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Cheela #1

Dragon's Egg

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"In science fiction there is only a handful of books that stretch the mind--and this is one of them."--Arthur C. Clarke

In a moving story of sacrifice and triumph, human scientists establish a relationship with intelligent lifeforms--the cheela--living on Dragon's Egg, a neutron star where one Earth hour is equivalent to hundreds of their years. The cheela culturally evolve from savagery to the discovery of science, and for a brief time, men are their diligent teachers.

Praise for Dragon's Egg

"Bob Forward writes in the tradition of Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity and carries it a giant step (how else?) forward."--Isaac Asimov

"Dragon's Egg is superb. I couldn't have written it; it required too much real physics."--Larry Niven

"This is one for the real science-fiction fan."--Frank Herbert

"Robert L. Forward tells a good story and asks a profound question. If we run into a race of creatures who live a hundred years while we live an hour, what can they say to us or we to them?"--Freeman J. Dyson

"Forward has impeccable scientific credentials, and . . . big, original, speculative ideas."--The Washington Post

352 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1980

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About the author

Robert L. Forward

47 books164 followers
Robert Lull Forward, commonly known as Robert L. Forward, (August 15, 1932 - September 21, 2002) was an American physicist and science fiction writer. His fiction is noted for its scientific credibility, and uses many ideas developed during his work as an aerospace engineer.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 591 reviews
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,969 followers
March 4, 2018
Classic Hardcore Hard-SF. :)

Really hardcore, even, written by an astrophysicist and wild with the worldbuilding. :) It's the concept that shines. Think about the extended growth of a people from hunters and gatherers all the way to a massively accomplished civilization in the space of a single novel and add a little wrinkle: this happens in the space of how long it takes us for apes to notice a neutron star passing through our Solar System, to put together an expedition, and then to throw scientists at it.

This alien civilization is on the surface of the neutron star. :) They live fast, think fast, and pass through generations really fast. They had time to ponder and build religions and wage wars and learn, looking at our science expedition. It's pretty awesome. :)

I'm reminded of several novels that came out after this one, of course, such as Baxter's Flux, which might be a bit wilder and far-future, but has humans living on a neutron star, too, but I'm also thinking about Children of Time and Crucible of Time from other authors. :) Long-span civilizations and alien cultures. Great stuff. :)

I'm so glad to have caught this classic! :)
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
January 9, 2018
TIME: 06:32:46.1 GMT APRIL 1 1978

"I have researched it in every detail!" t'trummed Sky-Talker, as she waved her front manipulators impatiently. "For five greats of turns, I have done nothing else! You say that there is no way to communicate with the Slow Ones? Well, you are wrong!"

"But I still don't understand," answered Cautious-Careful. "This plan of putting a - what's it called, 'novel'? - in the mind of a Slow One... I'm sorry, it won't work! They will never understand our world. Our nucleonic chemistry will be incomprehensible to their strange senses, their bizarre planet, with only a sixty-nine billionth of our gravity, in no way resembles the Egg, and as for their society--"

"You live up to your name, Cautious-Careful!" interrupted Sky-Talker. "We and the Slow Ones have more in common than you think. I have written the 'novel' and translated it into their language. Now, all we have to do--"

"Show it to me again," t'trummed Cautious-Careful. "I have acquired some facility in the Slow Ones' language since our last meeting, and maybe I will grasp it better."

Sky-Talker slid the crystalline taste-sheets towards the other cheela, and Cautious-Careful methodically began to move his tread over them. Several of his eyes widened and then contracted in surprise.

"Why, it is quite accomplished!" he said. "I can see you have had to change some things to make them comprehensible to the Slow Ones, but you have given a good account of our physics and biology, and even some of our history. It is like travelling in the hard direction, but you have persevered and I think you may yet reach your goal. Though I am still unsure of a few things--"

"And what would they be?" asked Sky-Talker.

"Well," said Cautious-Careful diffidently, "I flatten myself before your greater knowledge of Slow One culture. But for this 'novel', is it not necessary to include 'character development' and 'literary merit'? I must confess that I have never understood what they are, but the Slow Ones seem to set great store by them."

