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Incandescence Hardcover – May 1 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (May 1 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597801283
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597801287
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.8 x 22.7 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 476 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #600,262 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Patsy on Jan. 5 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As someone whose 1940's childhood dream of becoming an astronomer fizzled, I've been a lifelong beneficiary of the talented folk who are able write for people who want to know about Relativity and quantum mechanics but never managed to get comfortable with differential calculus.

Greg Egan's science writing, in both fiction and non-fiction, has been prolific, enjoyable, well-written and reliable. For some time now, he has been pioneering a science fiction that doesn't have to violate the laws of physics as we (or at least some of us) know them to travel the galaxy within the lifetime of one consciousness. And instead of demanding that we just "suspend disbelief," he takes the trouble to let us in on the physics of his universes.

Some reviewers have complained that this new genre is "dry," that it's "harder than hard" science fiction, that it fails to entertain while it educates. Like many mathematically challenged people, I get an unpleasant sensation inside my head whenever I have to make an adjustment in a recipe for zucchini bread. So I can't really account for the joy I repeatedly experienced while reading Incandescence, whenever its engaging non-humanoid aliens worked out another bit of the physics of their threatened fragment of a world. It's all done, in the book, with ordinary thinking, not mathematics per se, and I found following it a lot of fun! Actually, it may even be possible to enjoy the story-lines in this book while skimming the physics.

I can't think of a good name for this new genre; everything I've come up with is mildly off-putting (science edufiction? rock-hard science fiction?) but I'm certain it has a market among the wistful thousands of ordinary people like me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By L. Reeves on Aug. 20 2008
Format: Hardcover
I like most of Greg Egan's work, and though this story is passable it's extremely dry even for his standards. Egan is typically writes a harder science fiction than any other hard s.f. author, but this time it feels as if he's gone completely over the deep end as half of the book explains Newtonian physics. It reads like a more stylized version of Flatland - maybe some readers may enjoy that, but there's no real new exploration of the real ideas that make Egan's earlier work so interesting.

As a die-hard fan of the author I don't quite regret buying this book, but I'd warn any new readers to aim first for Diaspora, Quarantine or Permutation City.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 46 reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Egan Channels Robert L. Forward and Hal Clement in a Hard SF Tale June 27 2008
By Paul R. Potts - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Greg Egan is one of my favorite science fiction authors, but he seems to be nearly unknown in the U.S. I have been waiting for this book to arrive for some time, so I wound up ordering a British edition from Amazon UK. This review assumes the text is the same.

Egan's story is set in the galactic core, inhabited by a race known as the Aloof, because they seem almost indifferent to any attempts at communication from the Amalgam, the loose network of civilizations that inhabit the rest of the galaxy. However, they do allow thrill-seeking members of the Amalgam to enter their transportation network, digitizing themselves for transmission at the speed of light across the galactic core, instead of the long way around it.

A chunk of rock containing DNA leads a couple to commit their efforts to tracking down the mystery of a lost alien race inside the Aloof-controlled core. That's the setup, but the real fascination of this book is the weird physics and civilization of the surviving aliens, who live on a fragment of rock in the gravity well of a neutron star. By a process of deduction and scientific measurement using primitive tools the inhabitants are able to deduce their true situation in the universe and also to come to understand the perils they face.

Much of the book consists of the scientific inquiries of the aliens, rendered in great detail, in particular the way they deduce their orbital mechanics by measuring the forces at work inside their world. It reminds me of Robert L. Foward's fantastic hard SF novel Dragon's Egg, which describes a race living on the surface of a neutron star, their bodies made out of degenerate matter, and also of Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity.

Egan tries to make his stories character-driven, and although we do wind up caring what happens to his characters, he really shines at the physics. If you don't have a good working knowledge of gravitation and the forces that act on a body while in an orbit or rotating, you won't really get much out of this book. Perhaps that dooms it to a relatively small audience. But if you like physics and you like speculative fiction, and in particular like thinking about the scientific method and how we came to discover what we know about the universe, you just might love it!
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Remaining Aloof June 30 2008
By Mike Fazey - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Egan's first novel for 6 years is set in a very far future where an evolved humanity has spread out to inhabit the galaxy's spiral arms, where lifespans are measured in millennia and travel is possible almost anywhere in the galaxy. The exception is the central galactic bulge which is inhabited by the aptly named Aloof, who exist in splendid isolation and firmly but gently repel all attempts to go there.

Sounds pretty intriguing, doesn't it? The Aloof are a mystery. Obviously highly advanced, but unwilling to interact with humanity. Until two intrepid humans accept an invitation to travel to into Aloof territory to examine a strange rock world inhabited by sentient insect-like creatures.

