Dazzling new novella from an author (Dichronauts, 2017, etc.) who specializes in inventing seriously weird worlds and making them real. Or sometimes not quite.
Last time out, Egan offered us a mathematically plausible, inhabited—place?—whose hyperbolic geometry was, regrettably, difficult verging on impossible to visualize. Here, he summons up a pair of planetoids that orbit each other in a single day. One, Tvíbura, is inhabited but slowly dying; Tvíburi may be habitable. Deep beneath Tvíbura’s shroud of ice, gigantic treelike Yggdrasils grow from the planetary ocean below to their roots near the surface, bringing geysers that gush life-giving nutrients, but as time goes on, fewer and fewer roots penetrate to the surface. To ensure their long-term survival, the inhabitants—all are female and carry three sentient but nonintelligent brothers in their wombs—led by the indomitable Freya, come up with ambitious plans that will occupy the efforts of many people over many generations but do not guarantee success. This, readers will be unsurprised to discover, is one peculiar environment, where a year lasts only 15 days, the sun is more of a hindrance than a help, and people drink ethane—which, on Earth, boils at minus 128 degrees Fahrenheit, so think Saturn’s moon Titan (without the orange smog) rather than Mars. The story unfolds in three sections and spans many generations, so the characters disappear just as we begin to get to know them, and the background details puzzle as often as they illuminate. Still, it’s a stunning concept wrapped in a short yet powerful narrative.
Intriguing and absorbing and all too brief: a tale that demands a more expansive treatment.