Re: review of Egan's SCHILD'S LADDER by Adam Roberts

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Tue Feb 19 2002 - 06:52:22 MST

On Tue, Feb 19, 2002 at 04:14:19PM +1100, Damien Broderick wrote:

I have not read the novel yet, but the reviewer makes some good points
about the problem of writing sf that stretches between two extremely
different conceptual domains. In many ways Egan may be approaching a
kind of understanding horizon - some of his concepts simply can't be
parsed without a firm grounding in differential geometry or quantum
gravity, and any attempt to simplify them for the reader loses out the
essential properties.

It would be interesting to see what happened if one wrote a sf story
whose intended audience were already totally familiar with the field.
Sf for mathematicians, with no pretenses of being understandable by
everyone (hmm, I have been thinking about the possibilities of exotic
differentiable structures in R^4 for some time...)

Of course, to some extent this problem is true for most real sf (I here
disregard stories about WW II ace pilots, hardboiled detectives or
classical myths given a sf garnishing): they build on shared
assumptions and concepts that have to be learned by reading other sf
(and possibly some popular science): wormholes, hyperdrives, AI,
nanotechnology, psionics etc - they all have implicit connotations that
make them easy to re-use, suggest their role in the story and some
things they can and cannot do. A reader unfamiliar with these
connotations would find reading a sf novel hard or impossible. Which
may be one reason why sf is not as popular as fantasy, whose tropes and
assumptions are often built on more widespread stories.

In the long run it seems that sf may get into the same problem as much
of science: as long as it wants to write stories about *ideas*, it
needs to create macros, terminology and concepts that allow stories to
deal with more and more remote ideas, but to be able to understand the
stories the readers have to educate themselves further and further.
Eventually the gap becomes so large that the science or sf sub-genre
(like Egans posthuman theoretical physics stories) become isolated, a
realm that can be truly visited only by experts.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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