on 10 August 2014
This is the concluding book in the Orthogonal trilogy , preceded by The clockwork rocket and The Eternal Flame. The name of the trilogy comes from its setting in a universe that is not ours, but is never the less consistent in the way its physics works. Not surprisingly, there is intelligent life there which is very different in nature from humanity but has the same drive to understand its environment.
To save their home planet, which is menaced by a stream of ever-larger meteorites, an audacious plan is proposed by a famous scientist called Yalda, to send the Peerless, a hollowed-out mountain, re-purposed as a space ship, backwards in time to find an answer to this threat of extinction. This is not passed on the nod, but provokes opposition, some from alternative plans, and some from those simply opposed, who use public pressure and sometimes violence to try and get their way. These aliens are alien though, as the females burst apart to create offspring , who are then nurtured by males. They have flexible bodies with eyes front and back and can create pictures on their skin.
Six generations pass after the Peerless sets off, and things have moved on. Again, the story portrays life aboard the ship – now with new controversies raging over a slow move towards a new reproductive cycle, caused by the privations of the mission. Some question the plan laid down for them by Yalda. An alternative to saving the "ancestors" is to find a new and habitable planet. The desire to find a place to settle leads to a landing on a time-reversed planet where things are work backwards. And the main ship itself now uses networking, and male/female couples have become more acceptable.
Finally, a new complication arises: the prospect of constructing a messaging system that will give the Peerless news of its own future. While some see this as a chance to learn of their mission’s ultimate success, others are convinced that the knowledge will be oppressive or worse. The conflict over this proposed communication system again threaten the travellers’ world.
This really is a remarkable trilogy. Unlike most which hark back to some past, mythical Eden, this one looks forward, to a transformation of society based on conceptual breakthroughs both in theoretical science and in the more mundane, but no less important, social domain. This is the first example of a real science fiction trilogy, which gives a vision of how different science can be and how that might affect living creatures. Considering that this is such a radical departure from the norm in science fiction, it is a shame that no prizes or even nominations have been forthcoming.
on 5 December 2013
Those who have read my other reviews of Egan's work will know I have high praise for his books.
This, the third and final book in the Orthogonal series takes the story forwards and explores new implications of the science of the Orthogonal universe, the society of the adventurers, and the challenges faced by the characters in surprising, delightful and consistent ways.
Mr. Egan - as a voracious reader I can say you are unique in the SF you produce. Thank you, yet again for your intelligent and deeply human works.
on 14 July 2014
Did not like it too much, he got bogged down in science, requiring too much thinking. It needs clearer descriptions for the science. I understand the theory of relativity, but I got lost in this. It was too much work to keep flipping back to understand why things would work the way they do. I would not read it again. My benchmark for a good book is that I would reread it at least once.