Greg Egan's ability to imagine wonders of cosmic scale is shown again in his SF novel Schild's Ladder, with future galactic society confronting a disaster of almost unimaginable vastness--or is it a springboard to new hope?
The fatal experiment was right at the edge of theoretical physics. Could there be an alternative structure for vacuum itself, the void underlying our cosmos? Unfortunately, yes. Once created, this artificial "novo-vacuum" successfully competes with normal space, expanding at half the speed of light in an all-consuming sphere. Inside, physics is radically, incomprehensibly different...
Six centuries later, thousands of inhabited solar systems have been gobbled. Scientists investigating the novo-vacuum from starship Rindler are split between trying to destroy it with tailored spatial viruses ("Planck worms") and hoping to understand the teeming richness beyond that deadly interface.
In a lonely galaxy where only humans are intelligent, whole planets have been evacuated to give microscopic alien organisms their chance to evolve. The novo-vacuum may be bursting with new orders of life, so that killing it would be a monstrous act of genocide. But frightened people dare dreadful things. Violence erupts on the Rindler.
Building up from ideas of human intelligence in disembodied storage or artificial bodies, Egan finally takes his lead characters on a mind-boggling joyride through novo-vacuum, mapping them into a space where a tense eight-hour flight from deadly predators covers just one millimetre. There's a lot of room in there.
Schild's Ladder makes easy reading out of terrifying physics, generating a real sense of wonder even as your jaw drops at the immensity of its implications. --David Langford [via]