"They are unimportant," replied Sky-Talker dismissively. "Once again, I tell you that my research has been quite thorough. The most popular 'novels' among the Slow Ones do not use them at all, whatever you may have heard."

She flirtatiously moved a tendril to caress Cautious-Careful's topside. "Now, you said something about flattening. How about a bit of sex? Then we'll send the message."

TIME: 06:32:46.9 GMT APRIL 1 1978

Robert Forward was suddenly awake. He had the strangest feeling...

"Everything okay, hon?" asked his wife sleepily.

"Sure," he said. He looked for his robe. "I think I'll just get up and write a few notes. I had this great idea for a story."
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,494 reviews962 followers
May 22, 2016

Whose afraid of the 'science' part of the science-fiction equation? If you liked "The Martian" for the way Andy Weir communicates his enthusiasm for technology and science, get ready to (re)discover a hardcore classic of the genre. How hard? you might ask.

Although many times hotter than the Sun, the neutron star was not a hot ball of gas. Instead, the 67-billion-gee gravity field of the star had compressed its blazing matter into a solid ball with a thick crust of close-packed, neutron-rich nuclei arranged in a crystaline lattice over a dense core of liquid neutrons.

It's difficult to imagine what these huge numbers signify, but Robert L Forward takes an even bigger leap of faith : he imagines there can be intelligent life on the surface of a neutron star, and then he demonstrates how such a life and civilization will deal with the issues of gravity and temperature ( ... and I might add how to have sex under these harsh conditions ). Also, Forward asks us how would humans be able to get near and to observe the goings on on the surface of such an inhospitable planetoid / star.

I learned back in highschool from one of the best physics professors in the country that there are two types of atomic interactions : weak betwwen electrons and strong between protons and neutrons. Later I was less concerned with theoretical physics and more worried about passing practical mechanical examinations. But some of that early stuff was stored away in a back drawer of my memory banks, and the opening pages of "Dragon's Egg" brought it forward with a renewed interest to look at the minuscule nuts and bolts that make the Universe rotate and expand. I am what I am as a result of that teacher's ability to make physics fascinating (and equally to his uncanny knack to know when I skipped on my reading assignments and call me in front of the whole class to solve the day's quiz). He might have read this motto from the Forward novel:

An animal doesn't need to develop curiosity and intelligence if it has no problems that need solving.

Life as we know it is based on weak atomic interactions. But who can say for sure that similar processes cannot take place between neutrons and protons under extremely high gravity stresses? Forward calls his aliens 'cheela', a sort of flat mollusks a few millimeters across with twelve eyes disposed in a circle around their upper body. Imagine next that time has a different meaning to the cheela civilisation: like watching the whole human evolution in a timelapse animation accelerated about a million times. A week can pass in the blink of an eye, a whole civilization can rise and fall in a couple of hours. But the whole process of evolution can be reduced to another epigram to be extracted from the text, a key that can unlock both the human and the cheela histories in their respective environments:

Go in a direction others do not go.

Robert L Forward is primarily a scientist and only incidentally a novelist. I read somewhere that he invented a new method of measuring gravity waves while still in school, and that later he worked for many years as a NASA consultant. His credentials are evident in the clarity of his scientific presentation and in the overall focus of the novel on cause and effect arguments. His novelist talents pale in comparison, but he still does a decent job of inserting a human interest angle to the proceedings. With the cheela living at a greatly accelerated pace, the author was forced to take a multi-generational approach to the neutron star side of the presentation. The human orbital station observing the Egg has a crew of six (or eight) that could have used more development and a more careful maping out of their interests and interactions. These characters exist primarily as operators for the different gadgets of their spaceship. but said gadgets are still intriguing, and sometimes cutely outdated given the fact that they depict future technologies of the year 2020 (the novel was written in 1980, although the research for it probably started in the early seventies). A holographic data cube for example has about five centimeters on a side. One of my flash memories is probably a hundred times or a thousand times smaller, and it also probably holds more data.

