Review: Incandescence – Greg Egan

11 Nov

This was a difficult book for me.

Here’s the plot: The Amalgam spans nearly the entire galaxy, and is composed of innumerable beings from a wild variety of races, some human, some near-human, and some entirely other. The one place that they cannot go is the bulge, the bright, hot center of the galaxy. There dwell the Aloof, who for millions of years have deflected any and all attempts to communicate with or visit them. So, when Rakesh is offered an opportunity to travel within their sphere, in search of a lost race, he cannot turn it down! Taken from

Okay, here goes: this is the hardest hard-SF book I’ve ever read. Rakesh’s story is interesting and completely pulled me in – I wanted to know where the lost race came from, and why the had suddenly allowed such an incursion into their territory. Rakesh as a character is like every one of us who as ever been curious about something, something that sends tingles of excitement through us while pulling us along, and it was great sharing the ride with him. His companion is his foil, logical and balanced, seeing every viewpoint and offering them in the hope that Rakesh’s decisions will turn out to be the correct ones. And as we travel with them, the journey itself is interesting and magical – we go to the center of the galaxy, deep into the Aloof’s territory…

But I got completely lost in the novel’s other thread. Here we get to know Roi, a worker for an alien species living in what they know as the Splinter. Roi gets pulled into a mathematical quest to discover why their world is the way it is, and find that their entire existance is under threat.
As soon as the explanations about how their world operates began coming, I was gone. I was literally reading entire chapters, in English, and not having a clue what I’d just read.

And here is the crux of the matter: was this a fault of my own, for not having enough knowledge to follow what was being explained? Or was it simply too difficult to understand? You see, I know that this book is incredible – the concepts therein and the vistas, the events, the characters, are all wonderful and exciting, but because I didn’t know what was going on in Roi’s story, I effectively only read half the book, got one side of the story.

Greg Egan has got a lot of suplemental information on his site that a person can read,and thereby understand the concepts in his book: it wasn’t till I glanced at this that I thought, Okay, this is really cool: a pre-Industrial Age civilization that must discover the Theory of General Relativity (could be Special) or they will all die. Come on, put that way, this has to be an incredible novel!

And because I didn’t understand that half of the story, I’m going to go read all that supplemental material, and then re-read the book; not right away, mind you (I’m already busy with a historical horror), but eventually. So I wont be giving this novel a score; I’m pretty sure that I didn’t understand the concepts, and that’s my own fault – why was I reading hard-SF if I’m not familiar with the science? Hell, I always thought I had been! 🙂

So please, give this book a read, and if you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought? If you could understand Roi’s half of the tale?


Be Fantastic!



Check out Greg Egan’s site here.


Posted by on November 11, 2008 in Reviews


Tags: , ,

3 responses to “Review: Incandescence – Greg Egan

  1. Philcha

    December 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    It’s riff on Robert Forward’s “Dragon’s Egg”. Egan’s prose is better but for me Forward’s version of the scenario works better. Since Egan puts the Arkdwellers in a resource-poor environment, they offer less scope for adventure and too much for Egan’s tendency to give physics lectures. Try “Dragon’s Egg” and possibly John Brunner’s “The Crucible Of Time” and you’ll appreciate the Arkdwellers, who are the real story.

    • davebrendon

      December 9, 2008 at 7:45 pm

      Wow, thanks, I’ll definately check those titles out. 🙂 Much appreciated!


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