Schild’s Ladder, Days of Atonement

Educational movie of the day: the famous Italian Electron Interference Movie

Today’s reviews are of two of my least favorite books by two of my favorite sci-fi authors, Walter Jon Williams and Greg Egan. It’s always sad when good authors go bad. Fortunately, they haven’t jumped the shark, just overtaxed the genre.

Days of Atonement by Walter Jon Williams is a gritty cop novel with more religion in it than sci-fi. It’s a great “police procedural,” if that term means gritty cop novel and isn’t just more false advertising from the cover blurbs. The science fiction comes into the Gritty Cop’s depressed mining town by way of a high tech company and a suspicious disappearance. Physics is involved, but it’s way beyond Gritty Cop’s understanding. This is sci-fi the way a mundane might see it - maybe I’ll pass my copy on to my mother.

If Days of Atonement is short on the sci, Schild’s Ladder lacks something of the fi. Greg Egan’s characters are immortal and immutable - the extraordinary events seem to leave the leads untouched. Though that hardly distinguishes them from, say, Larry Niven’s characters, it’s a step backwards from my personal favorite of his, Distress. The scence was out of control from the get-go - I know more than most readers about loop quantum gravity and graph theory, so if I had trouble following it I pity the average reader picking Schild’s Ladder up for fun.

If you can get past the heavy going at the start, though, the middle of the novel is the best part. There’s research and conflict and a flashback to the lead’s childhood that would make a nice short story. The final third gets into ththe wild handwaving that seems unavoidable at this level of physics. It was pretty, but more like fantasy than WJW’s alleged fantasy, Metropolitan. Sometimes I enjoy that sort of thing, but after the extra-hard science at the start I was still in trying-to-understand mode so it just annoyed me.

Maybe that’s just me.

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