Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 2, 2010

Incandescence by Greg Egan

This meeting at the North Village branch library drew fifteen attendees. Our topic was Incandescence by Greg Egan, one of our group’s favorite authors. In this hard sf novel, a group of people living in a world much different from Earth are forced to develop their understanding of physics in a hurry to save their home. Thirteen of us had read Egan before. Twelve started the book, and eight finished it.

One reader commented that sf is a literature of ideas, and this book is a classic idea novel. He was floored by the audacity of a story where people develop the general theory of relativity as their first physics discovery. He was fascinated by the transhuman view of characters who felt truly alien. And he like the narrative structure of two storylines that don’t intersect as expected.

Another commented that this book was more accessible than most Egan. She enjoyed reading about the ignorant people discovering science. She felt it was the most interesting world building she’d read in years. She felt the way the people ultimately manipulated a satellite’s orbit was “mind blowing.”

Some of us enjoyed the physics element so much that we wished more diagrams, equations, and charts were included in the book. It was suggested that such material was available on the author’s website, along with animations to better illustrate the science in his books.

One person was fascinated by the different life forms in the book. Their bodies were unlike those of normal humans, and they had breeding behavior that many would consider bizarre.  He noted these characters’ use of a binary abacus, which is common in Australian sf. (Greg Egan is Australian.)

A couple of readers felt the ideas in the book were so dense that they had trouble concentrating enough to read the book properly. One called it “a real slog.” These readers also wanted more character development.

Our discussion got quite lively at times, as several high tech professionals in the group argued the scientific concepts on the book. At one point, a couple of people threatened to start writing out equations and “check the math” in the book.

Overall we had a fun meeting. Afterward, we many of had a nice dinner at Mongolian Grille.

–A.T. Campbell, III