The author is though more accurate in predicting human behaviour on a large scale, echoing current debates about fosil fuels and global warming:

Although the human race realized that the Sun was not a reliable source of energy for the long term, there was little they could do about it. After a short flurry of national and international concern over the "death of the Sun", the human race settled down to solving the insoluble problem in the best way that they knew - they ignored it and hoped it would go away.

Despite this somewhat bitter observation, the general tone of the novel is one of tryumph in the face of adversity, one of hope and fascination with what tomorrow may bring. Relax, and read the darned instruction manual:

Stay vigilant, Sky-Beams. The Work may be tedious at times, but one never knows but what the next page will bring a new truth to our people.

also, in the farewell message to humanity from the cheela:
Then we will both go on our separate ways, seeking truth and knowledge through space and time. You in worlds the electron is paramount, and me in worlds where the neutron dominates.

For all its minor literary faults and sometimes dry scientific content, the novel belongs on the list of SF Masterpieces, and its staying power can be seen in the clones and adaptations that are still being published on the subject of first contact with an alien civilization. Earlier this year I read an excellent novel that has an almost identical structure (accelerated alien development, human observation station in orbit, multi-generational narrative) by Adrian Tchaikovsky - Children of Time . The recent novel takes an easier path by making the alien planet similar in parameters to Earth (a result of terraforming), but it also makes a much better job at the 'literary' attributes of conflict and characters development. I recommend both of them to readers who enjoy not only flights of fancy but also hard science in their fiction.
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 13 books101 followers
March 27, 2008
Dragon's Egg has nothing to do with dragons -- the dragon's egg is a neutron star being visited by humans who are suspending themselves in a stationary orbit by means of a propulsion laser.

The laser light falls to and illuminates a small portion of the surface of the star. As it happens, the surface of the star has a "crust" of highly degenerate nuclear material, at densities and pressures that enable exotic nucleochemistry to occur -- nuclei with extended shape and structure that are "weakly" bound, sources of free energy. Out of this nuclear soup, life has emerged.

Strange life, of course -- it is effectively 2-D, as the star's relentless gravitational field prevents structures more than a few millimeters thick from forming on the crust. Fast life -- nuclear reactions proceed at least five or six orders of magnitude faster than electronic ones, so a "year" of life on the surface is order of a minute of life to the human watchers.

The laser light acts as a source of free energy -- rich "food" for the primitive life forms -- and competition for that food spurs evolution and a series of social revolutions. Over the course of a day overhead, twenty or thirty lifetimes pass on the surface and civilization emerges from what was at best a stone-age culture.

Naturally, an abundance of plot, appealing characters, a truly novel premise (Forward was an astrophysicist and the quality of the science in his SF is matched only by Brin in the current generation and Asimov or perhaps Niven in the older one), alien sex.

A damn fine read. Indeed, one of the best "pure science fiction" stories ever!
Profile Image for Adrian.
5 reviews1 follower
May 28, 2015
On the one hand, here we've got an extremely interesting high-concept sci-fi story — quite "hard" sci-fi up until they get so advanced as to be incomprehensible — written by a real physicist and aerospace engineer.

On the other hand … well, it also reads like it was written by a physicist, and not by an author. Every sentence is short and simple (unless it's detailing a scientific concept), to the point where I felt the need to check to make sure this wasn't meant to be a book for young children.

The simplistic language works rather well for the aliens (at least, in their pre-technology state) but makes all the human segments feel incredibly weird. Human dialogue is awkward and stilted (including their thoughts to themselves), there's a lot of "say, don't do", and the characters are one-dimensional, with the crew being a sort of "ensemble Mary Sue" — perfectly intelligent and beautiful (always pointed out for the women) and educated and multicultural, no conflicts, and completely interchangeable with each other, as illustrated by this ugly infodump:

All had at least double-doctorates despite their youthful ages. Jean, Amalita, and Abdul each had a Ph.D. in astrophysics and a doctorate in one aspect or another of electrical engineering. “Doc” Cesar Wong (the only “real” doctor on Dragon Slayer) had the unusual combination of an M.D. in aerospace medicine and a Ph.D. in supermagnetics. Pierre himself had a Ph.D. in high-density nucleonic theory, and doctorates in gravitational engineering and journalism. Seiko, at 32, had them all beat. At last count she had four doctorates and expected to earn another as the result of their trip. Although each was a specialist in one aspect or another of neutron star physics, they had cross-trained so that each one of them could carry out any portion of the detailed science schedule that Dragon Slayer’s crew was on.

