The Clockwork Rocket - Greg Egan

The Clockwork Rocket - Greg Egan

So I don't know if anyone's been following the shitstorm that was the Hugos this year, but anyone who thought the Puppies had even a shred of a point needs to read The Clockwork Rocket immediately.


Because Egan's book is awesome (notwithstanding that heinous cover).


The Clockwork Rocket is set in a world utterly unlike ours. The laws of physics are completely different: here, different colours of light travel at different speeds in a vacuum. Here, light can travel in different directions in time. Here, generating light gives energy to the object generating it rather than the other way around. On this world, Hurtlers begin to streak across the sky, warning of a catastrophic collision to come, and its inhabitants must do science to come up with a way to stop it.


This is not why The Clockwork Rocket is awesome.


The Clockwork Rocket is awesome because all the people doing the science are women.


Because in Egan's world, childbirth literally means death, or at least oblivion: his alien race reproduces by a kind of mitosis, so that the women split into four, their brains scrambled, their minds gone, to give life to their four children. Which means that the women always have something to fear from the men, from their co-steads (husbands), who may force them into childbirth against their will - who may kill them against their will. And that's not the worst of it - unless women take an illegal drug every day of their lives, the risk that their bodies will spontaneously divide anyway rises until it is inevitable. This is how all Egan's women die: in childbirth.


And so their choice, their bodily integrity, becomes even more important. Most women are expected to partner up, and at some point literally to sacrifice their careers for their children, while the men remain, to look after the children and to continue in their factories and their farms and their laboratories. It's this weight of social expectation, not the inevitability of childbirth, that makes The Clockwork Rocket such an urgent critique of misogyny: there's an inherent belief that men are worth more because they'll live longer, because they won't go off and have children and disappear from life. This is familiar, right? This is exactly what happened right up to the 70s, even the 80s in our world - no one would give women jobs because they might go off and have children.


The Clockwork Rocket is a story about freedom. Its main characters are almost exclusively women, women who have chosen not to accept their biological and social fate unquestioningly, women who mean to be every bit as important and groundbreaking and privileged as men are. And they do science. The do physics. The book is full of passages where women explain science to each other, with diagrams and everything.

Put simply, this book is full of women doing all of the things that hard SF never allows them to do – and yet this is very clearly hard SF. It has relativity. It has maths. It has actual graphs. It even has that slightly stilted diction hard SF characters always use to describe their world to each other. (It should be said, though, that this only extends to the sciencey bits – the society and culture is very well-built.) It's clearly perfectly possible to write this kind of book with women instead of men, says Egan, so why the fuck haven't we been doing it?


Why indeed.


I loved this book, despite not understanding one word in ten during the science passages (they are highly technical, by the way – I'm not talking Science of Discworld, here). I loved the world and the women and the story. AWESOMENESS. flails in the awesomeness