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Distress by Greg Egan
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Distress (1995)

by Greg Egan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7561420,278 (3.76)15
From the author of Quarantine and Axiomatic, this is the story of journalist Andrew Worth, who uncovers a violent battle to control the biggest question science will ever ask whilst investigating a Nobel Prize-winning quantum physicist.
  1. 10
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: These books share isolated anarchist communities and discoveries in physics that change everything.
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» See also 15 mentions

English (12)  French (1)  Hungarian (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
In a lot of ways, this is exactly what I hunt for in SF in general. Give me hard science, slather me in a hundred beautiful hard-science ideas, blow me away with high-tech biotech, computer science... and especially the hardcore physics geekery.

Mind you, this isn't any kind of soft cookie full of throwaway made-up terms. Egan goes for the jugular and explores as much science and possible science and fully-realized future societies changed by total control. Or somewhat total control. Lots of magic bullets for diseases and gene-editing and living by photosynthesis and hardware augments of all kinds including built-in video recording... such as that our MC uses as a reporter.

And all this is just a sweet setup for the beginning of the novel before he switches tracks from biotech to pure physics.

But wait, isn't that a bit too much for readers to digest? Concept after concept?

Oh, sure, probably, but I'm one of those readers who LOVE to be slathered in concepts and be blown away by smarts. :)

Once the novel switches from bio to physics and the hunt for the Theory Of Everything, things get wacky. The part of the world he's sent to is all kinds of Anarcho-syndicalism and what seems to be cults springing up around these leading scientists who are hot on the trail for not just the Grand Unified Theory, but the math model that encompasses everything. They're treating these theoreticians like gods. Or prophets. Or saints.

...And for a rather interesting reason.

This is a novel of Consensual Reality. :) They believe that whoever reaches the most popular model of reality will thereby CREATE that reality. It's a cool-as-hell idea supported by none other than REAL QUANTUM THEORIES. :)

And so we're thrown into a thriller that leads to chaos and warfare, political intrigue, religious nuttery, and no little exploration of sex in the rest of the pot.

I had a great time! I think this was my favorite of Greg Egan's Subjective Cosmology trilogy. Now, I should mention that the trilogy isn't a true trilogy in normal terms. They're a trilogy in theme only. They are very much standalone novels that don't intersect except in the Grand Idea and how much can be delved.

Honestly, I'm kinda blown away here. I expected him to be a rather decent author, but not one who is this adept at so many different fields of study and doesn't mind going wild (or brave) with the Big Ideas.

I've just gone from fan to fanboy. It took a few novels, but once I discovered how much depth and breadth he's willing to go across these few books, I'm honestly amazed. :)

So yeah. I think I'm going to go wild reading everything he's got. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
This has been a very carefully read book, and a delight, all the way through. Considering how very long ago it was written (1997), the math remains interesting, and still relevant. Greg Egan has interesting characters, and fascinating premises. On to Diaspora, next (written in 1998), and then Teranesia (1999).

Extraordinarily inventive, and I'll read it again, and soon. ( )
  Lyndatrue | Jun 22, 2019 |
“At least two conflicting generalised measures can be applied to T, the space of all topological spaces with countable basis. Perrini’s measure [Perrini, 2012] and Saupe’s measure [Saupe, 2017] are both defined for all bounded subsets of T, and are equivalent when restricted to M - the space of n-dimensional para-compact Hausdorff manifolds - but they yield contradictory results for sets of more exotic spaces.”

In “Distress” by Greg Egan

“’The physicists have it easy - with their subject if not with me. The universe can’t hide anything: forget all that anthropomorphic Victorian nonsense about ‘prising out nature’s secrets.’ The universe can’t lie; it just does what it does, and there’s nothing else to it.”

In “Distress” by Greg Egan

Egan’s novel reminds me of one the best science books I read last year: “Lost in Math” by Hossenfelder: Mosala (an Information-Theory-applied-to-Physics-a-la-Roy-Frieden proponent; those of you who studied Statistcs in college surely remember the so-called Fisher’s statistic test of independent events) as Hossenfelder, and the Anthrocosmologists (ACs) as Stringer Physicists. Yes, yes, the emphasis on the beauty of the math & all those extra dimensions likely engages Hossenfelder's crap detector as does Mosala’s crap from the other two TOE competing theories in the novel. One of Hossenfelder's mantras is "pick the *right* math", not what's aesthetically pleasing or feels "natural", both of which stopped getting particle physics anywhere decades ago. Given Hossenfelder's frustration with theoretical physicists' disrespect for the Standard Model - despite its amazing success - because the math is "ugly" (ditto quantum theory) she might see this attempt to find the "right math" overrides its making the SM "more beautiful." Hossenfelder might enjoy that "If something isn't working, do more of it" (and repeat) is one of the strategies used by dysfunctional families, long recognized by Family Psychotherapists. I also like to think of Hossenfelder as the Keystone of Physics (like Mosala), but as things are going no such luck in sight...

