Posted by : atcampbell | On : May 19, 1998

Distress by Greg Egan

Six people attended this discussion. Two other Reading Group members had read the book but weren’t able to attend the meeting, so they relayed their comments via e-mail and word-of-mouth. The subject of this month’s discussion, Distress, is a hard SF novel that follows a journalist covering a physics convention where top scientists are presenting their “Theories of Everything”.

We all liked this book quite a bit. The near-future Earth in which the story takes place was well realized, with a believable amount of “progress” from today’s world. The book is full of expository lumps as the scientists explain their theories, but Egan writes so well that it isn’t hard to digest the material. The realistic portrayal of a scientific conference is a nice change from the stereotypical “lone mad scientist” so common in science fiction stories. The book is structured like a mystery, and Egan presents the material in a very effective manner. The mind-boggling “truth” revealed about the Theories of Everything is a spectacular achievement.

The few criticisms of the book had to do with mechanics of writing. A couple of people thought the book started slowly and took a few chapters to get going. Some questioned the author’s use of first person narrative, since the limitations of this approach forced a few plot threads to remain loose ends.

Overall opinions of the book were quite positive. The Reading Group has discussed each of Egan’s SF novels as they came out, and we’re likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Two relative newcomers to the group had never read Egan before Distress, but they plan to catch up on his earlier work quickly. Egan is a writer to watch.

— A. T. Campbell, III