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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science as story, 23 Dec 2012
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This has been a hard review to write. "The Eternal Flame" is a very particular type of book, less a story than an extended physics lecture - the physics in question being different from that of our own universe, but perfectly consistent and worked out in great detail by Egan. In places it reads like Feynman Lectures on Physics restated as a Socratic dialogue. I have a physics degree and found sections pretty tough going. There isn't a lot of plot, and the characters are fairly rudimentary. Even more than the preceding volume, The Clockwork Rocket, science is the central character in this book. Given that, it is especially hard to give a start rating to. If you like this kind of stuff, you'll probably think it should be four or five stars. If you don't, you probably won't gte more than few pages in and I suspect you'd be inclined to give it one or two stars.

That may put you off. I wouldn't blame you if it did. But if you are happy to follow Carla and her colleagues as they argue the physics, developing, before your eyes, their universe's equivalent of quantum theory, and begin to apply it, creating analogues of devices like lasers, you may find it more worthwhile. For me, it was like eavesdropping on Bohr, Dirac, Einstein and, yes, Feynman. And there's more. The "Peerless", the generation ship upon which Carla lives and works, is dedicated to science, launched to develop the technologies that can save her species' world from annihilation.

(If you haven't read "The Clockwork Rocket", stop reading this review now as I'm going to mention things about Carla's species and world that book only reveals slowly, and, believe me, it would spoil the effect to be told them in advance).

Carla's species - never described, as of course they're the norm - are very different from humans. They are born by fission - the "mother" splitting into two or four, and so ceasing to exist, with the children brought up by her "co", the father: the two cos will have been born together (so, Carla and Carlo, Amanda and Amando). Upon these roles turns a thread of gender politics that runs alongside the quantum stuff, since it gives men and women different stakes in society. This is brought to a head by a potential population crisis which is only being held in check by the females starving themselves to limit births. Against this background, Carlo, Carla's co, pursues biological research to try and find a less drastic way. But anything which challenges male and female roles may upset some (as the previous book showed, where the very idea of women having autonomy was hard contested).

This was a fascinating book and, once it got going, a gripping read. As I have said above, it it light in plot and character - more so than "The Clockwork Rocket" where the science was more hand in hand with the life of Yalda, the revolutionary physicist through whose four eyes the story was told - and there are long passages of exposition and dialogue as the fundamental science is developed. Egan has provided a great deal of background information on this on his website (I think this would be fun place for undergraduates with a mathematical physics bent to have a play with a challengingly different, but tantalisingly familiar, logical structure).

I'm keenly anticipating The Arrows of Time which will conclude the trilogy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Continuation, 12 Sep 2012
Those who have read my review of part one The Clockwork Rocket (Orthogonal) of this series will already know that I like Greg Egans work.
This continuation of the story takes the physics of the orthogonal universe to delightful, surprising, and consistent new levels. Empathising with the characters involved in this process of discovery makes the book a very enjoyable read. The challenges and opportunities faced by the individuals and the society are so well interwoven with the science that it is difficult to pause reading for long enough to give some of the more complex ideas the contemplation time they deserve.
I expect I will read it a few times and find as much pleasure in appreciating the richness and depth of Egans latest creation as I have with his other work.
Thank you Mr. Egan.
Five stars. Again.
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5.0 out of 5 stars stunning, 23 May 2013
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This book is not "unputdownable", because every now and again you have to put it down and ponder. The physics and maths seems right to me , as a non mathematician , and the way he leads the folk from one discovery to the other ( from antimatter to lasers to spintronics) is brilliant - why can't the textboks be writen like this ?, I finally understand why electrons need to rotate twice to get to the same position ( 4 dimensional vector addition ).
There's the odd quibble - population size on the mountain space-ship must be small enough everybody knows everyone else , so the politics arising from the biology discoveries didn't ring true to the same extent, but gave the story the needed momentum .
Physical resources must be limited, and a lot of precious air seems to be being used up profligately , but these are small potatoes - this is hard science fiction written by someone who takes no prisoners . Only one question - when is the nextone coming out?
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4.0 out of 5 stars Momentum maintained, 19 Dec 2012
Christopher J. Napier (Egham, Surrey, UK) - See all my reviews
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This sequel maintains the momentum of the "Orthogonal" series. We are now a few generations on from the original book, and Greg Egan gives us a mixture of adventure, theoretical physics and discoveries in other areas. He generates a pervasive sense of tension, as a need to limit population growth among creatures who normally give birth by having the female split into four leads to females having to starve themselves to hold off from giving birth. How various characters try to overcome this provides one of the novel's sub-plots, along with the discovery of the Orthogonal Universe's analogue to quantum wave mechanics.

