Friday, June 27, 2008

Greg Egan's 'Incandescence'

Just read Greg Egan's new book "Incandescence". Sadly, a disappointment which I share with the reviewer here.

A summary of the plot from Amazon.

"A million years from now, the galaxy is divided between the vast, cooperative meta-civilisation known as the Amalgam, and the silent occupiers of the galactic core known as the Aloof. The Aloof have long rejected all attempts by the Amalgam to enter their territory, but have occasionally permitted travellers to take a perilous ride as unencrypted data in their communications network, providing a short-cut across the galaxy's central bulge.

When Rakesh encounters a traveller, Lahl, who claims she was woken by the Aloof on such a journey and shown a meteor full of traces of DNA, he accepts her challenge to try to find the uncharted world deep in the Aloof's territory from which the meteor originated.

Roi and Zak live inside the Splinter, a world of rock that swims in a sea of light they call the Incandescence. Living on the margins of a rigidly organised society, they seek to decipher the subtle clues that might reveal the true nature of the Splinter.

In fact, the Splinter is orbiting a black hole, which is about to capture a neighbouring star, wreaking havoc. As the signs of danger grow, Roi, Zak, and a growing band of recruits struggle to understand and take control of their fate.

Meanwhile, Rakesh is gradually uncovering their remote history, and his search for the lost DNA world ultimately leads him to a civilisation trapped in cultural stagnation, and startling revelations about the true nature and motives of the Aloof. "

Most of the book is a Greg Egan tutorial on general relativity as applied to orbits close to a black hole. However, he explains things more clearly on his website here.

As a story with plot and characters, I have to say that it's essentially without interest. The writing is not so bad that it's unreadable - I kept chugging on until the end. Rather, it's thin gruel indeed and one reaches the end with a sense of suffering finally over, rather than having had an experience to be savoured.

Egan does better with human protagonists in near future stuff like Quarantine and Permutation City IMHO. Having said that, his recent book of short stories, Dark Integers (which I also read recently) is far better than Incandescence. Inventive, engaging, more plot-driven with recognisable - if not deeply-drawn - characters.