- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Gollancz (7 Feb. 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0575081732
- ISBN-13: 978-0575081734
- Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 427,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Distress Paperback – 7 Feb 2008
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"A dizzying intellectual adventure."
--"The New York Times"
A dizzying intellectual adventure.
"The New York Times"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'One of the genre's great ideas men' TimesSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This is proper HARD sci-fi. But it's not hard to read.
A common criticism of hard sci-fi is that it contains only ideas, and little plot or action. Plenty of both are to be found here.
Another criticism commonly leveled at sci-fi is that the characters are wooden, and show no development thru the course of the story. Egan again bucks the trend, one may truly use the term 'novel' to describe many of his books, especially this one.
Egan is renowned for his extremely creative and mind-bending ideas. This is perhaps not his weirdest excursion, but there's plenty to sink your teeth into in that regard.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this particular work is how all these elements, which are not often found together at all, are perfectly balanced here. There's not too much action at the expense of character development, and there's not to much introspection at the expense of action. Everything fits together to make one cohesive and immensely satisfying whole.
I've read a lot of Egans books, he's one of my favourite authors, but this one is still my favourite, for the reasons outlined above. I don't think I could go into any more detail without risk of plot spoilers. It's a good 'un, what are you waiting for?!
Egan's Theory of Everything is entertaining hard sci fi. The detail in the novel is great - the man throws off new ideas left right and centre.
You have to read the entire book to discover why it is called Distress though!
We are put into a scenario in the future about fifty years from now. There is to be an presentation of a ground breaking scientific discovery. The Theory of Everything, TOE. We then get to follow a journalist in his mission to cover this event. According to the presentation on the back of the book there is a threat against the most important scientist in this event and you get the impression that the story is some kind of criminal or thriller theme set into the future. Unfortunately this is not the case. In fact, the book is 423 pages long and that part of the book starts somewhere around page 230.
Greg Egan can write hard science Sf. There is no doubt about that. Some of us who have read Sf for a long time remember the idea that Sf is supposed to give you a "sense of wonder". This is accomplished by Mr Egan on almost every page. There is so much of interesting and fascinating ideas presented that the whole flow of the story suffers. You just cant help yourself from stopping and thinking "wow, what a great idea". But after some time you start to realize that what he is doing is presenting a new world to you, but he is not writing a story. Fifty pages into the book I had gone from four stars to three and 150 pages later I was down to two stars. There simply was no story taking place until you entered the second half of the book.
The Main character in the book is a journalist that has some serious mental problems. It is not helped by the fact that not only is he living in a world full of super advanced technology but also a world with seven types of human gender.Read more ›
(it's not a mystery tour if you know where your heading)
Egan's work is 'Hard' Sci-Fi of the highest order. I give him the edge over Brian Aldis (my other favorite), as concepts are heavier and plots driven by 'rawer' science at a blistering pace.
His breadth of vision astounds; always extrapolating logically to the n'th degree. A modicum of effort may be required from the reader at times; but one is richly rewarded with a sense of awe, discovery and achievement. Each book is a Grand Odyssey.
Hold tight and don't look down, because he'll take you a long, long way from where you started....
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I first read this book almost 2 decades ago. At the time I remember it as a nice, solid, near-future sci-fi book. What I remembered most from that first read was just how believable and interesting the genetic engineering aspects of the world were.
I remember thinking to myself that "yes - if biotech is to do in the near future what information-tech did in the near past - this is what it would look like".
Similar to Larry Niven's "Flash Crowd", which is the first realistic description of a society with teleporters I ever saw, this book was the first realistic description of a society with advanced biotech I ever saw.
So that's what I thought about the first time I read it - an enjoyable sci-fi book with good science but bad characters. You know the kind - where all the characters are "too logical" and only exist to explain the science.
Around a decade later, I got an itch to re-read the book. Took me a couple of years to track it down in a second hand book store.
I re-read it - and to my amazement I found that almost all my opinions about society, sexuality, social justice, and "people" in general were in this book. Opinions and views that I thought I developed on my own from observations of the world - I found spelled out almost identical in this book.
Without me realizing it - this book has completely shaped my world view. Even re-reading it, I don't know *how* it did it. The ideas are conveyed... poorly, in the usual manner of sci-fi books, using flat characters and spoon-feedingly-long conversations. Yet there you have it.