Still sounds intriguing, doesn't it? As always, Egan is concerned with hard science - mathematics, physics, genetics and astronomy - and indeed the nature of scientific discovery. And therein lies the problem. Incandescence suffers from the same shortcoming as did Schild's Ladder - too much science, not enough fiction. Both the human and insectoid characters are painted far too thinly to arouse any real emotion and the dialogue serves mainly as a vehicle for explaining the science rather than giving any insight into the characters themselves. As a reader I felt a kind of intellectual detachment from the events - like I was watching but not particularly engaged. Rather like the Aloof, in fact.

Nonetheless, the science is intriguing, even for a non-scientific type like me, and the ideas are really big. So, if that's your thing, you'll probably enjoy it more than I did. For me, though, the biggest most intriguing mystery of all, the Aloof themselves, remained unsolved. Indeed, I gleaned little insight into their nature or their motives. For me they remained as aloof as ever.

I still think Egan is one of the best SF writers around, but Incandescence is not his most engaging work.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Where was the editor? July 26 2008
By Robert C. Litwack - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While the book has a wonderfully evoked sophisticated far future, that does not forgive the missing fundamental requirement that the plot go somewhere and make internal sense. The two, obviously converging plot lines don't converge. I had to go back and re-read the ending to make sure I hadn't missed something. Another reviewer here confirmed my confusion --- you can't tell if one plot preceeded or followed the other by a huge span of time. It is also possible that the Splinter of the "Splinter" plot line was NOT the populated fragment found in the other plot. The Aloof remain so from beginning to end.
I would only recommend this book to college physics students having a hard time and looking for a painless way to have orbital mechanics explained without math.
Given Egaan's earlier, much better work, I was very disappointed. Perhaps there is a sequel in the works that will tie things together. If so, would it have hurt to put a teaser to the next part so that we don't have to wonder if Egan and his editors went over the edge. Which brings me to the title for my review. Where were the editors? A published book is not just the work of the author. Decent editing could have saved this book. Likewise critical reading in draft form by some cogent sci-fi readers or authors.
If this is part one of an unannounced series shame on Egan and the publishing house. I don't mind buying several books to have one story told (although I would prefer one, fat book to three skinny ones) I don't like be lured into thinking I'm buying a complete work only to find I have a fragment. I actually prefer to sit back and wait until the series is compete and then buy and read them at once, in sequence.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A struggle to finish Feb. 28 2009
By Tate C Bigelow - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The science is thorough and well-thought-out, but the plot is flimsy and the characterization is dry as dust. It's difficult to develop an appreciation for anyone in the book. The main Arkdweller character, Roi, has less depth than "A. Square" of Flatland. The main "post-human" character, Rakesh, has basically no limitations to make him interesting. The most interesting character appears to be a synthetic personality.

"Incandescence" might have done much better as a short story. I ground on and on through the book hoping it would improve, to no avail.

People seem to think highly of this author, so I will try more of his work -- but this one was definitely a disappointment.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Accepting Egan's Approach to Storytelling Jan. 15 2009
By TheSlush - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In Incandescence, there are two parallel, loosely-related stories being told concurrently. Most readers will undoubtedly expect the two storylines to eventually converge into a unified plot, and indeed such a convergence would probably "pump up" the drama. But given the very different struggles of the two sets of characters, convergence is not required for those characters to reach resolution in their respective plots.

I've been reading and relishing Greg Egan for a while now, and I think to appreciate his stories it helps to align one's mindset with Egan's approach to storytelling. Egan's stories don't follow traditional plot arcs with identifiable components like rising actions, climaxes, and resolutions. Instead his stories tend to be about big ideas depicted through characters grappling with those big ideas. His main characters' motivations and struggles tend to center around issues of identity and purpose (what other issues could there really be for a far-future immortal post-human?), and his stories seem to arc broadly on his main characters' understanding of, confrontation of, or enlightenment about those fundamental issues. Sometimes supporting characters in an Egan story may function only as extra "lights" meant to cast Egan's various scientific ideas into better relief. On his journey through any story, Egan enjoys exploring adjacent detours off the main road, and one gets the sense that this is due more to his own interest in the adjacent material than due to any role it may or may not play in forwarding the plot. Egan occasionally flirts with rising plot suspense (perhaps accidentally) that rarely pays off... at least not in any conventional or expected way. Therefore, any reader who prioritizes deep character development and plot resolution over the exploration of big ideas at the limits of science may be exposed to disappointment.

I agree that the most fascinating (absentee) characters Egan has devised in a long time are the Aloof. Their mystery and impenetrability is as seductive to me as it is to Egan's citizens of the Amalgam. I'm salivating for more exploration of the enigmatic Aloof in future Amalgam stories from Egan.

P.S. The Aloof's introduction in Riding the Crocodile -- Egan's short story and "prequel" to Incandescene -- is not to be missed; its events are referenced in Incandescence. In fact, I found Riding the Crocodile to be ultimately a more satisfying story.

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