(Never mind the lunacy, hubris, and karmic danger of going to a star you've named the "Dragon's Egg" and calling your ship the "Dragon Slayer". In fact, all the terminology is a bit suspect, e.g. the aliens naturally calling their own planet "Egg" long before they meet the humans who do the same.)

Even the one screw-up the humans make on the entire trip — a loose piece of external debris that could've created interesting tension and conflict as the mission went on — is immediately and fully dealt with via some dangerous jetpack acrobatics and never spoken of again. It's more an exercise in discussing gravity gradients than a real plot aspect.

The aliens, meanwhile, read a lot better under this writing style. A style that feels awkward and foreign for humans is a perfect fit to make the aliens seem more alien. My only complaint about these parts would be that there's a lot of dead-ends in the plot. For example, they accidentally learn what is essentially the secret to eternal (or at least, longer) life, but there's only one serious attempt to use it later in the book, and then they just give up on it and go back to living for 15 human minutes at a time. Or they talk about finding Napoleon and Machiavelli to have interesting ideas — ominous foreshadowing? — but it turns out to be a throwaway line, with no visible effects.

All this is balanced by the fact that the plot really did keep me reading, wanting to know what happened next. And the ending is certainly interesting, if maybe not particularly climactic. But it really does read like "a textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel" (reportedly the author's own words).

I'm torn between giving this three or four stars — it's a bit more than just "I liked it" but it's hard not to notice all the flaws. Given that I was rather surprised at the quality of something that rated highest on my recommendations list, I think I'll stick with three to balance that.
Profile Image for Liz Janet.
579 reviews381 followers
January 21, 2016
Of all of the greatest science-fiction books written at the time of this novel, this one seems to be one that is not as popular, or as read as it should be. It is a novel that explores so much more than many popular series.
Now that that is out of the way let us get something else out of the way too, this book is neither about eggs, nor is it about dragons, it is about a scientific discovery of a race called the cheela who live in a neutron star, the surface gravity it has, leads for them to be the size of a sesame seed, and therefore develop much faster than humans. The scientists that discovered this, therefore choose to study and observe this civilization. What an interesting concept!
It is magnificently written, the plot is brilliant, and that is all we need to know.
Profile Image for Jared Millet.
Author 19 books57 followers
June 13, 2014
Oh that was painful, but I finished it for my book club, and for science. And make no mistake: the science in this book is mind-bendingly excellent. Robert L. Forward's ideas (life on a neutron star, contact between cultures who exist at different time-scales, etc) are the kind of top-notch speculation that makes science fiction great.

But his writing is dreadful beyond belief.

I have never come across a writer in such desperate need of a co-author. Seriously, this book reads as if it were written by Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. Forward handles his aliens well enough, but when it comes to writing human beings he seems to understand that humans have these things called "personalities" but he isn't quite sure what they are or how they work. To be fair, many of the other greats of SF (Asimov, Clarke, Niven, etc.) aren't known for Hemingway-levels of depth in characterization, but at least their characters could probably pass a Turing test. I'm not sure that Forward's could. All of Forward's characters speak their thoughts aloud to themselves in stilted, perfectly grammatical monologues on a par with "Oh my. I seem to have fallen and I cannot get up." The man seems to have a disdain for using contractions the way some people are uncomfortable using profanity.

Urgh. How did this ever get past an editor? Like I said, what Forward needed was some other writer to use this draft as a plot outline and write in actual human touches for the humans, and this could have been a fantastic novel.
Profile Image for Toby.
832 reviews328 followers
July 15, 2014
Once in a while, a novel appears that has everything unique to science fiction - a brilliant new idea, honest extrapolation of real science, a gripping story with fascinating alien characters, and the indefinable but essential sense of wonder. Not my words, an unattributed quote on the back on my paperback, but between that and Arthur C. Clarke's pull quote on the front, "Forward's book is a knockout. In science fiction there is only a handful of books that stretch the mind - and this is one of them!" my thoughts are and feelings are summed up much better than I can possibly hope to achieve.

