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Distress [Paperback]

Greg Egan
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 7 2008
On the utopian, man-made island, Stateless, Nobel Prize winner Violet Mosala is close to solving the greatest problem of her career - the quest for the ultimate Theory of Everything (TOE) is almost over. Burned out by recording the abuses of biotech for his TV news syndicate, Andrew Worth grabs the chance to follow Violet's story. In contrast the world of theoretical physics seems like an anaesthetised mathematical heaven, where everything is cool and abstract. He could not have been more wrong. One by on Mosala's rival quantum physicists are disappearing from the scientific summit at 'Stateless. But why? Is it something to do with Violet herself, or is there some other, more esoteric, force at work undermining the Theory of Everything Conference?

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From Kirkus Reviews

About 60 years from now, SeeNet journalist and narrator Andrew Worth (he has a camera and computer software hardwired into his body) muscles in on a colleague's assignment to cover a physics convention on the artificial coral island, Stateless, at which Nobel laureate Violet Mosala is expected to announce a watertight Theory of Everything (TOE). The event, however, is complicated by the presence of several noisy anti-science cult groups--among them the mysterious and secretive Anthrocosmologists who believe that whoever first formulates the TOE will become the Keystone in which the completed TOE, mingling information theory with particle physics, will actually change the structure of the universe. Andrew's Anthrocosmology contact, Akili Kuwale, a ``gender migrant'' (s/he has no breasts or sexual organs), warns that a particularly violent, extreme faction intends to assassinate Violet to prevent the Aleph Moment when the completed TOE's effects kick in. Soon, Andrew falls sick--the extremists have infected him, intending that he pass the virus on to Violet; she falls ill, but has arranged for supercomputers to complete her calculations and disseminate the results. As the extremists redouble their violent efforts, Stateless's former owners send mercenaries to recapture the island, while a sort of reverse echo of the Aleph Moment results in a wave of mass insanity, or Distress, whose victims apparently have all turned into Keystones! Challenging, well informed, and iconoclastic, but also abstruse and often heavy: admirable rather than enjoyable, but an impressive first hardcover nonetheless. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A dizzying intellectual adventure.”
The New York Times
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
By Mark
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Not everyone agrees with me (judging by the other reviews), and you may not either, but I find more effective a novel which *shows* me the possibilities of human nature, rather than lecturing me on it.
Egan's other novels (the two i've read) do a much better job of that. But in this one... For the first half of the book, the scenes don't develop the plot at all; they're just triggers for the protagonist to spout another philosophical or ethical lecture. These tend to be not very deep and most of the people reading this book will probably agree with them anyway.
The actual plot doesn't start being developed until page 200 or bette, and when it comes, it may disappoint a lot of hard science readers. The thesis that intelligent beings somehow have a special place in the laws of the universe (rather than obeying the same laws of particles, forces, quantum mechanics, etc. as all other objects) is very weak---much weaker than the similar theme put forth in Egan's other novel "Quarantine".
And in the end, the plot's resolution doesn't come out of the desire to have a good story; it's just a final shot at delivering the main philosophical message (and yes we do get a final "lecture" at the end), which is that it is impossible for people to really understand each other.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mind Blowing April 17 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Distress is a very unique novel. It is a quest for the intelect, a discussion of the implications of technology on our lives, and even more importantly, discussion about the implications of actual science on life.
If you want to know what the future will be like, Egan is a place to look for inspiration (although not for answers). Egan not only understands technology and science, and not only has the imagniation to forsee the future in ways which are original and thought provoking, but is able to see the social consequences of technology.
Egan's story, especially in the first two thirds of the novel, is an almost entirely successful and constant challange to the mind, in an enjoyable story. Egan's prose is powerful, and you can often enjoy his phrases, and while his minor characters are awfully indistinguishable, the two major ones, Violet Mosala and Andrew Worth, are very well realised and are sympathetic.
The novel contains ideas about the Theory of Everything. The theory of Everything is a unification of Einstein's theory of Relativity and Quantom Mechanics - it's a theory that can explain, at least theoretically, EVERYTHING, from the motions of planets to those of electrons.