I would recommend this book to everyone. Not the audio-book though - that's horrible. Whoever narrated it has no business narrating anything.
It is set in a near future in which political correctness has gone insane, the new religions and cults are based on what we'd call "social issues" or "culture wars": gender fluidity, acceptance or rejection of science, genetic manipulations, even voluntarily autism. These things are new enough to Egan's society that they still cause perplexities and strife.
The protagonist is Andrew, a journalist who specializes in popular science. His next investigation is centered on a scientific conference in which a new Theory of Everything will be announced. It turns out that many cults and groups are involved in this, from those who protest that science is taking the fun and awe out of life (sounds familiar?) to those who claim science is a western instrument of colonialism, to those who want to stop that entire line of scientific inquiry because certain that a Theory of Everything will spell the end of reality, the universe, and everything.
The first part of the book was a page turner, full of interesting ideas and interesting issues that kept me thinking after I put the book down. But things soon get muddy and not very scientific, especially when the book gets bogged down in the relationship between finding the Theory of Everything, and the very existence of reality, which made no sense. It reminded me a bit like the arguments used by peddlers of pseudo-scientific nonsense who try to convince you that quantum entanglement shows PSI is real. It's difficult to care about a story when it's so heavily based on something that doesn't make sense. And I am not talking about suspension of disbelief, which is just fine, but rather the misuse of real concepts to a degree that makes the whole thing too hard to swallow.
The book has some action, but its greatest strength is in the ideas, social issues, philosophical concepts etc. This means there's a great deal of exposition. Some people dislike exposition, personally I am just fine with it if the concepts being discussed are interesting, and most of the concepts in "Distress" are in fact interesting. Because so much attention is given to building this near future society and its issues, less attention is given to character building. I found the protagonist a bit dull, and other characters cold and distant.
Had it been possible, I would have given this book 3 1/2 stars, because while I can't bring myself to give it 4, I feel 3 falls a bit short and makes it seem like I didn't like the book when in fact it was a good read and I have already downloaded another book by this same author. I would say this is a specific kind of Sci-Fi, it's not space opera, it's not breathtaking non stop action, there are no intriguing aliens, or space battles. I would say it's a "grown up" type of Sci-Fi that is meant to be ruminated. Read it slowly, and be prepared to go back and re-read some parts, because if you miss something, you may get lost eventually.
I was strongly reminded of _Quarantine_, in which for some reason only a human mind is a suitable observer to collapse wave functions of quantum events. This particular plot point is silly in _Quarantine_, and its rough equivalent here is even sillier. (All of Egan's Subjective Cosmology Cycle, while aptly named, gets a little too speculative for my taste--the Dust Theory in _Permutation City_ would be another example.) Nonetheless, the suspense thriller elements of the plot succeeded in keeping me guessing almost to the end, and a few of the sideplots were excellent: the Neo-DNA plot echoed and expanded on Egan's short story "The Moat" (and was brilliantly brought back into the novel without warning about two-thirds through), and one of the five sexes in the novel set the stage for _Diaspora_ (so far my favorite of Egan's novels, though I have yet to read _Zendegi_, _Teranesia_, or the Orthogonal Trilogy). It also had an unusual amount of humor for an Egan novel, and several characteristically awkward sex scenes (as in _Schild's Ladder_ and _Permutation City_).
I'll give this one four stars for the suspense, surprises, and abundance of clever ideas. It's more of a page-turner than most of Egan's novels, but I think _Diaspora_, _Schild's Ladder_, and _Incandescence_ are more rewarding overall, and give more insight into the author's worldview.
Edit: On thinking about this book a little longer, one thing that occurs to me as pretty silly is that Worth had a documentary, apparently recently enough that he was married to Gina, about the five sexes. However, in the novel, it's obvious that ufems, umales, and asexes are basically everywhere, so wouldn't this documentary be a bit like making an exposé in 2014 called "On the Gays and their Gayness" and having it be a big hit? Am I off base here?
His work delves deeply into themes and ideas that are hard to find in speculative fiction (or any fiction for that matter).
Distress includes explorations into the sociology of physics, the search for a theory of everything, cultures and cults of belief, and how gender and sexuality would change in a world unshackled from physical norms. The story is powerfully thought-provoking and has an added gift: a plot that moves quickly with suspense and a satisfying conclusion.