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The Clockwork Rocket

(Orthogonal #1)

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,964 ratings  ·  204 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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Average rating 3.62  · 
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 ·  1,964 ratings  ·  204 reviews

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Don't get me wrong, I loved this book. As several people had told me, there's nothing like it. But at same time, I couldn't help wondering what would happened...

If Tolkien had done linguistics the way Greg Egan does science

"Now what was that?" asked Sam, scratching his head. "Elvish, was it? But it didn't sound like no Elvish I've ever heard. Begging your pardon, sir," he added, turning to face the tall Elf.

"It was Quenya," said Frodo. "Although Quenya and Sindarin have a common origin, they sou
Tim Hicks
Mar 13, 2012 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
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
Jul 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-shelf, sci-fi
Greg Egan writes some freaky cool SF. But a word to the wise: expect relatively rigorous math when you step into his worlds.

I'm not saying that you can't follow any of the plots or enjoy the characters without it, but your basic enjoyment of this will stem directly from your enjoyment of FREAKING COOL MATH.

Not that I followed everything, myself, but learning and enjoying the process gave me pretty much all the enjoyment I needed while reading. :) I mean, yes, getting to know a race of people (re
Dec 25, 2011 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
May 03, 2021 rated it liked it
I’m fascinated by the celebrity of painting. Most children leave elementary school able to recognize names like Van Gogh or Da Vinci but are wholly unfamiliar with other names like Faraday, Turing, Laozi, Kant, Saladin, Tolkien, or so on and so forth. Why is that? What is the obsession with Renaissance-era painters to explain this disconnect between their relatively minute historical importance and their fame?

I’m sure I don’t know the answer, but in many ways it mirrors the personal experience o
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
Aug 16, 2011 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.
Jan 12, 2013 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
Apr 13, 2011 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
Jun 26, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
In one sense this is the most ambitious SF novel I've ever read. In every other it's kinda insipid. That one sense? The science! Generally, SF that isn't actually Engineering Fiction or (the very rare) Mathematics Fiction or Alternative History does its science by saying those scientific laws you know? They're approximately right but what if there was this extra thing I've made up? (Hyperspace, wormholes that don't have singularities in the middle, infinite computing power...)

Egan asks, what if
Alan Zendell
Jul 06, 2012 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,
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-collection, sci-fi
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
R Nair
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was hard. Not only in being hard science fiction but also hard to grasp fully even with a passing understanding of special and general relativity.
For those interested in reading this book, here's a link that helped in familiarizing myself with the physics used in here -
Have a look at this before buying the book to know whether this is your cup of tea or not.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was ok
Recommended to James by: Manuel Antão
Shelves: sf, fiction
This feels like a throwback to early science fiction, which is a mixed bag of good and bad. Part of the premise of the story is that it takes in a universe that has different physical laws, that's no problem, but the alien protagonist Yalda extensively explains the physics (including illustrations!) throughout the book. This is a shtick that was popular starting with early SF, Campbell used to call stories that contained too much tech and science talk as "Electric Chicken Plucker" stories, this ...more
Feb 11, 2021 rated it it was ok
What if an interesting physics thought experiment were a novel? Well this is that novel. You might think that it would be a pretty boring novel and you would be right.
There are several things about this book that I did not like.
- There are many scenes where someone is doing Science and learning or discovering something where someone will say "So it's just like when !" which is I assume meant to explain physics to the casual reader so they can follow the story and be excited about the cool physic
I had been warned. This is hard science fiction. Maybe I should have tried a different Egan. But I thought I would manage it. I did not.

I was comfortable with the Three-Body Problem. This though is another league. My knowledge of physics is probably above average but this was way beyond me.

I am sure it is an excellent book. It is certainly well written. And I would go so far as to say I would have given it 5 stars easily had I understood, say, 25% of it. Because I am fascinated with the concept
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 commerci
Mar 11, 2017 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. ...more
Mar 17, 2017 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Note to self- many reviewers say this is Hard core science fiction--very very intense science... little fiction..
May 27, 2015 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
“Gideon” Dave Newell
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
Kam Yung Soh
Sep 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-and-fantasy
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
Clay Kallam
Jul 15, 2012 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
Oct 18, 2012 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
Andy Love
Oct 04, 2012 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 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 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 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
Baal Of
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is about as hard as hard SF can get. A fully conceived alternate physics essentially based on a single sign change in one of the fundamental laws of relativity from our universe. As far as I can tell, the math and physics actually work, within the limits of the story. The alien race have a mix of alien and human characteristics - enough human to allow a compelling story, and one in which funding of a major project is a problem, which is something few SF authors ever confront. The book conta ...more
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Did Yalda make a mistake by ceding leadership? (spoilers) 6 15 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

Other books in the series

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

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