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(Subjective Cosmology #3)

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,119 ratings  ·  137 reviews
Investigative reporter Andrew Worth turns down a documentary on a mysterious new mental illness -- "Distress, " or acute clinical anxiety syndrome, for another assignment. He's on his way to the artifical island of Stateless, where the world's top physicists are gathering to decide on a new TOE, or Theory of Everything, to replace Einstein's outmoded legacy.Chief among the ...more
Paperback, 456 pages
Published February 1998 by Eos (first published 1995)
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Chris I started this book without ever noticing it was part of a series, so I'd say yes ;) I've also read the other two books, and they're all great, but th…moreI started this book without ever noticing it was part of a series, so I'd say yes ;) I've also read the other two books, and they're all great, but they are 3 individual books, not a series.(less)
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Manuel Antão
Apr 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Hausdorff Manifolds: “Distress” by Greg Egan

“At least two conflicting generalised measures can be applied to T, the space of all topological spaces with countable basis. Perrini’s measure [Perrini, 2012] and Saupe’s measure [Saupe, 2017] are both defined for all bounded subsets of T, and are equivalent when restricted to M - the space of n-dimensional para-compact Hausdorff manifolds - but they yield contradictory results for sets of m
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
I may just be saying this because I'm intoxicated by the warm afterglow of the ending, but I think this is one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read. At the very least, I'm now excited to read the rest of Egan's work.

Of this novel's virtues, the most important to me is that its plot is driven by scientific and philosophical concepts. Too much science fiction works the other way around -- the author begins by inventing whatever magical plot device they need, and then proceeds to "just
Paul Bryant
Nov 20, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: sf-novels-aaargh
This one was too much for my poor old brain. After a razzledazzle first chapter which jumped out of the page and danced me around the room yelling in my ears all the while, it settled dowm to a steady bombardment of heavy heavy scientific concepts which may or may not make sense to some folks but left me burbling and drooling slightly

This is what I mean:

The whole point of moving beyond the Standard Unified Field Theory is that, one, it's an ugly mess, and two, you have to feed ten completely ar
Peter Tillman
I think I'll dispense with the plot summary this time - if you like Egan,you've read a review or two by now. If not, look nearby.

What I'll try to convey instead - since the reviews I saw didn't - is a sense of the richness and density of invention here. Egan is one of our very best, and he's playing the hard-sf game with a taut net and a wicked backhand...

"Distress" is a look at Vinge's Singularity from a very different perspective. Egan's imagination never flags: a constant flow of ideas, rich
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In a lot of ways, this is exactly what I hunt for in SF in general. Give me hard science, slather me in a hundred beautiful hard-science ideas, blow me away with high-tech biotech, computer science... and especially the hardcore physics geekery.

Mind you, this isn't any kind of soft cookie full of throwaway made-up terms. Egan goes for the jugular and explores as much science and possible science and fully-realized future societies changed by total control. Or somewhat total control. Lots of magi
Apr 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: tk, dwayne
Holy cow. There have been only a few books that have caused my brain to start shorting out and cause me to go into a weird spiritual state where I actual feel some connection to some university unity.

They are:

Zero: understanding how our understanding of math helped us understand our place in the universe

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance: Trying to keep up with the word games around quality and duality in this book was astounding.

Why God Won't go away: a book that explains the four states
Mikael Kuoppala
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I really don’t know how to approach “Distress”. The novel is just so completely full of everything utterly brilliant that writing a reader review on it seems a task tragically overwhelming. Greg Egan is perhaps the best sci-fi author out there, and this is a wonderful tour de force even from him.

The novel is basically a cosmological thriller(!) about a summit where the accurate ultimate Theory of Everything aka TOE is expected to emerge. The protagonist is Andrew Worth, a science journalist who
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
If this book was made into a movie (and it will not be), the tagline could be: "We're theoretical cosmologists. We get it right or universes die." Because that's what this is: a suspenseful thriller based on physics, metaphysics, philosophy, and cosmology. Admit it, you're impressed.

