The Clockwork Rocket: Orthogonal – Greg Egan

I read science fiction sometimes. So I know the deal. However, this one starts off quite odd, in that light has different speeds for different colours. And then it gets more odd, because the lead character is this thing – it’s never quite clear what shape she is – who can reconfigure her body into various shapes, make extra arms, make legs shorter, what have you. And then you find out that these folk reproduce by the female splitting into four smaller “people”. And dying. So no one ever meets their mum. Ah, sad.

And it turns out that the thing about different coloured light having different speeds implies other things about the way the universe works. Like that going at certain speeds changes your angle to time, so if you go at the right speed, time stops. Or at least, the time passing where you started from stops, but anything travelling the same speed as you experiences the same time.

It also means that there’s a threat to the world coming from somewhere they can’t see, because it’s at an angle. Or something. I don’t know if it was because I read this while I was jetlagged or not, but some of the finer details left me quite confused. I’m sure it’s all worked out right. Like in Anathem, there is an appendix where the actual maths and stuff is explained. It’s quite complicated.

Anyway, the lead character ends up going to university and discovering all the things about the physics outlined above. But there are complicated political machinations, made worse by her status as a woman (some things don’t apparently change), and no one will believe her. And then no one will believe her solution (which is pretty mad) until they eventually do – it’s pretty standard plotting, but cleverly paced – I really liked that the action kept skipping several years ahead without exposition – and there is a lot going on. I didn’t feel like I really followed it all, but it was a lot of fun. And this is book one of a series, so I am looking forward to the continuing adventures.

I have read some Greg Egan before too; this reminds me that I really should check out some more of his stuff.


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