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Customer Review

on December 31, 2010
This is a book in at least two parts, maybe three, all of which work well on their own, but never really gel together.

The first two parts, the two fictional ones, concern two parallel journeys. The first, and the most accessible, is by a post-human from a decadent galaxy-spanning multi-species civilisation of the far future. While he is on a journey and quest for knowledge he is ultimately rather a shallow creature - both shallow as a person but also rather shallowly drawn by the author. This is unfortunate, because I get the impression that a lot of readers will be completely lost by the second (and third) parts, find this one accessible but unfulfilling, and so rate both the book and its author poorly. I can't really blame them for this, but they are most definitely wrong.

The second is by a thoroughly alien scientist from a much more primitive culture - one that is pre-technological even. She is something of a Leonardo, who, along with those colleagues that she recruits to the cause of Science!, discover Newtonian mechanics, calculus and even general relativity. Given the circumstances in which Egan has placed her race, I find this to be only a little far-fetched. This second journey is by far the more interesting, at least for someone with the requisite educational background. Unfortunately if you lack that background then it will be impenetrable and dull. It requires a thorough grounding in Newton's theories of motion and gravitation, and at least some in general relativity. Good luck finding that in yer average reader, Mr. Author! Good luck even finding the latter in yer average sci-fi reader!

The third part that I identified is entirely contained within the second, but as well as being fine (if technically demanding) fiction, it would, with only a little editorial tweaking (mostly the translating of the names of the directions from cutesy sci-fi alien lingo and chopping out some text about our aliens' society that serves to make them into people) make an excellent tutorial for A-level physics students.

I recommend this book, but with the caveat that I only recommend it for those who understand general relativity.
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