In his novel “Incandescence” Greg Egan tells two stories, apparently disconnected and in totally different situations.
In the far future the galaxy is basically divided in two societies: the Amalgam, a union of many civilizations with different origins whose members reached such a level of longevity that they can talk about millennia as if it’s a short time but that’s one of the reasons why the get bored and the mysterious Aloof, who control che galaxy core and refuse any contacts with the Amalgam though they don’t manifest hostility.
When Rakesh, one of the main characters of the novel, complains for the fact that everything has been done and everything has been discovered a person tells him that she had an indirect contact with the Aloof, who guided her to the discovery of a meteor containing DNA and agreed do let some members of the Amalgam to investigate on its origin in their domain. Rakesh sees the occasion to break the monotony and, together with Parantham, who’s curious about that story as well, leaves to look for the world of origin of that DNA.
The other story of the novel is set in the Splinter, a world of translucid rock lit up by the Incandescence inhabited by a species of insectoids. Within a pre-industrial civilization the scientist Zak tries to find the laws behind the Splinter’s motion and the dangers that threaten it. Roi gets involved in Zak’s research and contributes to the understanding of their destiny.
Greg Egan confirms that he’s one of the main representatives of hard science fiction with a novel that requires some knowledge of newtonian physics and possibly the bases of relativistic physics to understand the story of the Splinter. In his site the author has added some pages to the one dedicated to this novel to help in the understanding of these scientific elements.
The author fills up the novel with interesting topics that unfortunately are only partially developed and eventually the reader who succeded in following the stories gets an impression of incompleteness and also of the lack of a real ending that leads to the expectation of a continuation.
Egan wrote two short stories set in the same universe, “Glory” and “Riding the Crocodile“, but it’s really little considering the spatial and temporal vastity of this galactic landscape that seems barely sketched. We can hope that the author decides to create a real cicle expanding not only the stories of “Incandescence” but telling us other adventures in the Amalgam and possibly letting us know something about the Aloof.
Despite those limitations “Incandescence” is a good reading for the fans of Greg Egan and hard science fiction in general.