Dragon's Egg is not a mediocre fantasy novel, it is a classic of hard science fiction, a study of the evolution of life on a neutron star, a premise borrowed for an episode of Star Trek Voyager that I saw recently, humans go to observe the star and their presence in the sky of a people whose lives are lived at one million times the speed of humanity inspires generations of thinkers to evolve their society from "cavemen" to potential lords of the universe in the matter of a human day.

The sense of wonder alluded to owes everything to the approach taken by Forward in his writing, he is both technical and romantic in his view of his wondrous creations, painting vivid capsules of important moments and people in Cheela history, not all of them legendary or moral but all individuals who made decision or saw something that others didn't for the betterment of their species. As he states in his acknowledgements it could easily have become a dry piece of scientific theory but for the most part he sidesteps that hurdle with apparent ease, much like my other favourite author of hard science fiction Stephen Baxter.

Profile Image for Lucie Simone.
Author 7 books45 followers
March 7, 2011
I don't read much Sci-fi, but my brother bought me this book for my birthday, so I gave it a go. Aside from the setting being on a distant star and the main characters being tiny alien creatures, this book is really a study about the evolution of a species and its society. I was rapt by the developments these beings made as they progressed through their ultra short lifespans, creating religions, laws, philosophies and superstitions. A fascinating read!
Profile Image for Daniel.
857 reviews5 followers
January 22, 2018
My favorite aspect of this book is the time compression between the humans and the Cheela. It reminds me of a passage in The Indian in the Cupboard where "normal" sized Omri prepares a campfire for the tiny Indian with which to warm himself and to cook a tiny chunk of meat. As an eight-year-old child, I was bothered by this because I had a good idea that the tiny size of the fire meant that it would burn out quickly, e.g. it wouldn't burn all night long or for a period of time suitable for its intended task. When I reflected on this later as a teenager, I decided that time must pass more quickly for the tiny Indian As an adult, I'm still conflicted. Would that tiny fire release enough energy to cook the tiny chunk of meat? I don't think so. RLF really nailed the time compression scenario in this book and the rest of the science in Dragon's Egg seems fairly legit. RLF doesn't just wave his hands to explain things and the detail is actually a bit dense in places. Another point of curiosity is the massive amounts of sex that the Cheela were having. Wowza! And a minor quibble...why exactly did the humans decide to visit Dragon's Egg?
Profile Image for Ivo.
210 reviews15 followers
April 19, 2020
Ein Neutronenstern ist ein Stern von extrem geringer Größe bei extremer Masse. Auf diesem Stern hat sich Leben entwickelt, aufgrund der Schwerkraft läuft die Zeit dort in Relation zu unserer extrem langsam ab. In den wenigen Tagen, die ein menschliches Expeditionsschiff benötigt, um sich dem Stern zu nähern, vergehen auf der Oberfläche Generationen, eine Zivilisation entsteht und entwickelt sich rasend. Und die Kontaktaufnahme gelingt…

Die geniale Grundidee wird vom Autor, einem promovierten Physiker, technisch und naturwissenschaftlich akkurat umgesetzt (zumindest nehme ich das dem Autoren ab, wirklich beurteilen kann ich das mit meinen Physik-Grundkenntnissen nicht).

Der Leser unserer Zeit mag an einen der Hype-SF-Romane der letzten Jahre, Adrian Tchaikovkys „Children of Time“ erinnert werden, und das zurecht.
Profile Image for Peter Cawdron.
Author 67 books788 followers
December 17, 2020
Speculative science fiction at its best! Imagines how life might evolve on a neutron star and, due to relativistic effects of heavy gravity, in a very different timeframe to our own.
Profile Image for Philipp.
618 reviews180 followers
March 28, 2014
Humankind discovers a close neutron star where extreme gravity rules, and intelligent (small) life has developed. Since the star spins so fast, "time" on the star progresses faster for the lifeforms - about 15 human minutes are one of their generation. A large part of the book focuses on the developments on the planet, and how the Cheela develop from stone age-like warriors to space-travellers surpassing humans.

