The Clockwork Rocket (Greg Egan)

29 June 2022

The Clockwork Rocket

In Yalda's universe, light has mass, no universal speed, and its creation generates energy; on Yalda's world, plants make food by emitting light into the dark night sky. And time is different: an astronaut might measure decades passing while visiting another star, only to return and find that just weeks have elapsed for her friends.

On the farm where she lives, Yalda sees strange meteors that are entering the planetary system at an immense, unprecedented speed - and it soon becomes apparent that more of this ultra-fast material is appearing all the time, putting her world in terrible danger. An entire galaxy is about to collide with their own.

There is one hope: a fleet sent straight towards the approaching galaxy, as fast as possible. Though it will feel like weeks back home, on board, millennia will pass before the collision, time enough to raise new generations, and time enough to find a way to stop the ultra-fast material.

Either way, they have a chance to save everyone back on the home world.

Average Rating:

Ross Hetherington (6 March 2023 17:00)

I've given this 4 stars as well. I'm just pleased people are bothering to write novels like this. If everyone in sci fi went down this route it would be a disaster, but that's never going to happen! I really liked trying to understand what was going on - then getting to the end and realising there's an appendix, and I'd got quite a bit wrong! It's like if Gene Wolfe was really into Hayes car manuals rather than Nabakov (potentially, he was into both - but still). I agree that with all this burden of exposition, the characterisation and many of the scenes are pretty good and arresting. I particularly am interested in the idea of narratives containing no human beings - it reminds me of various novellas and short stories I've read from the 70s and 60s (plus Tarkus by ELP - also from the 70s... and similarly underrated), but seems to have fallen off a bit now as an interest. I had all these brilliant mental images of these creatures living their lives and often being quite nice, but to us they would probably seem quite monstrous and their language perhaps indiscypherable, and perhaps even imperceptable!

Sinclair Manson (14 July 2022 11:17)

For me, this is a good story ruined by very bad taste. The author is evidently proud of the alternative physics that he has worked out, so proud that he insists on showing it off in excruciating detail to every reader hapless enough to stray into his novel. Is he anxious we will doubt he properly researched his made up physics? And compensating by arrogantly insisting that his book is only for those willing to achieve the required level of study? Because while the rest of the novel was good, it wasn't that good.

Sean Aaron (14 July 2022 10:33)

Far too “hard sf” for me, though I found the author quite capable with characterisation. As an intellectual exercise it’s interesting, but as a novel it just doesn’t work.

Brian Hamilton (10 July 2022 23:39)

I admire what I think the author was trying to do in this novel. I think he wanted to create a story that was driven from the ground up by the alien physics and biology of the setting. He wanted this science, and its discovery by the Einstein-like main character, to be an integral part of the plot. The author could have relied on hand-wavy explanations and concentrated on the characters and plot like almost every other author would ... and probably should. Instead we're given dialogs between scientists puzzling the ultimate nature of the universe with vector diagrams! His characters grapple with 'real' science and it's clear he thinks the reader should, too. I bought into that and although it was frustrating at times, it did enrich the setting for me.