Distress is a science fiction novel by the Australian author Greg Egan.
Once again Egan grabs an idea and takes it to the limit, this time to the ultimate limit. In Quarantine he tackled quantum Mechanics, this time he takes on nothing less than the Theory Of Everything (TOE).
The year is 2055 and Andrew Worth is doing a documentary about Violet Mosala and her Theory of Everything. Andrew seems to have an easy job ahead of him, but as soon as he gets off the plane on Stateless, an autonomous island, where the Mosala is attending a conference on TOE, he is contacted by a mysterious person warning him about a possible murder attempt on Mosala. Things quickly pick up speed and soon Andrew has to fight for both Mosala's and his own life – and possible for the future and past of everything. Stateless is nearly worth a book of its own – it's the first description, that I can remember, of an functioning anarchy (in the book! In the book!) that is not working in some kind of vacuum. Quite interesting.
Egan never ceases to amaze me – He's probably the best author today, when it comes to taking physics to its limit and still make it believable.
Review by bon
Greg Egan's Distress is a hell of a book. It starts off with a bang, slows down in the middle and then speeds up again to great speeds into the end page. I couldn't set it down after page 320. Main character Worth is a reporter that does documentaries on different scientific and psyche subjects.
He's wrapping up a docu on `Junk DNA' which happens to include one of the most intriguing (and barely brushed on characters in this story) people, a guy named Landers. His body is a one-man biosphere that doesn't need oxygen and could shoot up AIDS and shoe polish all day without blushing. He brags he could survive off tires for one thousand years. What a card (pitiful sapiens ahhahaaaaaa)! So, after four interesting subjects the docu is wrapped up and it's off to the functioning Anarchist state of Stateless. Home grown island in the middle of the ocean where everyone has no nationalistic or jingoschisms tied to their face. Egan explains carefully how this island functions physically and humanly with an excellent grade for his report. It's a knock down drag out scientist fight on how the universe works there over TOE. African Nobel prize winner Violet Mosala is all over the TOE and some people hate her for it. Once the big bang and all it's fallout is explained you can settle easy with the rest of your life. Or not. You betcha there's some drawbacks to this. Fanatical religious fops (oh dear god no more mystery in the universe, lies!) show up and refute, juggle, and annoy with mystical yammering to make everyone amused and upset over TOE. Reporter Worth turned down the job of covering the mental plague Distress which is slowly tapping out the brains of the earth with spasming psycho babble. Going to the anarchist island was a little more interesting. A walk in the park.
Right. Asexuality movement, gunshots, homegrown designer plagues, and people who would like to see anarchy put between cloaked-out metal insect laser crosshairs have something to say about the flowing joy of being in the tropics on the world's biggest homegrown starfish island. There's a great line in the book I have to share with you: "Self-esteem is a commodity invented by 20th century personal growth cults. If you want self-esteem, or an emotional center, go to Los Angeles and buy it."
I loved this book, and out of the 3 Egan books I've read so far this is consistently well written. Science, cloak and dagger, science, non-sex sex in a good sized tree palm pulp (450pgs). Read it.
One more thing, there's an element of disbelief you may feel thinking that the distress mental plague is unreal or too crazy for anyone to really fall into. Remeber Y2K? Sane Same.
Written by TC, 01 May 1999.