Distress Paperback – Feb 7 2008
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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.
The New York Times
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Very strong start in a familiar city of tomorrow changed by broadband communications and biotech. Interesting character development. Read morePublished on Sept. 3 2001 by Gregg Silk
If you like the "Killer B's" (David Brin, Gregory Benford, or Greg Bear) you'll like this. Read morePublished on Dec 23 2000 by Glenn H. Reynolds
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 morePublished on Sept. 22 2000 by Edna Eudave-Jones
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 morePublished on July 29 2000 by Brian D. Rubendall
From the opening "revival" scene that I had to read three times to the final page, Distress was a great read. Read morePublished on Dec 3 1999 by Debra
Epistemology and TOE metaphysics stretched together in the best work of fiction I have ever read on the subjects. Read morePublished on Aug. 9 1999
In "Distress", Greg Egan has provided a thought-provoking vision of the future, and a chilling view of the essence of reality. Read morePublished on July 5 1999
The exposition blew my mind more than anything I've read in a long time - it's soemthing you have to read. Read morePublished on June 25 1999