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SCHILD’S LADDER by Greg Egan Kirkus Star


by Greg Egan

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-105093-8
Publisher: Eos/HarperCollins

Another mind-boggling vision from the author of the demanding but immensely rewarding Diaspora (1998). Twenty millennia from now, matter and space can be shaped to order by “quantum graph” techniques deriving from the Sarumpaet rules; only the speed of light remains inviolate, so space travelers eventually become estranged from their origins. Murder is unknown; people are immortal and, until stirred by physical attraction, asexual, when they rapidly develop the requisite organs. But no other intelligent life exists and, lacking challenges, human society has grown vegetative. Physicist Cass's experimental “novo-vacuum,” expected to endure only for an instant, instead expands at half the speed of light, swallowing solar systems as it goes. Six hundred years later, investigators aboard a ship coasting just in front of the expanding boundary are split into two mutually hostile factions: Tchicaya and the Yielders wish simply to study the phenomenon; Mariama, Tchicaya's former lover and rival, and the other Preservationists intend to destroy the novo-vacuum using space-chewing constructs called Planck worms. The novo-vacuum, however, composed of Planck-scale “vendeks,” appears to be alive! Even more astonishing, somebody within seems to be signaling! The factions quickly agree on a moratorium. But the Preservationists have been infiltrated by “anachronauts,” refugees from the 23rd century who regard modern society as psychotic and are determined to destroy the novo-vacuum with its competing life-forms—and they launch virulent Planck worms before the Yielders can react. Still mutually suspicious, Tchicaya and Mariama join forces and enter the novo-vacuum, hoping to find intelligent beings and find a way to defeat the Planck worms from within.

No writer takes ideas as far or presents them so convincingly, from a spellbinding dramatization of a physical and ethical clash in a society that knows little of either up to an utterly brain-blasting exploration-explication of physics-as-biology.