Monday, December 28, 2009

Dragon's Egg by Robert Forward - a review

Sci-fi isn't usually my thing, I tend to get wound up by ridiculous names of endless two dimensional characters and mind-boilingly bad science, though clearly there are some major exceptions to this generalization.

I no longer remember where I came across the shining review of Robert Forward's Dragon's egg (possibly from some of Douglas Hofstadter's writing) but the idea hooked me immediately and despite the fact that it's no longer in print I managed to get hold of a copy through the wonderful AbeBooks.

The concept is based on a simple question: Is it possible to have life in conditions where there is normally little complexity? The majority of Dragon's egg takes place on the surface of a pulsar, where gravity is 67 billion times stronger than that on earth and there is no 'chemistry' as we know it. In this world the complexity comes from a chemistry where the leading force is the strong nuclear force and combined with the fast spin of the star, when life evolves it evolves at a rate a million times faster than that on Earth.

The story itself is rather wonderful (we see intelligent life, albeit far smaller than on earth, evolve from the prebiotic soup of the thin crust of white dwarf matter and accelerate past that on Earth) but what is even more astounding is the level of physics that went into the writing of the story. Starquarks, giant magnetic fields, the interplay between the beings and their landscape and the exchange with the humans who come to visit them all make for an incredibly detailed and well thought-out novel on a fascinating subject stemming from an important question. The book includes an encyclopedia of the biology, geology and history of the star and its inhabitants which adds to the depth of the story.

The writing is not going to blow you away, but for sci-fi it's very readable and is definitely going to get you thinking. As this is the five year anniversary of the observation of one of the most monumental events in our galaxy on a star not unlike that which the book is based on, see if you can get yourself a copy and think about what else may be out there.

1 comment:

saiful10 said...

what a great idea....