Greg Egan has put a lot of thought into developing the Orthogonal Universe, and this book has certainly included several significant plot developments. I withheld a fifth star because so much of the book is made up of conversations where different scientists try to persuade their colleagues of their new ideas - these sections would probably be of interest to physicists, but rather hold up the story.

So I'd recommend this book, with mild reservations, to anyone interested in real science fiction. with challenging ideas intersecting with thrills and drama.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good follow-up for Clockwork Rocket, 15 Dec 2012
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I enjoyed this book, although I would say it veers more towards space opera than the author's previous work. There are, however, a lot of graphs and explanations, which although not essential (particularly for the more 'personality/political' parts of the plot) are a nice touch.
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4.0 out of 5 stars True Universe Creation, 3 Dec 2012
Well, it is Greg Egan right? Surely just about the best modern proponent of taking current scientific cutting edge thought and extrapolating it to the limit. Almost always coupled with intriguing storyline, believable characters, and utterly engrossing well paced narrative. He is served well by his short story experience in this. In many ways he, better than anyone else, has deserved the accolation of "creating universes" with novels such as Diaspora even though most recently he was exploring near future trends and politics in Zendegi.

With the Orthogonal books however he really has taken "Creating Universes" to a whole new level.

- Here we have an entirely new universe with different physics laws and constants. This includes most prominently the physical law that the speed of light is variable across the spectrum.

- Then we have the utterly different but utterly believable alien species with very different (and only incrementally explained across the books) reproductive processes. Perhaps to counter the wealth of novelty and difference he errs a little in making the characters overly empathetic but their actions, power struggles, jealousies and preoccupations are entirely derived and explicable from their surroundings, events, their biology and the physics they live with.

- A third main theme and ingredient to the mix is an imminent apocalyptic event revealed to be caused by the effects of space time curvature and the universe bending back upon itself in essence turning matter into antimatter via this and bringing it together (yes that is somewhat complicated).

Taken together we have the ingredients of a fantastic and incredible adventure. It may seem to stretch incredulity at times but when Greg Egan flies a mountain into space he is not acting like James Blish launching Cities into flight essentially by magic - not at all - he has the explanation and the calculations to show how it works and a chain of events clearly logical to reach it - perhaps it would take Sherlock Holmes to track the initiation from the ending but none the less it is fully coherent.

If I have a complaint about the book it one based in my own egotism in that once and for all totally and truly, Mr Egan has broken my brain. I like to think I can follow complex science but his derivation of completely new physics for the new universe as part of the narrative of the books goes beyond where I can follow especially in the second book. Perhaps this will make more sense upon re-reading but I did find that I was doing a bit of speed reading to get past some of these sections. I know that the need to innovate and develop their science is essential for the characters in the book but it might have been better to follow the path of Neal Stephenson (Anathem) and place some of the more complex scientific discursions in appendices where these were not immediately needed for the narrative (albeit I could follow Stephenson's and read them at the point of the narrative they occurred).

So overall a top class genuine hard science fiction book, realising a believable and detailed universe with a believable alien species enmeshed in a meaningful and involving adventure. I am sorely tempted to give five stars but due to the overly complex physics text book nature in places (which I am sure will prevent some people from finishing the books) must reduce this to four.
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The Eternal Flame: Orthogonal Book Two
The Eternal Flame: Orthogonal Book Two by Greg Egan (Paperback - 8 Aug 2013)
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