So. In Distress, a disaffected science/pseudoscience journalist goes off for what should be a peaceful, easy assignment: a documentary on a physicist who is about to announce her Theory of Everything. Except, well, s
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: Rae
Shelves: fiction, scifi
From the very first sentence, ‘Distress’ is an arresting and thought-provoking novel. The point of view character, Andrew, is a documentary film-maker. This very useful conceit allows for lengthy explanations of technologies and discussion of their implications, often in a pleasant interview format. The setting is 2055, while the novel was first published in 1995, twenty years ago now. I think it has aged remarkably well, predicting total ubiquity of the internet, handheld computer/phones (‘note ...more
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
A whole new sense to "hard SF". "Hard SF" usually means Science fiction that tries to take very few liberties with Science, sticking to what is known to be, or expected to become, possible. Egan takes it a quantum leap beyond - the science is HARD! If you can wrap your head around it, though, it's worth the effort.
Ami Iida
May 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: scifi
frustrated the thick book................finished.
at that time Greg Egan wrote Rough cutting novels.
I recommend you to read his novels after it.
Invadozer Misothorax Circular-thallus Popewaffensquat
Distress is a hell of a book. It starts off with a bang, slows down
in the middle and then speeds up again to great speeds into the end
page. I couldn't set it down after page 320. Main character Worth is
a reporter that does documentaries on different scientific and psyche
subjects. He's wrapping up a docu on `Junk DNA' which happens to
include one of the most intriguing (and barely brushed on characters
in this story) people, a guy named Landers. His body is a one-man
biosphere that doesn't need oxyg
J. Pablo
Mar 17, 2019 rated it liked it
I didn't want to read anything about the Subjective Cosmology series without first reading them all, so, it's now confirmed: they are three completely independent books, they don't happen in the same universe, they don't happen one after another. What they share is a theme. I've seen other authors do this, explore the same theme from very different angles and it always sounds more exciting than the end result. So far, this series is by far the best I ever read that does it.

About Distress in part
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
I think, if you like Distress, you'll probably like The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang, and vice a verse.
Although they are different. Distress is about physics theories, Lifecycle is about AI and morality. Distress prefers to talk of science and topology rather then shooting and running. Lifecycle has no shooting and running at all.

I think, if you like Distress, you'll probably like Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky. not sure about vice a verse. MoR is
Aug 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to kat by: William
Shelves: read-in-2013
This isn't one of Egan's best, I think -- as always, the mathematical and science ideas are solid (and pleasantly mindblowing), but at times I felt like the story itself was taking a backseat. Extra points for some very positive explorations of gender and sexuality (including having a very sympathetically-written gender-neutral, asexual character who played a large part in the story). It's good overall, solid Egan -- I just thought that, while it started out strong and ended strong, there was a ...more
Richard S
May 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Egan is very heavy on the science in his science fiction, but his writing struggles a bit otherwise. He is a great writer of ideas, many of which are interesting but some are kind of not all there. Anyway it was slightly better than the second book in the series but still suffered from the vagueness of the second.

Some parts are extraordinarily good, especially the idea for Stateless, a country formed out of bioengineered coral. So is the concept for the main character, a journalist of the future
Jason Young
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, 2018
Written 20 years ago, but it feels like it could have been written 2 weeks ago. I love the world and subtle things in this book, the plot though is another story. I don't know that I liked it during the unfolding, but the epilogue ties it together, and more than anything it is a fascinating thought experiment that is a bit of a trip.
Daniel Cunningham
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, fiction, scifi
More like ~3.5 stars, but worth the rounding-up.
Sep 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
After enjoying Egan's Quarantine, and being disappointed by Permutation City, I had tentative hopes for Distress. Egan seems obsessed with letting readers know how smart he is with his overly-long explanations. I don't have a problem with explanations per se; the problem is saturation and contrast.

When you have everything explained in minute detail (saturation), it becomes painfully obvious when you reach the limits of Egan's knowledge (contrast). Part of sci-fi is being able to suspend disbelie
Steve Landey
Sep 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Of Greg Egan's work, I've read Quarantine, Permutation City, Diaspora, and this book. Distress is my least favorite of the four by far. I think it's because the author and I were not excited about the same things.