This is hard SF with a focus on physics, and by hard I mean hard to the point of unreadable:

The cables became longer and longer and started to react to the magnetic field lines of the star, which were whipping by them ten times a second—five sweeps of a positive magnetic field emanating from the east pole of the neutron star, interspersed with five sweeps of the negative magnetic field from the west pole.

(Other science is kind of bollocks though - why is their DNA-equivalent triple-stranded? Why is their math apparently base 10 when (IIRC) they have 12 appendixes and 12 eyes?)

There's a couple of really cool ideas, for example when humans (unaware of intelligent life at that point) start to use lasers for a few minutes to map the planet, the beings on the surface quickly develop a religion around the lasers. Makes you realize that your smallest actions can have huge consequences somewhere else.

As it's normal with hard SF, all characters are made out of cardboard, just there to progress the story. But what's up with all women being "beautiful"? Are people not allowed to look normal? It's kind of creepy to have the woman's beauty described every time she says something intelligent. Men apparently don't have looks in this world.

Recommended for: Friends of SF

Not recommended for: Everyone else
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews763 followers
August 2, 2009
Alright, here's the basic gist: intelligent life lives on a planet that rotates five times per second. Because of the speed of rotation, gravity is very strong, and the life forms come out very unusual. Meanwhile, we Earthlings have discovered this asteroid, and send a research team to check it out.

The thing is, not only do these creatures live on a quickly spinning planet, they LIVE faster than we do. They think faster, age faster, and develop faster. For each Earthling 15 minute period, a generation passes on their planet.

During a very brief researching period, the astronauts watch as this strange and quick culture develops from barely using a number system to...well, doing much more than add numbers.

It took me a while to get into this book, partially because the human characters (and, one could argue, the alien characters) are very flat. The guys all seem intelligent, the girls all seem intelligent and hot. Most of the human character interaction is scientific banter that only makes a little sense.

But, the individual characters in this book are secondary to the relationship between these two vastly different cultures. What the book lacks in character development it makes up for with the immensely creative world that Forward has created. This book is very fun, very original, and has a quite rewarding ending. And Forward does it in less than 300 pages. So, if your curiosity has been piqued, track down a copy and enjoy.
Profile Image for Antonio TL.
210 reviews25 followers
June 1, 2022
Sinceramente, este libro no tiene mucha trama, pero no obstante es bastante interesante.

Describe el surgimiento de una civilización alienígena en la superficie de una estrella de neutrones, donde la química es nuclear en lugar de atómica porque la gravedad ha aplastado los átomos. Es más como un libro de "qué pasaría si": ¿y si una civilización alienígena pudiera desarrollarse en un entorno tan diferente? ¿Cómo tendrían que ser las criaturas? ¿Cómo afectaría a las cosas el entorno físico tan diferente? ¿Y qué sucede si los humanos, algún día, finalmente se encuentran con una civilización así? El autor obviamente ha pensado profundamente en esto, y en el libro se siente muy plausible.

Es interesante principalmente por lo que el autor pensó sobre esta forma de vida tan diferente, no por la trama o los personajes. Se compone de historias cortas, pequeños fragmentos extraídos de las miles de generaciones de estas criaturas alienígenas, a medida que avanzan desde una sociedad de cazadores-recolectores hasta llegar a una civilización técnica centralizada. Entretejido con esto está la historia de cómo los humanos los descubren e interactúan con ellos; Debido a que los humanos trabajan en una escala de tiempo mucho más lenta, la civilización alienígena cambia mucho más rápido y los humanos ven una gran parte de este progreso.

Este no es un libro que lees porque quieres un thriller. Este es el tipo de libro que lees porque quieres algo diferente e interesante, donde al final te sientas y dices: "Huh. Me pregunto que pasaria si..."
Profile Image for Amun (Mohamed Elbadwihi).
57 reviews9 followers
September 2, 2017
“Go in a direction others do not go.”

