It's often said the best sci-fi is that which requires a sci-fi setting. It seems obvious, but the vast majority of sci-fi consists of stories that could be told equally well when transposed to another setting. Greg Egan is one of a very few writers whose work who satisfies this basic tenet. Many of his stories would simply not be tellable in any other setting. The concepts and events related within absolutely depend on technologies and ways of thinking that do not exist at the time of writing.
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?!
This is my favourite book of the year. It has a really spine chilling opening and the book just gets better and better after that. 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!
Greg Egan has a reputation of being a "hard" sf writer. That is, he is supposed to be driven in his writing by technology. This book shows that to be true to some extent but it also fails in many other ways.
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. Here Mr Egan has chosen to just let us know about a number of different types of gender but without any details. You just don't know who these people are that surrounds our hero.
Mr Egan also belongs to that group of authors that apparently hold fast to the idea that you as a reader are not to be presented with a picture of how the participants of the story looks like. I belong to the group of readers that want to "see" the story unfold in my mind as I read it but if I have no idea of what the people look like, how old they are, what gender they have etc it is very hard to "be there" in the story. Somewhere late in the book I got to know that my journalist is 36 years old (I thought he was much younger) but after reading the book I still don't know if he is black, white, latino etc, is he tall, does he have hair on his head etc. I know he is a man and 36 years old but the rest is just fuzzy to me and I personally find this unhelpful in order to enjoy the story. Well, I also know that he gets sexually aroused by some things and a human that is not male nor female. I have no idea what that human was.
The Story that finally starts moves on very slowly. I will not bring up what it is all about but I found it to be utterly strange in comparison with the rest of his often very interesting and thought provoking ideas. I can see from other reviewers that they have had no problem with this but I simply did not buy it at all.
The Thing that finally made me decide on just two stars had nothing to do with his ideas or even how the book finally ended but something else. The Book is filled with long philosophical dialogues, long discussions that lead nowhere and often contain nothing that drives the story forward. It surprised me a lot that this hard Sf writer got tangled up in these long masses of text that quite frankly were rather boring. In fact, you either put the book down to do something else or just "speed read" in order to get somewhere. I put the book down far more often than I usually do with a book and I forced myself to read all of it.
I have seen from other reviewers that have given this book five stars that they have found it to be fantastic and that they really liked his writing. I congratulate them. I found it to be at times interesting but mostly boring and confusing.
Firstly; watch out for plot spoiler reviews!! (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....