The novel doesn't speculate as much about TOE itself, but about the social and psychological and even ethical responses of it, and it does so by introducing a pseudo-scientific religion which glorifies and demonises the descoverer of the theory.
This religion is interesting, but it is one of the two major failure of the novel because (slight spoiler here) it turns up that it is true in a sense. This changes the story from a scientific to a metaphysic one, and pushes us towards the realms of fantasy.
The other major weakness is that Egan's plotting and story elements are relatively poor.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Tons of Technology Presented Awkwardly April 9 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I gave it my best shot, but I guess I'm not a "hard" science fiction fan (if that means all technology and no character development). There was too much technology, or it was presented awkwardly with the narrator introducing concepts/gadgets to the reader with no cultural context or a very rushed development of one. The use of technology in science fiction works best for me when the reader see it's social ramifications. I didn't get that here. All the different cults and scientific organizations seemed very unrealistic, hard to follow and over done. I didn't care about the characters or the story after part one. I had high hopes because the first part of the book was so engaging with technical and emotional depth. Chapter 1, especially, with it's great first line, works so well. It introduces a technology which raises important ethical issues and also strikes an emotional cord with the reader. The other characters in Part 1 where interesting and the situations were engaging. The author then moves the local of the story to Stateless, a manmade Island into he middle of nowhere. This is also where the story and character development went. For me the book took on more than it could present in an interesting way. 2 stars for part one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A science fiction gem. March 24 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Distress is not only the best of Egan's novels that I've yet read, but one of the most inventive and accomplished sf novels I've read in many years. Andrew Worth is a science journalist in a world populated with ignorance cultists, voluntary autists, and gender migrants. Having finished the 'frankenscience' series Junk DNA, he turns down an offer to tape a show on the newly endemic Acute Clinical Anxiety Syndrome (a.k.a Distress), to compile a profile of quantum physicist Violet Mosala, currently at work on a Theory of Everything, or TOE. Worth leaves Sydney and his marriage (both in ruins), and travels to Stateless, a utopian anarchy on an island constructed with pirated biotech. Plots against both Mosala and Stateless escalate as the novel heads towards an astonishing climax. While Egan is best known for his ideas - and there are more ideas in the first chapter of this book than in many sf novels - his characterization in this book is excellent: Worth is a well-rounded character with his own opinions and motivation, Mosala is a welcome example of a fictional sane scientist, and the asex Akili Kuwale is a masterpiece of sf characterization.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Read the Originals !
Very strong start in a familiar city of tomorrow changed by broadband communications and biotech. Interesting character development. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2001 by Gregg Silk
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Hard Science Fiction
If you like the "Killer B's" (David Brin, Gregory Benford, or Greg Bear) you'll like this. Read more
Published on Dec 23 2000 by Glenn H. Reynolds
5.0 out of 5 stars I was never a fan of sci-fi until now
Most of the time when I read Sci-Fi I thought that it was ridiculous, until now! Greg Egan writes Sci-Fi the way that it should be written. Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2000 by Edna Eudave-Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars Unconventional Science Fiction
Greg Egan's "Distress" is a most unusual work of science fiction. Most of the story takes place on Earth in the middle of the next century, but on an artificially... Read more
Published on July 29 2000 by Brian D. Rubendall
5.0 out of 5 stars Great thought provoking reading
From the opening "revival" scene that I had to read three times to the final page, Distress was a great read. Read more
Published on Dec 3 1999 by Debra
5.0 out of 5 stars Egan's best so far. A real masterwork.
Epistemology and TOE metaphysics stretched together in the best work of fiction I have ever read on the subjects. Read more
Published on Aug. 9 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Bring Your Mind, But also a Magic Marker
In "Distress", Greg Egan has provided a thought-provoking vision of the future, and a chilling view of the essence of reality. Read more
Published on July 5 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars thought provoking and immensely enjoyable
The exposition blew my mind more than anything I've read in a long time - it's soemthing you have to read. Read more
Published on June 25 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Another example of reckless pseudoscience
Stereotypes abound in this inane novel that dares call itself SCIENCE fiction. So, I suppose those that don't endorse the Big Bang and the 'uselessness' of intimacy are all... Read more
Published on March 26 1999
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