by Greg Egan

Rating: ★★★★

Real science-fiction. Egan has a knack for driving his novels into meta-space, questioning our pseudo-Newtonian assumptions that space as we understand it is even in any meaningful sense the territory that we're going to explore.

When other writers talk about aliens on other worlds, they tend to mean approximately carbon-based biological life that happens to exist on other planetary bodies and looks like an improbable mix of various terrestrial forms. Egan scoffs at such pedestrian notions. Take, for starters, life that is embedded in the computations represented by the growth patterns of giant floating molecules -- said life making a rich ecosystem of distinct forms that is entirely disconnected from the 'physical' world, whatever that means. But such entities are almost comfortingly familiar next to the vast beings composed of multiverses which will emerge later on. These creatures not only don't share your reality, your entire reality is less than a fundamental particle to them.

I adore that Egan clearly does not give a shit whether you are capable of following the page or three of speculative physics he just laid out, and ploughs straight on with his story, which similarly has essentially no interest in ordinary human drama or adventure, but is really about pushing the boundaries of scale and preconception. It does however mean you quickly lose your anchors, and it becomes too easy to detach from these parahumans searching for answers behind the curtain of reality. I have apparently also developed quite an aversion to neopronouns, and I took quite a battering pushing my way through the 've' and 'ver' and 'vis'. It seems crazy but they were much more of a hurdle than all the physics I didn't understand.

Certainly worth it.