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The Clockwork Rocket (Orthogonal #1)

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  737 ratings  ·  108 reviews
In Yalda's universe, light has no universal speed and its creation generates energy.

On Yalda's world, plants make food by emitting their own light into the dark night sky.

As a child Yalda witnesses one of a series of strange meteors, the Hurtlers, that are entering the planetary system at an immense, unprecedented speed. It becomes apparent that her world is in imminent da...more
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published September 15th 2011 by Orion/Gollancz (first published June 21st 2011)
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Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. ClarkeHull Zero Three by Greg BearChasm City by Alastair ReynoldsOrphans of the Sky by Robert A. HeinleinShip of Fools by Richard Paul Russo
Interstellar Ark novels
14th out of 42 books — 26 voters
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey11/22/63 by Stephen KingEmbassytown by China MiévilleThe Children of the Sky by Vernor VingeDeadline by Mira Grant
Locus 2011 Recommended SF Novels
13th out of 23 books — 11 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,151)
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Liviu
This is the perfect sf novel and a clear example why sf is still my favorite genre; besides the strong sfnal content though it is very well written and flows on the page and it has in Yalda one of the best characters in recent memories, with a good supporting cast too.

Shapeshifter (for good reasons explained at the author's site about how molecules look like in the universe he describes) generally (see before) six limbed aliens symmetric in 3D in their "normal" form - so they have eyes both bac...more
Felicia
Super conflicted about this book. I believe if I could remember more of my college physics I would REALLY love this book. Because the whole premise is that we're on a made-up world with weird aliens whose world is ruled by TOTALLY made-up physics. There is a TON of exposition about how the physics works which made it feel like a pseudo textbook in a way, did you ever read Sophie's World? Kind of like that, but not as accessible. Because in Sophie's World you had the context of understanding more...more
Tim Hicks
Mar 13, 2012 Tim Hicks rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: readers who are used to hard SF
I have a math degree and I have read a LOT of hard SF - and this might be the hardest hard SF I have ever seen. I'm not sure it would be possible to write something harder except perhaps by throwing in some hive minds and teleportation.

And yet, woven among the charts and brain-busting explanations there really is a plot with some reasonably interesting characters.

If I have learned anything from all my SF reading, it is that there are hardly any books that have a very strong concept AND very st...more
Tudor Ciocarlie
Fabulous book! Greg Egan changed a minus sign with a plus one in the space-time version of Pythagoras's Theorem and created an extraordinarily alternate universe in which interstellar voyages takes longer for the travelers, not less and there is no universal speed limit and no speed of light.

The Clockwork Rocket also has some of the most fascinating aliens characters I've ever encountered - six limbed shapeshifters with frontal and rear eyes, that emit light and reproduce by the mother being div...more
Mike
Jan 12, 2013 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Let’s start with the rating on this one. It was reasonably-written, had some interesting character development and inhabited a universe that was very different from our own. It held my attention pretty well for its 300-odd pages, so it’s at least a solid “3”.

To his credit, the author has invented a “space” (universe if you prefer) where physics, chemistry, and biology are very, very different from our own. In the beginning, the reader is tossed into it without any explanation. As the book progre...more
Bryan
Clever idea, but too much science and not enough fiction. The whole reason why I read sci-fi is to escape beyond the constraints of the laws of physics. Changing the laws of physics and seeing how this plays out probably will appeal to some people, but to me it felt too much like a physics homework assignment.
Ben Lavender
This one was just...not great.

The biology: weird people with weird reproductive life cycles. Rather than explore what biology would do to a brain that has to die to reproduce, we worry about how people such as ourselves would feel, then talk at great length about:

The physics: make for a good plot and all, but don't seem to really *do* much other than cause us to spend pages and pages on math and graphs.

The plot: just getting started. Part of a multi-eon trilogy, we're not really sure what's goin...more
Clay
Greg Egan’s “The Clockwork Rocket” (Night Shade Books, $24.99, 328 pages) is about as confusing a book as I have ever read.

First, it is hard science fiction in two ways: one, it’s about science; and two, that science is fiendishly difficult.

To make it worse, Egan doesn’t cut the reader any slack. It’s an alternate universe that operates under different kinds of rules (Riemannian geometry, if that helps) but at the start, Egan assumes we know the physics is different, and not, to name just one ot...more
Cassidy
I've been following Egan's work since Axiomatic and the early novels, and I have to say I really like the direction he's going. I remember reading about the insect-like creatures in the cellular automata world in Permutation City, and wondering what things must be like from their perspective. This book starts to fulfill that promise, with a story told from within a different universe with its own entirely unique physics.