It feels like half the book is Egan talking to himself about various hypothetical nonreligious cults with different takes on the nature of knowledge and meaning. That's cool I guess, but it didn't hook me at all, so I ended up skipping pages and pages of introspection and dialogue that
Matt Sears
Apr 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
This book is the definition of hard science fiction. I will admit that there were a few pages of this book that I 'skimmed' because the physics speeches were over my head, but for the most part this did not impact my reading experience whatsoever. Egan does a good job of being technical enough to get the hard sci-fi fans salivating but balancing it with a great plot filled with intrigue to keep the non-geniuses (ie myself)turning the pages. No, this book is not an 'easy read' but you are rewarde ...more
Nov 09, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: xcharity-2009, scifi
My fav line in the book: "It seems to me your whole approach to these issues reflects a male, Western, reductionist, left-brained mode of thought." This book had cool tech, like raising a murder victim from the dead to ID the killer, gender migration, body sculpting, ifem, imale, umale, ufem, asex, moving your body or brain to match your gender identification (a GBLT paradise?). The whole Distress thing doesn't come in until the end. This book was a 1-star for most of the first 300 pages but got ...more
This book is the very definition of not being subtle - but gosh, did I need it now, did I need all these thoughts about science and culture and religion being spoken out, written down for me to underline. And in a way, it's almost comforting that it was written more than 20 years ago; things did not become much better, but at least we the humanity survived the last 20 years. So maybe there is hope.
Clive F
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Andrew Worth, a journalist burnt out by his last expose on the abuses of biotech, persuades his boss to let him take over an assignment from another editor about a physics conference on the Theory of Everything. This conference is to take place on a human-created tropical island in the Pacific, which Andrew imagines will be just the tonic he needs. What could possibly go wrong? Other than nearly dying from a synthesized cholera virus, death threats to the Noble Prize winning Violet Mosala (whom ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Definitely took a bit to get going - I wondered at one point if it was going anywhere! - but the going was definitely fascinating. My favorite parts of the Egan books I've read so far are when two characters basically debate/discuss a scientific/philosophical concept in conversation. My understanding of the TOE was pretty basic before Distress but I didn't find it to be as over-my-head as Permutation City, where I was pretty much lost by the end of it. I was with Distress the whole way and after ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
The central cosmological idea is funny/silly, but perhaps drawn out too long, it was pretty easy to anticipate what the final resolution would be.

The supporting structure is so-so. I found the viewpoint character a little off-putting, there was a point about 10% in where he lost me and I left the book for a while. But in most of the book he's basically a passive observer. Still, there were lots of places he felt weirdly off.

The sinister plotting is goofy, it kept pinging my skepticism sensors.

Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Distress is set in the near-future, a future in which biotech can cure almost any illness (if you can afford it), in which gender and sexuality are choices enabled by surgery, and in which the Theory of Everything is on the brink of calculation. The plot follows a science journalist who travels to an anarchist-fabricated island to attend a theoretical physics conference. At this conference, a rockstar physicist plans to unveil a mathematical description of the universe that would unify quantum m ...more
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, fiction, cyberpunk
When can we truly say goodbye to the cult-like kindergarten of our species? The atomic to anatomic fractal-like pataphysics of Egan is his self-representation from head to toes. Thus, it can be better summarized by himself:

"Interacting symbols coded as firing patterns in neural pathways. Rules of dendritic growth and connection, synoptic weight adjustment, neurotransmitter diffusion. A chemistry of membranes, ion pumps, proteins, amines. All the detailed behavior of molecules and atoms, all the
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
**Distress** is another really enjoyable book by *Greg Egan*, part of his very loosely connected **Subjective Cosmology** trilogy. It's less "weird" than the other two parts, and might make a better starting point for interested readers. We accompany our protagonist, a scientific journalist, to a phyics conference on an anarchist island – less happens than in th other books, but that just finally leaves room for better characters and characterisations. The whole book, especially its increasingly ...more
Scire Estdivinum
Nov 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Some very interesting ideas in this book. The writer obviously has a good understanding across a range of fields, so expect to be referring to Google often. Greg Egan has a lot of ideas he wants to flesh out in this book, the characters and scenes are heavily ladled with them, but it worked for me. The style is refreshingly different enough for the struggle (for me at times anyway) to be well worth it.
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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

Other books in the series

Subjective Cosmology (3 books)
  • Quarantine (Subjective Cosmology #1)
  • Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology #2)

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