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The Clockwork Rocket (Orthogonal #1)

3.57  ·  Rating Details ·  1,380 Ratings  ·  160 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
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published September 15th 2011 by Orion/Gollancz (first published June 21st 2011)
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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
Dec 25, 2011 Felicia rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
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 really liked it
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
Aug 16, 2011 Bryan rated it it was ok
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.
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
Jan 12, 2013 Mike rated it really liked it
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
Alan Zendell
Jul 06, 2012 Alan Zendell rated it it was ok
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,
Oct 11, 2014 Eduardo rated it did not like it
What a disappointment! I have read short stories by Egan and always liked them. I chose this book to get familiar with his longer fiction and it resulted in not being a good choice; I was attracted to it because it is the first in a trilogy about events happening in another universe, one with different physical laws: enticing, right? Egan starts with the childhood years of her protagonist and, because she and her environment are doubly alien, it is kind of poetic and interesting. But he is so ea ...more
Jul 08, 2011 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, my-collection
Excellent new offering by Egan, backed by a dissertation of " more than 80,000 words of text and over a hundred illustrations. The pages marked “[Extra]” go into considerably more detail than the main exposition, and are targeted at readers who have studied some physics and mathematics at an undergraduate level " that the author has helpfully posted for the gentle reader at

I read enough of the latter to get the gist of the premise underlying this univer
Nov 19, 2011 Joey-Joey-Jo-Jo rated it did not like it
How many books can make you shed a tear as well as break a geometrical sweat?

The silly cover has nothing to do with the book.
I'd recommend approaching the first chapters without spoilers (including whatever is printed on the cover, the appendices and of course most reviews).

I used to think of Egan as a master of the short form and had been less impressed by his longer works. As a result, I had been putting off reading this trilogy of fat books which I saw as a kind of concession to commercial
Mar 11, 2017 John rated it really liked it
I'd have given it five stars, but the writing is a little stiff. It's very inventive though, and it's fun to learn alternate-universe physics along with the characters in the book.
†Ðawn† The Pirate Wench
Note to self- many reviewers say this is Hard core science fiction--very very intense science... little fiction..
May 27, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
Greg Egan’s The Clockwork Rocket is an incredibly imaginative read. It posits a universe with physics different from our own, and then explores the consequences of those differences, across biology, sociology, mathematics, astronomy and, yes, physics. It’s a revelatory piece of fiction, and an exceptional work of imagination. On the other hand, parts of it feel more like the reader is in a classroom than a novel.

The narrative centres around Yalda; it follows her life from childhood, as one of se
SciFi Kindle
This novel follows the familiar formula that Egan fans delight in: an alien hero works out fundamental physics to defend his/her/its species in a race against impending cataclysm from natural forces that are not, initially, well understood. Here, the greatest stylistic twist is that there is no counterpoint perspective from a more familiar human or near-human protagonist, nor indeed, any additional first-person characters. The story is told in a sequence of episodes from the lifetime a single cr ...more
Apr 13, 2011 Jason rated it it was amazing
Shelves: e-books, read-2011
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
Jul 07, 2011 Will rated it liked it
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.

Oct 18, 2012 Cassidy rated it really liked it
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
Clay Kallam
Jul 15, 2012 Clay Kallam rated it did not like it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
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
Andy Love
Oct 04, 2012 Andy Love rated it really liked it
I got a great deal of enjoyment out of reading this book - there were aliens with non-human physiology and cultural practices, and a well-thought-out alternate physics with enough similarity to real physics that I got insight into the real world from the discussions of the "rotational physics" in the book (just as an English-speaker can get insight into English grammar by studying a related but different language like German), but more than that there were characters I really liked. Yalda, the m ...more
Ben Lavender
Jul 02, 2014 Ben Lavender rated it it was ok
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
Jul 09, 2015 Ben rated it really liked it
Sometimes Greg Egan's "what if..." premises of alternative science/math are obviously quite inconsistent and sputter out after one short story's worth of exploration. This time the premise -- that relativistic time dilation works the other way around -- is worth well over a full book, and Egan does a marvelous job building a world and plot around it. The characters are flat as usual, but you don't read Egan for his emotional themes, and at least they're a little bit less flat than usual this tim ...more
Gerry Allen
Mar 03, 2012 Gerry Allen rated it really liked it
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
Oct 04, 2012 Dennis rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
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.
Kate Sherrod
Dec 18, 2011 Kate Sherrod rated it it was amazing
Long form review on my blog (see my author page). In short: OMG, this book hurt and maybe broke my brain with the physics, but the story and the species kept me fascinated. I want to bone up pretty seriously and read this again, someday. Best book I've read this year so far!
James Cox
Jul 05, 2015 James Cox rated it liked it
An interesting read.
Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin
Aug 09, 2011 Chris King Elfland's 2nd Cousin rated it it was ok
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 rat
Jan 13, 2012 Alexandra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2012

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
Peter Goodman

“The Clockwork Rocket,” by Greg Egan (Night Shade, 2011). This is described as “Orthogonal: Book One.” No way I am going to read the next two. If you are not into physics, math or geometry, this is one tedious book. The world Egan posits is interesting: Intelligent creatures who have up to six eyes, a multitude of legs and hands, and can extrude more when needed. They write by raising the letters on their skins. The women die when they give birth to four children (by splitting themselves into fo
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
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Did Yalda make a mistake by ceding leadership? (spoilers) 6 14 Feb 21, 2015 10:19AM  
Hard SF: Greg Egan - The Clockwork Rocket 2 38 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 about Greg Egan...

Other Books in the Series

Orthogonal (3 books)
  • The Eternal Flame  (Orthogonal Trilogy, #2)
  • The Arrows of Time (Orthogonal Trilogy, #3)

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