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Schild's Ladder [Paperback]

3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
In Greg Egan's inventive new novel Schild's Ladder, the diverse range of characters utilise a number of different languages and communication techniques, but manage to find a common ground of meaning through the use of Mediator programs. For the scientific layperson (like myself) trying to comprehend the depths of physics and quantum theory which drive Schild's Ladder, a Mediator program would be most welcome. At times, this hard SF is just a little too hard as the narrative is intersected with lengthy, heavily detailed descriptions of theoretical physics that are beyond my capacity to comprehend. On the other hand, the epic struggle that unfolds encompassing the fate of not one but two unique universes, combined with a vibrancy of characterisation, more than compensate for the sporadic opacity of scientific jargon.
In the opening section, the scientist Cass travels to the Mimosan's station in order to use their unique equipment to momentarily create a 'novo-vacuum', a microscopic universe with a completely new set of physics. The novo-vacuum is only expected to exist for a fraction of a second, but in that time Cass hopes that what is discovered about the alternative universe will enrich the understanding of her own. Of course, the experiment goes horribly wrong and the physics of the novo-vacuum turn out to be more stable than those of the outside world, with the result that the alternative universe begins expanding, engulfing the old, wiping out all in its path.
Six hundred years later former lovers Tichicaya and Mariama both find themselves onboard the Rindler, the foremost research centre focused on the novo-vacuum.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Science, Not Enough Fiction May 22 2002
One of the great pleasures of being a reader is in the anticipation of a new book. The disappointment of expectations is perhaps the greatest pain. Greg Egan has always been one of those writers whose new work excites intense anticipation. However recently I have been feeling the pain of disappointment more and more often.
Schild's Ladder has all the ingredients of an Egan classic: speculations on quantum physics, universe-spanning disaster, and characters to whom race, age, size and gender have become meaningless but who nevertheless maintain emotional lives.
Unfortunately this mixture is just too generous with the 'scientific' ingredients, and too sparing with the 'fictional' elements. In fact, except for an all too short flight beyond the border of the 'novo-vacuum', the artifically created and rapidly expanding new universe which threatens the survival of our own, and a few episodes of personal backstory and momentary action, the book appears to consist entirely of characters talking about scientific theory. And whilst the speculation is interesting it simply does not engage emotionally with the reader.
There are some superb moments within the book though: as usual Egan is adept at describing the dislocation brought about by altered dimension - at the start the scientist Cass is reduced (rather grumpily) to a few milimetres in height in order to save space at the Mimosa experimental station; there are also some sparklingly clever angles shown on the problems of movement within the Novo Vacuum whose natural laws are entirely alien to our own.
In addition one of the most engaging sequences concerns the infiltration and sabotage of the project to study the Novo-vacuum by 'anachronauts', reactionary humans who refuse the benefits of articifially-enhanced intelligence and so on.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant science fiction May 15 2002
Twenty thousand years into the future, humanity has conquered everything in its path including death yet so far at least no other sentient life form has been found that did not originate from earth. Science rules, as knowledge is everything. However, a quantum physics experiment inadvertently creates a vacuum effect that forms a new universe with physical laws different from the current one. This universe is growing rapidly and eats anything in its path though nanotechnology has kept humanity safe by instant evacuation.

However, what is to be done about the ever-expanding new universe that threatens life as we know it becomes the subject of great debate. The Preservationists want to destroy the new universe before it consumes humanity. The Yielders prefer to allow the growth of the new universe in order to study the phenomena. In that void, star crossed lovers Tchicaya and Mariama join separate and opposing hostile camps.

SCHILD'S LADDER is brilliant science fiction as it entertains the reader with an action-packed plot yet requires the audience to think about the ethical clashes that make up the science community as part of the larger society. The story line is cleverly designed to run faster than the speed of light yet maintains a cerebral moral fiber to the plot. Characters are fully developed so that the audience understands for instance the split between Tchicaya and Mariama. Fans of science fiction will want to read Greg Egan's distant future intelligent thriller that leaves the audience hungering for more novels like this one while debating current scientific moral dilemmas confronting society today.

Harriet Klausner
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