I'm ashamed to say that I'd never heard of Robert Forward before being introduced to this wonderful book. Huge thanks to my friend Cassy for dragging me out of that hole of ignorance!

Dragon’s Egg is the story of the cheela, a civilization of tiny beings that evolved on the surface of Egg, a neutron star.

The 67-billion-g surface gravity of Egg and its spin rate of over 1000 revolutions per second pose unique difficulties for the inhabitants of the star. Weighing as much as the average human, cheela bodies are only about 5 millimeters in length, and half a millimeter in height. The extreme gravity makes it almost impossible for them to climb a ‘mountain’ that is only a few millimeters high, and anything that drops onto the surface of the star disintegrates in an instant.

The compounds in cheela bodies (and in everything else on Egg) are held together by nuclear forces, unlike the electromagnetic forces that keep our atoms together here on Earth. As a result, chemical processes on the star occur 1 million times faster than they do on Earth. An entire lifetime for a cheela is a mere 15 human minutes!

Despite all of these complications, Robert Forward somehow manages to make this a Hard Sci-Fi story, and for that I give him 5 million (neutron) stars.

The characters in this book, tiny as they are, are extremely well crafted. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how the cheela evolved to solve basic problems, such as learning how to count beyond the number three; something that they had no concept of for the longest time!

The cheela eventually make contact with the human race; a guaranteed break-your-heart experience. If you’ve never cried reading Sci-Fi before (you monster), good luck not weeping with this one.

Some tidbits:
1. “Go in a direction others do not go.”

2. Then, in a flash of inspiration, one of the greatest mathematical minds ever hatched in the past of future history of the cheela made a great leap of abstract thought. “I took one seed from each pod that I ate,” Great-Crack said to herself. “So I have as many seeds as pods.”
Her mind faltered for a moment. “But seeds are not pods!”
It recovered, “But there are as many seeds as there were pods, so the number is the same.”

3. “Intelligent beings!” Seiko exclaimed. “That is impossible! The surface gravity of that star is 67 billion gees and the temperature is 8200 degrees! Any being that existed on that star would be a flat glowing pancake of solid neutrons.”
Profile Image for Laura.
343 reviews13 followers
November 13, 2011
This book is a fascinating, serious consideration of what life would be like on a neutron star. Given the gravity in such an environment turns everything into degenerate matter, molecules complex enough to support biology form by atomic nuclei sharing neutrons rather than electrons. Furthermore, the author postulates that in this high energy/density environment the creatures that have evolved here have a much higher rate of metabolism. One million times ours in fact - so that we get to see in just a few human days a society advance from a bronze age type culture to surpassing human knowledge of physics and engineering (inspired by us, but we take so long to tell them anything that they have plenty of time to take our ideas and run with them). How does such a society interact with our own? How do we appear to such creatures who live out their entire life in a 30 minute time span? I won't spoil the story by saying, but this is one of the most thought inspiring sci-fi novels I've read in a long time.
Profile Image for Phil.
1,619 reviews104 followers
January 16, 2018
Some good science on display, but the social ideas are fairly simplistic. The aliens (cheela) observe a _very_ anthropomorphic development cycle, albeit humorous at times. Hence, there were no real surprises along the way and once it got going (contact and beyond) it seemed to me a bit formulaic. Still, I liked the ending and it is worth a read.
Profile Image for Denis.
Author 1 book19 followers
May 21, 2022
One of the most creative sci-fi novels I have read thus far. A Hal Clement type of story - one which is based on hard science and physics - but with a little more sophisticated character development. It was also reminiscent of Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves” in that it flips between a human scenario and one which is very alien.
Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews267 followers
August 28, 2021
Essentially, pure science fiction. It's about how life might arise on the surface of a neutron star and how that civilization might evolve.

That's it. The end. It doesn't arbitrarily shoehorn in modern elements of the political conversation. It doesn't try to wax poetical with lyrical prose. Hell, it doesn't really even have character arcs in the typical sense. Nor much suspense, for that matter.

