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Incandescence [Paperback]

Greg Egan
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 May 2008
A million years from now, the galaxy is divided between the vast, cooperative meta-civilisation known as the Amalgam, and the silent occupiers of the galactic core known as the Aloof. The Aloof have long rejected all attempts by the Amalgam to enter their territory, but have permitted travellers to take a perilous ride as unencrypted data in their communications network, providing a short-cut across the galaxy's central bulge. When Rakesh encounters a traveller, Lahl, who claims she was woken by the Aloof on such a journey and shown a meteor full of traces of DNA, he accepts her challenge to try to find the uncharted world deep in the Aloof's territory from which the meteor originated. Roi and Zak live inside the Splinter, a world of rock that swims in a sea of light they call the Incandescence. Living on the margins of a rigidly prganised society, they seek to decipher the subtle clues that can reveal the true nature of the Splinter. In fact, the Splinter is orbiting a black hole, which is about to capture a neighbouring star, wreaking havoc. As the signs of danger grow, Roi, Zak, and a growing band of recruits struggle to understand and take control of their fate. Meanwhile, Rakesh is gradually uncovering their remote history, and his search for the lost DNA world ultimately leads him to a civilisation trapped in cultural stagnation, and startling revelations about the true nature and motives of the Aloof.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz; paperback / softback edition (15 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575081635
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575081635
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.2 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,185,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Greg Egan lives in Perth, Western Australia. He has won the John W. Campbell award for Best Novel and has been short listed for the Hugo three times.

Product Description


"Egan is perhaps the most exciting SF writer at work today." (Andrew McKie THE DAILY TELEGRAPH )

"One of the very best progenitors of hard science fiction out there...Egan explores the very essence of what it is to be human, the very nature of what and who we are and how we relate, or don't, to one another. Expansive, engaging and thoroughly thought-provoking stuff. Science fiction at its most powerful and profound." (Alasdair Morton SCI FI NOW )

"[A] curious combination of cool rationality and philosophical adventure. Egan has been working these veins since 'Dust', 'Permutation City' and 'Diaspora' and his hand has not lost its cunning nor his mind its passion." (Russell Letson LOCUS )

"This is science fiction on a massive scale and with Egan being one of the genre's top ideas men, there's no shortage of invention or brain-spinning concepts. For any fans of hard SF, this is genuinely unmissable." (SFX )

"With Incandescence Egan's imagination continues to dazzle and distil the sense of wonder that makes SF such a joy. If you like your SF real hard then you'll simply love this one: it's as solid as the genre gets." (CONCATENATION )

"...a clever and original scientific mystery, and the evocation of a couple of very unusual and fascinating cultures. It's been too long since the last Egan novel. Hopefully the next gap won't be nearly as great." (DONDAMMASSA.COM )

"Egan's ideas - notably people travelling the galaxy as data - are frequently fascinating." (Dave Golder BBC FOCUS )

"Greg Egan has no equal in the field of hard SF novels. His themes are cosmic with galactic civilizations and plots spanning millennia. Compelling throughout, [Incandescence] contrasts some fascinating moral quandaries of knowing decadence with the mind-expanding discoveries of isolated peasants and eventually blends its narrative threads in a surprising twist." (Tony Lee STARBURST )

"In his hard science fiction novels, Greg Egan isn't afraid to tackle high concepts, and as the afterword to Incandescence shows, he has drawn inspiration from the most up to date scientific thinking." (DREAMWATCH )

"Sheer exuberance of invention. The way Egan writes it, the Amalgem feels like the only possible future, and the future looks just fine from here." (INTERZONE Jim Steel )

"Audacious as ever, Egan makes you believe it is possible. A breathtaking, if sometimes knotty, thought experiment." (NEW SCIENTIST )

About the Author

Greg Egan lives in Perth, Western Australia. He has won the John W. Campbell award for Best Novel and has been short-listed for the Hugo three times.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Remaining Aloof 6 Jun 2008
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 if 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not nearly exotic enough 15 July 2008
By map
Greg Egan is the Martin Gardner of science fiction storytelling, weaving mathematical and physical puzzles into entertaining howdunnits about encounters with novel forms of sentience, usually at vastly smaller scales than ours. Many of his stories, like Incandescence, are set in a post-human galaxy-spanning culture, the Amalgam, based on the idea of consciousness as an algorithm that can run on different hardware as it suits - so interstellar travel, for instance, is a simple matter of flinging your mental template (or a copy of your mind) as data to a far off receiving station where you can be re-embodied or just incorporated into any computational substrate that will let your unique OS run.

