Distress Paperback – 2 Dec 1996
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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' Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.See 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?!
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 ›
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!
(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)
hard sf writer I know of. He writes science fiction the
way it SHOULD be: imaginative yet plausible, stuff that
makes you think, stuff that draws on real science rather
than warp-space hyper-rubbish.
Egan's novels are pretty good but his short stories are
really excellent. It's interesting that, although "Distress" is a novel, it opens
with a series of interviews (the protagonist is a
journalist), each one of which is like a mini-short story
about some aspect of biotechnology. This plays to Egan's strength: idea, idea, idea. However, after a while the
story settles down to the
central plot, about a theoretical physicist whose life
is endangered by a lunatic group with some strange ideas
I strongly recommend this book. It deserves a 10 for
ideas; I am downgrading it to a 9 because other aspects
of Egan's writing could still be improved.
But don't think you can read this book casually (I made that mistake). The physics is unforgiving (brush up on the integration of the forces of nature, and on the latest theories of space as a dance of virtual particles). And bring a magic marker. The first time you hit a new name, or ANY time there is a reference to one of a myriad of anti- or pro-science groups, highlight it. That will allow you to go back and understand how the actions of that person or group from two hundred pages back, motivate what is happening where you are reading.
This type of book demonstrates that the fiction novel market should break convention and include (heresy here) indexes and tables in books to help the reader. It is this problem of complex and distance references, plus some dangling plot threads, that keep me from rating this higher.
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.