The universe he's created seems to exist at a smaller scale than our own, an...more
Alan Zendell
Greg Egan is an outstanding writer. I wish I could comment as glowingly about The Clockwork Rocket. It simply caused me too much pain to get through.

The characters, their biology, their values, and their exploits are all interesting enough. I suppose that if I'd read the Afterword and the author's blog about the universe he was inventing first, I might have experienced less pain, but a book like this should stand alone. Egan invents his own physics in this book. Now, I have a degree in physics,...more
Will
It's a Greg Egan novel -- which means that half of it is an extrapolation of theoretical physics in another universe. Which all the characters understand right off the bat, or even worse, understand implicitly. Half the fun of Egan is working out what underlying physics model is responsible for half the odd things you see in the beginning of the book, but once the protagonist becomes a physicist and starts laboriously explaining it, it becomes fairly obvious that you're reading an arXiv paper.

Th...more
Gerry Allen
The Clockwork Rocket -- a pun -- takes everything we think we know about the physical universe and turns it inside out in a Klein bottle sort of way. The effect on life, on time travel and on society are worked out by Egan in a most entertaining exposition. It is rare for an alien to be described in terms of an alien universe, but that happens here in an unexpected (for me, at any rate) story.
No explanation of the book can fail to contain spoilers, so I'll just say that it is the epitome of the...more
Jeanne Boyarsky
Greg Egan really dove deep into the world he invented. I'm glad it is a trilogy after all the effort in following. The fake physics is detailed to understand. There are graphs which help some. It turns out to not be essential to understanding the rest of the plot oddly enough.

The biology was well thought out too. Yalda's species has control of their flesh - reshaping it and writing with its shapes. They reproduce by having the female members turn into 4 babies - two pairs of co's - one male/one...more
Dennis
Shapeshifters on their world are afraid that they are in danger of being destroyed by some sort of shooting stars, 'Hurtlers' arriving from distant a planet. To save their species they take off in a rocket powered mountain. When you read it, it seems possible as the author explains everything in that worlds physics. You should read it Michael and tell me what you think. Audio-book would be no good as there are heaps of diagrams explaining the physics.
Mangrovejane
I just could not keep going. Four chapters was quite enough for me to know quite conclusively that this is just not my type of book.

It started off a little confusing, taking me awhile to get a picture of what exactly the alien world and metamorphosing humanoid creatures were like. I had serious trouble visualising them and I don't really know whether it was because the description was written obscurely or whether because I was just not into it.

The author obviously values education and learning...more
Rachel
May 27, 2014 Rachel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: sf
I'm not stupid, but I didn't follow it and gave up trying. Maybe if I remembered more physics from school, I could have gotten more of a grasp on what was different in the story's universe from ours, and followed from there. But I lost interest. The exposition is through the characters teaching and learning, which makes it pretty stilted. The diagrams (disguised as the method used for teaching) didn't help much.

And then there are the totally alien people who act and think so much like humans. Th...more
Amber
Greg Egan and The Clockwork Rocket show a remarkable sympathy to opponents of societal divisions based on sex. Sexism, albeit alien and sometimes backwards to how it exists in our society, exists in this Orthogonal universe, but the female protagonist Yalda fights it or sidesteps it as much as possible. The book believes in female agency even if the society it portrays doesn't. The struggle is even heightened because childbirth means guaranteed death to the mother. Sometimes their male partner o...more
Klerik
(Disclaimer: This is the first part of a trilogy. I have only read the first book so far.)

I don't know if this is Egan's best work yet. It's certainly a very good one. Set in a universe in which the physics are almost like ours, yet not quite, it spends many (if not most) of its pages explaining the physics. I found this very interesting. Admittedly, I also found it somewhat hard. To me, it was the kind of book that either requires a timeout with pen and paper from time to time or a willingness...more
Chris Lewis
This is one of those books I count as "life changing" — in the sense that I've never read anything like it before. (Others include China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and John C. Wright's Golden Age trilogy.)

Greg Egan has invented a whole new set of physics for this book, and actually reasoned out all the physical phenomena that would accompany these rule changes. In fact he's written a whole companion web site that describes how various things work in this universe: the speed of light, elec...more
Andrew Breslin



“Ye cannae change the laws of physics!”


So said Star Trek’s beloved Mr Scott. Or maybe he never explicitly said that on the show, and only uttered that frustrated maxim in a popular song parody . Still, it’s undeniably and unalterably true. But what if you could?