At his best (e.g. Schild's Ladder) the reader is often gripped by a plot involving a race against time to comprehend new forms of intelligent life that might be threatening the old through some inadvertent side-effect of their expansionism into the Amalgam's reality-space. At the same time, Egan has an amazing gift for explaining, Flatland fashion, the physics of extreme environments; working through the consequences of Planck scale realities or multi-dimensional spaces to render them almost as intuitively as we accept the everyday physics of our world.

In Incandescence, the story alternates between two investigators from the Amalgam trying to comprehend the possibly tragic fate of just such a new form of sentience and the struggle of that life form to comprehend its environment before the volatile conditions which exist in the star-packed inner core of our galaxy makes them extinct.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable novel 28 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is based on a short story of the same name Egan published some years ago. This work alludes to the short story but is independent of it. I read the short story first but it would not stand if read later as prequel.

I admire all the Egan works I have read. He undertands story making and physics to which he makes plausible extensions. To my mind Permutation City is Egan's most conceptually challenging and enjoyable work. Incandescence has challenges of its own but is rooted in more conventional physics. To get the best out of it one needs some understanding of gravity because much of the work is taken up with the intriguing question of how beings could deduce their surroundings from within an enclosed orbiting body. Of course, being Egan, a strange place is being orbitted. I strongly recommend this novel
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much science, too little story 24 Jun 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Greg Egan's stories often have a strong science component. That's not a problem for me, I generally love having my mind twisted by maths or physics while enjoying the story, but in Incandescence the balance is totally lost.

The novel comprises two ultimately related stories, one follows two members of the Amalgam as they journey deep into the territory of the Aloof who control the hub of the galaxy and who passively resist any attempt by the Amalgam to be understood. The other story follows that of a group of aliens living in the Splinter surrounded by the Incandescence.

It's this second story where the real problem lies. Too much of it is taken up with one character explaining physical theories and of them conducting experiments, and that dominates that portion of the novel. It's okay as far as it goes, but both parts of the novel are very thin on characterisation or just plain story.

However some of the old Egan magic is here, and he offers some nice hints on the nature of the Aloof at the end of the book while cleverly avoiding the mistake of actually revealing their exact nature.

In summary, disapointing, but Greg Egan at half power is still better than many writers at their best.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Mis-selling
This is more of a maths textbook than a novel. Great if that's what you want. Otherwise leave it well alone.
Published 12 months ago by I. Yusuf
5.0 out of 5 stars Incandesence
In one word... Amazing! The scope and technology imagined are far in excess of most Sc-Fi I have read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by SoundInTheory
1.0 out of 5 stars A thinly-veiled physics lesson.
Let me start by saying that I recently read Axiomatic and Quarantine by Greg Egan and they are great books so I had high expectations when I bought this book. Read more
Published on 6 Feb 2011 by plot hound
3.0 out of 5 stars A book of too many parts
This is a book in at least two parts, maybe three, all of which work well on their own, but never really gel together. Read more
Published on 31 Dec 2010 by D. R. Cantrell
3.0 out of 5 stars Science saves the day,,,
Incandescence uses the same backround as two stories, Riding the Crocodile and Glory. All are set in the Amalgam, a far future utopia that allows people to follow any path they... Read more
Published on 13 Oct 2010 by A. J. Poulter
5.0 out of 5 stars !!!Concept Vertigo!!!
Firstly; watch out for plot spoiler reviews!!
(it's not a mystery tour if you know where your heading)

Egan's work is 'Hard' Sci-Fi of the highest order. Read more
Published on 11 Jan 2010 by numpty
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost Robert Forward
In the far future most of the galaxy has been explored to death. There is very little new to see and do. Read more
Published on 15 Dec 2009 by Robert
2.0 out of 5 stars great ideas but little actions
Altough it starts with some fascinating Ideas. The part where the creatures Roi and Zak discover their world the Splinter is slow. Read more
Published on 30 Aug 2009 by H. Pauw
3.0 out of 5 stars When Down is Up
This book is very much in the tradition of Hal Clement's hard science fiction, where the investigation of what happens under various extreme physical conditions is the prime focus... Read more
Published on 18 May 2009 by Patrick Shepherd
1.0 out of 5 stars Missed opportunities
Egan starts with two themes, which he follows in alternating chapters: how members of an ultra-advanced civilisation can avoid terminal boredom; and the strivings of an alien race... Read more
Published on 5 Dec 2008 by philcha
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