Schild's Ladder

Schild's Ladder

by Greg Egan

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Overview

Schild's Ladder by Greg Egan

For twenty thousand years, every observable phenomenon in the universe has been successfully explained by the Sarumpaet Rules: the laws governing the dynamics of the quantum graphs that underlie all the constituents of matter and the geometric structure of spacetime. Now Cass has stumbled on a set of quantum graphs that might comprise the fundamental particles of an entirely different kind of physics, and she has travelled three hundred and seventy light years to Mimosa Station, a remote experimental facility, in the hope of bringing this tantalising alternative to life. The “novo-vacuum” is predicted to begin decaying the instant it’s created, but even a short-lived, microscopic speck could shed light on the origins of the universe, and test the Sarumpaet Rules more rigorously than ever before.

Cass’s experiment turns out to be more successful than anticipated: the novo-vacuum is more stable than the ordinary vacuum around it, and a region in which the new physics holds sway proceeds to expand out from Mimosa at half the speed of light.

Six hundred years later, more than two thousand inhabited systems have been lost to the novo-vacuum. On the Rindler, a ship that has matched velocities with the encroaching border, people have come from throughout inhabited space to study the phenomenon. Most are Preservationists, hunting for a way to turn back the tide, but a few belong to another faction: Yielders, who believe that the challenge of adapting to survive on the far side of the border would reinvigorate a civilisation that has grown stale and insular.

Tchicaya has come to the Rindler to join the Yielders, but when Mariama — a childhood friend whose example inspired him to abandon his own home world and traditions for a life of travel — arrives soon after, he is shocked to discover that she plans to help the Preservationists find a way to destroy the novo-vacuum.

As a theoretical breakthrough leads to a sequence of experiments that begins to reveal the true richness of the world behind the border, tensions between the opposing factions grow. When a splinter group responds to these revelations with violent, unilateral action, Tchicaya and Mariama are forced into an uneasy alliance, and travel together through the border, balancing old and new loyalties against the fate of two incomparably different universes.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940154001639
Publisher: Greg Egan
Publication date: 02/08/2017
Sold by: Smashwords
Format: NOOK Book
Sales rank: 473,003
File size: 641 KB

About the Author

I am a science fiction writer and computer programmer.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

In the beginning was a graph, more like diamond than graphite. Every node in this graph was tetravalent: connected by four edges to four other nodes. By a count of edges, the shortest path from any node back to itself was a loop six edges long. Every node belonged to twenty-four such loops, as well as forty-eight loops eight edges long, and four hundred and eighty that were ten edges long. The edges had no length or shape, the nodes no position; the graph consisted only of the fact that some nodes were connected to others. This pattern of connections, repeated endlessly, was all there was.

In the beginning? Waking more fully, Cass corrected herself: that was the version she remembered from childhood, but these days she preferred to be more cautious. The Sarumpaet rules let you trace the history of the universe back to the vicinity of the Diamond Graph, and everything you could ask for in a Big Bang was there: low entropy, particle creation, rapidly expanding space. Whether it made sense to follow these signposts all the way back, though, was another question.

Cass let the graph's honeycomb pattern linger in the darkness of her skull. Having relinquished her child's-eye view of the world, she was unable to decide which epoch of her life she actually inhabited. It was one of the minor perils of longevity: waking could be like to trying to find your way home on a street with ten thousand houses, all of which had once been your own. That the clues on the other side of her eyelids might be more enlightening was beside the point; she had to follow the internal logic ofher memories back into the present before she could jolt herself awake.

The Sarumpaet rules assigned a quantum amplitude to the possibility of any one graph being followed by another. Among other things, the rules predicted that if a graph contained a loop consisting of three trivalent nodes alternating with three pentavalent ones, its most likely successors would share the same pattern, but it would be shifted to an adjoining set of nodes. A loop like this was known as a photon. The rules predicted that the photon would move. (Which way? All directions were equally likely. To aim the photon took more work, superimposing a swarm of different versions that would interfere and cancel each other out when they traveled in all but one favored direction.)

Other patterns could propagate in a similar fashion, and their symmetries and interactions matched up perfectly with the known fundamental particles. Every graph was still just a graph, a collection of nodes and their mutual connections, but the flaws in the diamond took on a life of their own.

