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Schild's Ladder Paperback – 7 Feb 2008
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Greg Egan's ability to imagine wonders of cosmic scale is shown again in his SF novel Schild's Ladder, with future galactic society confronting a disaster of almost unimaginable vastness--or is it a springboard to new hope?
The fatal experiment was right at the edge of theoretical physics. Could there be an alternative structure for vacuum itself, the void underlying our cosmos? Unfortunately, yes. Once created, this artificial "novo-vacuum" successfully competes with normal space, expanding at half the speed of light in an all-consuming sphere. Inside, physics is radically, incomprehensibly different...
Six centuries later, thousands of inhabited solar systems have been gobbled. Scientists investigating the novo-vacuum from starship Rindler are split between trying to destroy it with tailored spatial viruses ("Planck worms") and hoping to understand the teeming richness beyond that deadly interface.
In a lonely galaxy where only humans are intelligent, whole planets have been evacuated to give microscopic alien organisms their chance to evolve. The novo-vacuum may be bursting with new orders of life, so that killing it would be a monstrous act of genocide. But frightened people dare dreadful things. Violence erupts on the Rindler.
Building up from ideas of human intelligence in disembodied storage or artificial bodies, Egan finally takes his lead characters on a mind-boggling joyride through novo-vacuum, mapping them into a space where a tense eight-hour flight from deadly predators covers just one millimetre. There's a lot of room in there.
Schild's Ladder makes easy reading out of terrifying physics, generating a real sense of wonder even as your jaw drops at the immensity of its implications. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A modern masterpiece from 'One of the genre's great ideas men' (THE TIMES) nelwy packaged for a new audienceSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
Taking as his starting point an experiment-gone-all-too-right, he creates, in effect, the story of a new-born universe with its own radically different physics. Expanding at half the speed of light, it spreads out across our own universe, devouring everything in its path. Against it he pits two competing groups of researchers, one trying to halt its progress, the other trying to destroy it.
This provides the backdrop for the classic Egan combination -- human emotions and mind-bending physics playing out an epic story for the highest stakes. The themes are familiar from Egan's other novels and short stories -- a threat to humanity's very existence, an impenetrable boundary, an epic journey into a vividly realised alternate universe -- but more boldly executed than before.
This will probably be viewed by many as Egan's best novel. I don't think it is -- it's just that the physics is harder in this one. The feat is superficially more impressive but ultimately it lacks some of the depth of Diaspora.
As ever with Egan, it's a good read and hard to put down. And it's packed with more new ideas than some SF writers manage in a career. But it has some flaws. The characterisation is less complete than in some of his other books and there are a few annoying flaws: his exotic physics, once you get inside it, is slightly less exotic than it might be; and in scenes where his characters venture outside their spaceship he doesn't seem to account for relativity -- despite the fact that the barrier is moving at half light speed.
But it's still a decent read, and one I'd recommend if you like your science hard but tempered with a little humanity.
The idea of a more stable vacuum than the one making up much of our universe has been around for a while. Egan takes this idea, mixes it with his other (seemingly) favourite topic - humans as software able to move between bodies or inhabit virtual environments - and comes up with a truly stunning story.
I always look forward to a new Egan book, and I've yet to be disappointed.
The only downside is that the human sides of his stories can be a little unsatisfying - as is the case here. He makes a good go of it, but it feels like there's just something lacking.
Apart from that, a great romp with some incredible ideas.
(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....