three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
40-May-June-2009
By: 
Greg Egan
user_rating: 
0

A-IncandescenceThis is the eighth novel from Hugo Award-winner Greg Egan.

The Story: If you are a citizen of a vast civilization that has colonized most of the Milky Way, you might feel as if even the final frontier has been picked over. This is the situation in which Rakesh, a human bored after thousands of years of galactic travel, has found himself—that is, until an alien approaches him with an intriguing puzzle. The Aloof, who inhabit the galaxy’s center, have revealed the existence of an unknown DNA-based life form within their territory. As the reader comes to discover, these creatures inhabit a rocky splinter orbiting a neutron star. Rakesh and his colleague set out to find them, and in the course of their journey they, and we, come to view the universe from a radically different perspective.
Night Shade Books. 256 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1597801283

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Greg Egan’s Incandescence is eminently representative of … what one might call the Hal Clement School of heady scientific speculation. … Egan has built a marvelously intellectual and carefully realized story of two universes peering at each other through different lenses, around a compelling scientific mystery that evokes the joy that drives discovery and enlightenment." Mark W. Tiedemann

Bookslut 3.5 of 5 Stars
"I don’t know if Egan could ever make it as a literary novelist, but he’s the ideas man par excellence of contemporary science fiction. A large part of this new novel involves complex ideas from mathematics and physics being rediscovered and explained in simple, non-mathematical language that has even someone like me, who has difficulty with simple sums, feeling like I can grasp what is going on. It is the very model of a modern hard SF novel." Paul Kincaid

Io9.com 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Although occasionally uneven and frustrating, the book is a terrifically interesting thought experiment that will appeal to anyone who likes a strong, intelligent science mystery. … His deft creation of an alien civilization of tiny insects living in orbit around a neutron star at the center of the galaxy provides such an appealing narrative throughline that you won’t be able to put Incandescence down until its extremely weird conclusion." Annalee Newitz

Locus 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Rakesh and Parantham of the Amalgam command all the computational and material science of their multimillion-year-old civilization; Splinterites Roi and Zak use springs and rocks and wires to make basic measurements and painfully puzzle out the nature of their environment by means of mathematics. … The two story-lines remain separate through most of the novel, and even when they do meet, there are questions about how they will interact, practically and ethically. It makes for a curious and effective kind of suspense." Russell Letson

Critical Summary

All critics who considered Incandescence were fascinated by it. They loved Egan’s descriptions of a galaxy-spanning, posthuman civilization and the intellectual acrobatics necessary to understand how bugs on a splinter of rock think about their universe. But as with many of Egan’s books, one’s enjoyment may not be complete unless one can keep up with the physics, of which there is no shortage. "Especially when he’s showing how Roi’s people derive what amounts to Einstein’s theory of relativity in a very different gravitational field from Earth’s, readers may feel compelled to skim," noted the critic of Io9.com. Reviewers did not exactly criticize this feature of the book but merely noted it as an essential feature of the "hard" science fiction of which Egan is one of the leading lights.