The current state of the universe was a long way from the Diamond Graph. Even a patch of near-vacuum in the middle of interstellar space owed its near-Euclidean geometry to the fact that it was an elaborate superposition of a multitude of graphs, each one riddled with virtual particles. And while an ideal vacuum, in all its complexity, was a known quantity, most real space departed from that ideal in an uncontrollable manner: shot through with cosmic radiation, molecular contaminants, neutrinos, and the endless faint ripple of gravitational waves.

So Cass had traveled to Mimosa Station, half a light-year from the blue subgiant for which it was named, three hundred and seventy light-years from Earth. Here, Rainzi and his colleagues had built a shield against the noise.

Cass opened her eyes. Lifting her head to peer through a portal, still strapped to the bed at the waist, she could just make out the Quietener: a blue glint reflecting off the hull a million kilometers away. Mimosa Station had so little room to spare that she'd had to settle for a body two millimeters high, which rendered her vision less acute than usual. The combination of weightlessness, vacuum, and insectile dimensions did make her feel pleasantly robust, though: her mass had shrunk a thousand times more than the cross sections of her muscles and tendons, so the pressures and strains involved in any collision were feather-light. Even if she charged straight into a ceramic wall, it felt like being stopped by a barricade of petals.

It was a pity the same magical resilience couldn't apply to her encounters with less tangible obstacles. She'd left Earth with no guarantee that the Mimosans would see any merit in her proposal, but it was only in the last few days that she'd begun to face up to the possibility of a bruising rejection. She could have presented her entire case from home, stoically accepting a seven-hundred-and-forty-year delay between each stage of the argument. Or she could have sent a Surrogate, well briefed but nonsentient, to plead on her behalf. But she'd succumbed to a mixture of impatience and a sense of proprietorship, and transmitted herself blind.

Now the verdict was less than two hours away.

She unstrapped herself and drifted away from the bed. She didn't need to wash, or purge herself of wastes. From the moment she'd arrived, as a stream of ultraviolet pulses with a header requesting embodiment on almost any terms, the Mimosans had been polite and accommodating; Cass had been careful not to abuse their hospitality by pleading for frivolous luxuries. A self-contained body and a safe place to sleep were the only things she really needed in order to feel like herself. Being hermetically sealed against the vacuum and feeding on nothing but light took some getting used to, but so did the customs and climate of any unfamiliar region back on Earth. Demanding the right to eat and excrete, here, would have been as crass as insisting on slavish re-creations of her favorite childhood meals, while a guest at some terrestrial facility.

A circular tunnel, slightly wider than...

Schild's Ladder. Copyright © by Greg Egan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Schild's Ladder 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The concepts and theories introduced in the story are amazing. The plot is unique and exciting and the overall story is very good. Personally I found the ending to be bit underwhelming, but still well worth he read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi...my name is troy...do you want me?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No i am against it now so stop it
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall, an elegant story...well developed and researched. It is, technically though, very difficult to read unless you are a physics major. Egan has done well to make his story plausible, but has lost the majority of SF readers as a result. The ending of the story is, in my humble opinion, chopped off and somewhat inelegant. It's as if Egan decided he'd gone on long enough...unless, of course, there is a sequel. I don't know, nor will I intend to find out, as the first book was so difficult to read.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Twenty thousand years into the future, humanity has conquered everything in its path including death yet so far at least no other sentient life form has been found that did not originate from earth. Science rules, as knowledge is everything. However, a quantum physics experiment inadvertently creates a vacuum effect that forms a new universe with physical laws different from the current one. This universe is growing rapidly and eats anything in its path though nanotechnology has kept humanity safe by instant evacuation.

However, what is to be done about the ever-expanding new universe that threatens life as we know it becomes the subject of great debate. The Preservationists want to destroy the new universe before it consumes humanity. The Yielders prefer to allow the growth of the new universe in order to study the phenomena. In that void, star crossed lovers Tchicaya and Mariama join separate and opposing hostile camps.

SCHILD¿S LADDER is brilliant science fiction as it entertains the reader with an action-packed plot yet requires the audience to think about the ethical clashes that make up the science community as part of the larger society. The story line is cleverly designed to run faster than the speed of light yet maintains a cerebral moral fiber to the plot. Characters are fully developed so that the audience understands for instance the split between Tchicaya and Mariama. Fans of science fiction will want to read Greg Egan¿s distant future intelligent thriller that leaves the audience hungering for more novels like this one while debating current scientific moral dilemmas confronting society today.

Harriet Klausner

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hi boys do u want me;)