book. Likewise critical reading in draft form by some cogent sci-fi readers or authors.
If this is part one of an unannounced series shame on Egan and the publishing house. I don't mind buying several books to have one story told (although I would prefer one, fat book to three skinny ones) I don't like be lured into thinking I'm buying a complete work only to find I have a fragment. I actually prefer to sit back and wait until the series is compete and then buy and read them at once, in sequence.
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