Greg Egan Self Defense

Greg Egan critiques a pompous and off-the-mark review of his book Incandescence. He didn't need to--the writing is effectively self-negating.

A bit of a culture clash here: the critic, Adam Roberts, who teaches English literature as well as writing and reviewing science fiction, has rather conventional expectations for a novel. Science fiction writer Egan is, if not exactly poMo, then what I would call a genre experimentalist who is well known for inserting slabs of uncut scientific prose into narratives. Incandescence, his latest, is ballsy in its "notion that the theory of general relativity — widely regarded as one of the pinnacles of human intellectual achievement — could be discovered by a pre-industrial civilisation with no steam engines, no electric lights, no radio transmitters, and absolutely no tradition of astronomy" and also that readers can be walked through this premise.

In his analysis of Roberts' hatchet job for Strange Horizons, Egan contemplates the unthinkable, that readers will have a pad and pencil handy to jot notes on the physics he describes in thought experiment form in Incandescence. The book hopes you will draw conclusions by thinking across the gap between its two narratives--those of the pre-industrials and the post-humans who are tracking them. That's a gap some readers consider unbridged--I have my own theory of the ending but since so many reviewers are avoiding spoilers my universe for comparison has been tiny.

As Egan states, Roberts obviously just hates Incandescence and lobs one nitpicky dart after another hoping one will strike an artery. He complains about Egan not using compass directions when the whole point of the book is describing physics in a world without compass directions. Roberts quotes a memorable description of alien sex and attempts to ridicule it by "creatively" rewriting a love scene from Henry James in supposedly similar clinical terms. This flight of fancy is wince-inducing, all right. Roberts works in plugs for his own books and then writes a mock-humble comment (after Egan blasts him) that Egan "will still be a major figure when this review, and reviewer, are forgotten." That's for sure!