It's been called hard sci-fi, but I can't say I agree, at least not in the sense of "hard" sci-fi being "hard to understand." I don't think there's any explicit math and a minimum of explicit science. Rather we might say it's all "based on science."

Overall, I give it 3 stars, simply because this is not the first book I've read that follows the evolution of an alien civilization. My favorite sci-fi author - Greg Egan - has several books (Incandescence, Diaspora, Orthogonal Series) that do much the same. Compared to those books, Dragon's Egg is like a child's crayon drawing compared to a van Gogh painting. Or, perhaps a better analogy, is that Dragon's Egg feels like the cliff-notes version, whereas Egan gets into the scientific, social, and mathematical nitty-gritty detail.

That said, my experience is that an extremely limited number of people can appreciate an Egan book. This one, while still more difficult than your average novel, is vastly more approachable and therefore much more appropriate for your typical sci-fi reader. It's not about what you're capable of understanding, though; it's about what you're capable of enjoying. Not everyone - even if they understand it - enjoys a book that is heavy on technical detail. If that's you, Dragon's Egg might be the better read.
Profile Image for Andrej Karpathy.
110 reviews3,477 followers
April 29, 2018
This book must absolutely be commended for its inventiveness, while staying within the limits of the scientifically plausible. Overall a very enjoyable hard scifi read, but if I had to critique some things, it would be: 1) the aliens are slightly annoyingly too human-like (would have appreciated an attempt at something more perplexing / foreign), 2) some parts of the book drag on for a very long time without being interesting (e.g. the various escapades of the cheela that take up a large portion of the book), 3) the cheela civilization is not imagined in a satisfying detail, and 4) the ending is a little too abrupt and naive for my tastes. A little bit like Sagan's Contact, where I would prefer a bit more of the more likely Lem's Master's Voice.

overall a recommended read for anyone who loves hard scifi! Just feel free to skim some of the boring parts until you get to the last ~20% of the book, and prepare to have your intelligence insulted just a little bit when it comes to antrophology instead of the physics.
13 reviews
December 19, 2018
Interesting book that I would have liked to give more stars to but it was really let down by the absolutely awful writing in the chapters concerning humans, just clunky exposition, excrutiatingly bad dialogue and zero characterisation (awful 1940s level female characters, EE Doc Smith wrote women better than this drivel), at least the author refrained from giving us a human sex scene, god knows how he would have handled it. The alien chapters were fun, though let down by a few plot "dead ends". All in all great concept, bad execution, if you want something similar but light years better try Children of Time.
Profile Image for Gendou.
585 reviews263 followers
April 10, 2011
This is "hard" science fiction, my favorite kind.
The plot is driven by believable, yet imaginative, consequences of physical laws.
What's important to me in an SF novel is that things make sense.
I love it when I get the feeling that the story is how it has to be.
This book is a perfect example.
Astrophysics sets the scene, and the characters do the discovering along side the reader.
It's so much fun!
Profile Image for David.
Author 18 books336 followers
January 14, 2011
I read this book probably 20 years ago (funny how I keep remembering books I read a long time ago as I try to catalog them all on Goodreads). I can't say I remember the plot in detail, but it was a really fascinating hard SF novel about intelligent life forms who live on the surface of a star. They were very alien but still believable -- Robert L. Forward did a great job of describing their environment and how the incredible heat and gravity affected them. Because of the gravitational effects, time was subjectively "faster" for them, so generations go by in the course of a few hours of "real time." When humans first make contact, the aliens are barely technological, and by the time their ship leaves, the aliens have become so advanced they can actually move stars around. It was a good read, though I don't know well it would stand up twenty years later.
Profile Image for Kaila.
818 reviews102 followers
July 11, 2018
This was such a surprise! One of the major benefits of being in a book club - I read books I would never have picked up on my own. I've already recommended it to a few people.

The alien society was a little too "human" for my taste, but the concept was intriguing and executed perfectly. At one point a human on the spaceship, Amalita, says something like "These 15 minute friendships really do a number on the emotions." And they really do. Apparently, the humans in this future have never heard of the prime directive.

The last 3 pages or so of the book sells it completely. I loved it.
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