That’s exactly what Greg Egan did. He just changed the laws of physics. Sneaky bastard. And the result is a mind-bending head trip. A trip taking place at infinite velocity, no less. “But that’s impossible!” you say. Ha! Didn’t you hear?...more
Alexandra

One thing must be noted about Greg Egan's fiction in general, and this book in particular. He, and it, are uncompromising. In reading it the audience must be one of two things: able and willing to understand complex physics, or willing to accept that they do not understand those physics and carry on with the story regardless. If you are not in either of those two camps, The Clockwork Rocket is most definitely not for you and Egan makes no apology for that. This is a book that comes with diagrams...more
Jason
4.5 Stars

This is a totally different take on an alien race very much like our own as they struggle with the impending doom that may befall their planet. A crash with an orthongonal star.

The aliens are very different from us. They are practically amorphous and plant like in nature in that they can sprout arms, hands, and other appendages at will. Their morphology is based around their abilities to control their skin... Their reproduction is sexual in nature but can also be asexual in nature as fe...more
Kam-Yung Soh
An amazing hard SF book from one of the more interesting authors in the field.

While most other authors may be content to just think, "Oh, let's write a story about how the speed of light is different depending on its colour", Egan really goes in-depth by properly considering the consequences of a universe built along a different type of geometry (in this case, Riemannian Geometry), resulting in a universe where the speed of light depends on its frequency, where the generation of energy creates l...more
Michele Maakestad
This is not a fantasy or science fiction novel. Not steampunk, as the title would leave you to believe. This book is a physics exercise posed as a discussion between fictional characters. I'll admit that the physics was over my head, boring, and unnecessary. The story might have been an interesting social commentary, or a save the world from disaster story. The character and the world were interesting, but the author did not follow through on them, making all the secondary characters cardboard p...more
Michael Mangold
Characteristic of Greg Egan's previous novels, The Clockwork Rocket introduces some brilliant concepts. The fictional universe grants him freedom to propose alternate physics with fascinating consequences, chiefly among them the reversal of special relativity's time dilation. This results in a desperate attempt by the main character's civilization to launch a rocket atrelativisticspeed in hopes that the ship will return in the near future, manned by the crew's descendants, with advances that wil...more
Brenda
Aliens in an alien universe suffer calamity because of a danger that arises from the unique physics in their universe. I hate to say much more, because the fictional physics of the book takes up most of its pages. Here's the "cover blurb":

In Yalda's universe, light has no universal speed and its creation generates energy. On Yalda's world, plants make food by emitting their own light into the dark night sky. As a child, Yalda witnesses one of a series of strange meteors, the Hurtlers, that are e
...more
William P.
I'm not going to deny that this is an excellent book. It really is. But it was a little beyond me. But we'll get to that in a minute.

First off, reading this book is a lot like reading an old-school pulpy Amazing Stories kind of novel full of weird aliens and in a strange universe with physics unlike our own. I've read this before. What I haven't read was a version of that idea where the author felt it was necessary to then extrapolate an actual physics model from that fictional universe. So what...more
Ken Rideout
I'm a big fan of Egan - I always felt he should have been a physicist rather than a computer programmer before he became a writer. This book confirms it; who else would come up with a sci fi premise that involves aliens evolving in an alternate universe with certain laws of physics reversed in such a way that some readers might understand our own laws even better? Ultimately, though, the story delivered more on social commentary than it did on hard sci fi despite the book actually having graphs...more
Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin
Aug 09, 2011 Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Hard SF who Enjoy Intellectual Challenges
NOTE: This review first appeared on July 19, 2011 at The King of Elfland's 2nd Cousin . If you like this review, please feel free to read more there!

Before I get into reviewing Greg Egan's new book The Clockwork Rocket , I feel I must offer a disclaimer: I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician. The fact that I need to preface a discussion of the book with such a disclaimer should already tell you a lot about it. The Clockwork Rocket is hard science fiction, an impressive exercise in ration...more
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Did Yalda make a mistake by ceding leadership? (spoilers) 2 12 Jul 27, 2012 03:26PM  
Hard SF: Greg Egan - The Clockwork Rocket 2 35 Jul 03, 2011 12:05AM  
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Greg Egan specialises in hard science fiction stories with mathematical and quantum ontology themes, including the nature of consciousness. Other themes include genetics, simulated reality, posthumanism, mind transfer, sexuality, artificial intelligence, and the superiority of rational naturalism over religion.

He is a Hugo Award winner (and has been shortlisted for the Hugos three other times), an...more
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