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Schild's Ladder (2002)

de Greg Egan

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9622621,474 (3.69)16
In the deep future mankind is barely distinguishable from machine intelligences, rarely embodied outside of virtual environments. It is time, using the very building blocks of time and space, to engineer the universe itself. Time to enter a new quantum realm of marvels and terrors. The new novel from one of the worlds most respected and acclaimed writers marks a dramatic move into a new arena ¿ that of the wide screen SF epic ala Baxter, Banks, Hamilton and Macleod. Novels such as this have proved to be the engine house for both the major sales and the best ideas of modern SF. That the genre¿s primary ideas man and one of its finest prose stylists should direct his energies to this sort of canvas promises much. This will be Greg Egan¿s breakout book.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 26 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
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  freixas | Mar 31, 2023 |
After they finish Schild's Ladder, I think most people will remember two main things about it: first, the characters are all really weird and don't react to things quite like normal people do. Second, it's full of math, to the point where it's almost unreadable in parts. So, another Greg Egan book! Point 1 was more interesting for me: a big challenge for books that are set tens of thousands of years in the future is that they're often really hard to relate to. We already live in exponential times, with dramatic changes to our lifestyle that would be unimaginable to people mere hundreds of years ago, so extrapolating what life would be like for people twenty thousand years from now is not only tough to do convincingly, but also absolutely certain to look laughably naive in just a few years. Even Leonardo da Vinci couldn't have written about what the Internet would do to society, and to extend that out by a factor of dozens is mind boggling.

Nevertheless, it's always possible to give even the nerdiest science fiction (like the kind Greg Egan writes) some emotional hooks to present-day readers just by focusing on urges and issues that will always be resonant: sex, love, death, curiosity, and conflict. Schild's Ladder is set mainly of the aftermath of an accident at the future equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider. A false vacuum has been expanding throughout the universe at half the speed of light, wiping out ever-increasing numbers of the scattered human colonies. Tchicaya, the protagonist, is part of a research team divided into two groups: the Preservationists studying the false vacuum as one would study a serendipitous lab creation, and the Yielders dedicated to either halting or reversing the vacuum's expansion. Yet again Egan has peopled his book with nearly autistic computationally-augmented post-humans that don't care about the slow-motion destruction of the normal universe, since their future technology lets them float above the sphere of destruction to run experiments essentially forever.

The funny thing is that I honestly can't think of a way to improve Egan's handling of this slow-motion catastrophe; the world he's created is almost above criticism in terms of how its inhabitants would likely react. How would you write dialogue for millennia-old computer programs? So Tchicaya gets homesick, he spends most of the book thinking about an old girlfriend who showed up to the research station, gets involved in the factionalism on the station, even goes on a quest of sorts at the end, and it all seemed natural and relatable. It certainly made the hideous math easier to swallow, which gets progressively more ridiculous until the final section, where Tchicaya and his lady friend travel into the false vacuum world using physics magic. Egan himself has "only" a BS in Maths, but the book feels like a PhD thesis with walk-on characters at times. You will be really impressed that such abstruse material is presented as well as it is (you try writing a novel about quantum graph theory some time) which means you'll not only have a new respect for Egan, but also for the scientists who actually deal with this stuff in their research. Hopefully the team at the LHC is a little more careful than the team in this book though. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
I love Greg Egan books, but spent the first half of this one wondering if I'd gone wrong. It was a pretty boring description of a world and problem in quantum mechanics and some fictional extension of the theory developed in the future ("quantum graph theory") which unified quantum theory and relativity. The characters in the first half of the book were at best boring, too. However, (spoiler) there's a major change partway through the book, with new characters, a new reality, and new problems to solve; still based on physics, and not my favorite of his books, but still pretty solid. I wish an editor would have compressed the first half of the book to something shorter -- while it's nice to be able to call back to it later in detail, I suspect a lot of readers just abandon the book at the beginning, as I would have had I not already been a fan of Egan (as well as driving 80mph through a snowstorm in Idaho, and unable to easily switch audiobooks.) ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
Odd book from my perspective. A kind of philosophical perspective on life, humanity and evolving of character. I liked much of it, but unfortunately a part give me strong associations to the psychedelic part of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that is never a good thing.

I might consider reading more from this author but I will probably first check that it's different from this book. ( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
Sometimes, an SF novel will hit you in the gut and speak a little math at you and then scamper away, tittering at its cleverness.

Other times, an SF novel will not only hit you in the gut but hit you in the pride and nads and stand over you, asking you if you want some more. Maybe it'll call you Susan regardless of your sex.

After reading Schild's Ladder, I have to say this is one of those Other times.

I feel like I just read a hardcore Stephen Baxter novel that just had a massive overhaul on the math and the editor not only said, "there may be just a tad too much scalable extra-dimensional geometry, pre-assumptive quantum physics, and thoroughly alien human cultures" just before he (or she) threw up his (or her) hands and said... "Screw it. I'll check for grammar. The rest is all for a team of postdocs devoted to theoretical physics."

Does this mean I hated it?

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA hell no. I loved it. Every single mind-blowing second of it. Just because some of it went over my head didn't mean I didn't LOVE the imagery, the bleeding-edge creativity of having our characters LIVE in this nearly incomprehensible post-and-re-physical humanity.

Examples: whole societies based on checksumming yourself because you're all software. Interchangeability between getting a body and going back in the software. 20 thousand years of murderless living and whole societies giving into their darker natures by telling fibs to cryogenic travelers about just how the world has changed, unwilling to let them know that we've all moved on because we think it's funny. Or how so many of us have tailored truly exotic sex organs (either software or physical) to be compatible with our partners... literally ONLY compatible to our partners. :)

Fascinating? Yeah, but not half as fascinating as the actual plot-driver. Expanding space and life living at a hugely accelerated rate and at a VERY small quantum level. Is it out to destroy us? Should we destroy it? Preserve it? Study it? It's out to eat our populated centers, but WE MADE IT. Accidental life... and perhaps intelligent. :)

Very good stuff here. Definitely designed to draw out only your A-Game. No punches are thrown and no one is talked down to. You will either sink or swim. :)

What a pleasure! ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
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In the deep future mankind is barely distinguishable from machine intelligences, rarely embodied outside of virtual environments. It is time, using the very building blocks of time and space, to engineer the universe itself. Time to enter a new quantum realm of marvels and terrors. The new novel from one of the worlds most respected and acclaimed writers marks a dramatic move into a new arena ¿ that of the wide screen SF epic ala Baxter, Banks, Hamilton and Macleod. Novels such as this have proved to be the engine house for both the major sales and the best ideas of modern SF. That the genre¿s primary ideas man and one of its finest prose stylists should direct his energies to this sort of canvas promises much. This will be Greg Egan¿s breakout book.

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