"’If something isn't working, do more of it’ (and repeat)"

Seems also what the searchers of the fundamental unified force do with their theories regarding neutron decay. "If neutrons don't decay, extend the deadline." The Higgs was previously predicted and with a range for its mass. It was found within that range. After the Higgs, everything is nebulous speculation. Supersymmetry should have shown up even before the LHC. When it didn't, the goalposts were moved. And keep moving. "Build bigger colliders & they [particles] will come" makes sense to a certain point, but it's looking more & more that we're past that point. Yes, the dollars do take away funds for other research or infrastructure. Don't you remember all the wailing & gnashing of teeth inside & outside NASA when the decision to go with the Space Shuttle was made? That definite rearranged the research landscape. The F35 fighter seems to have done something similar with the defense budget, or so it's said.

The phrase Too Big to Fail comes to my mind.

At places clunky narrative and hard to engage with? Non-relatable characters? But sheer otherworldly ideas FFS: Stateless (IP-free pirate island), voluntary autists, Anthrocosmology, seven distinct biological sexes, yanking a camera gear out of Worth's body and not caring, Africa getting lots of Nobel prizes in Physics, autistic characters, competing TOEs... Beautiful, inspiring science communicated through exceptionally SFional content. Every sentence, every thought is deeply meaningful; the images and inserts I got while reading this novel added another dimension to the experience... The beauty of art, science and the human mind are merging into one entity in Egan’s novel. We’re not even near of having a TOE right now twenty years later; read “Distress” instead. It’s the second best thing. Egan is one of the few SF writers out there whose science actually feels up to date even we read him on TOE as in this novel more than 20 years since he wrote it. Many SF authors will mention TOE or whatever crap they come up with, but only as a convenient hook to introduce the same old time travel crappy yarn. When Egan writes about TOE, he's actually exploring the ramifications of current theory, not just using it as a hook for an old plot/narrative hack. Like Egan, we all have high hopes for a Scientific Renaissance when everyone understands the underlying physics governing the world. Do I understand everything he is on about? Nope. But that’s the fun of reading this kind of SF. It makes me think deep thoughts...

Bottom-line: Greg Egan, along with Ted Chiang (also one of my favourite writers, of a SFional persuasion or not; maybe I’ll do a post about my favourite SF writers one of these days when I feel so inclined), belong to the a category of writing I like to call ontological SF (as opposed to epistemological SF): writing seeking to depict the world itself (ontology), and not an interpretation of it (epistemology). In a SF publishing world of crappy lookalike writers, they both are very inspirational. Read them if you don’t do read brain-dead SF.

SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
  antao | Apr 28, 2019 |
This isn't one of Egan's best, I think -- as always, the mathematical and science ideas are solid (and pleasantly mindblowing), but at times I felt like the story itself was taking a backseat. Extra points for some very positive explorations of gender and sexuality (including having a very sympathetically-written gender-neutral, asexual character who played a large part in the story). It's good overall, solid Egan -- I just thought that, while it started out strong and ended strong, there was a bit of a slog in the middle. Maybe it wasn't quite fair to read it just after rereading [b:Axiomatic|156783|Axiomatic|Greg Egan|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1287341765s/156783.jpg|1270534]. ( )
  wirehead | Sep 3, 2018 |
**Distress** is another really enjoyable book by *Greg Egan*, part of his very loosely connected **Subjective Cosmology** trilogy. It's less "weird" than the other two parts, and might make a better starting point for interested readers. We accompany our protagonist, a scientific journalist, to a phyics conference on an anarchist island – less happens than in th other books, but that just finally leaves room for better characters and characterisations. The whole book, especially its increasingly twisty story arch, is very recommendable scifi. ( )
  _rixx_ | Aug 30, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greg Eganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kempen, BernhardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thiemeyer, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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