Andrew Worth is a science journalist with optic nerve taps and a gut full of memory chips. Burnt out after completing a documentary on controversial developments in biotechnology, he turns down a chance to report on a baffling new mental disorder known as Distress and instead takes an assignment covering the Einstein Centenary Conference on the artificial island of Stateless. There, a young South African physicist, Violet Mosala, is expected to unveil her candidate for a Theory of Everything.
But the assignment is not the tropical respite Worth was expecting. While the politics surrounding the creation of Stateless grows more turbulent, and ignorance cults stage protests against the gathering scientists, a secretive group known as the Anthrocosmologists, with some very strange ideas about the Theory of Everything, begin to enact their own agenda.
This Australian author's inventive and energetic SF (Permutation City, etc.) is receiving belated but deserved recognition in the U.S. Here, in his first American hardcover, Egan imagines a near future of awe-inspiring technology and chilling Frankenscience in which Andrew Worth, science reporter (with videotaping implants) for SeeNet, must explore the mysterious disorder Distress, aka Acute Clinical Anxiety Syndrome. Worth tries to avoid that assignment by traveling to the anarcho-syndicalist bioengineered coral island of Stateless, where he will cover a conference at which Violet Mosala and other physicists will propose their versions of a Theory of Everything. Striking casual detail enriches a fascinating world distinguished by gender reassignment and five new sexes, artificial intelligence clonelets and special interest groups from technoliberation to the Voluntary Autists. The plot offers both adventure and depth, with themes of information, science and human relationships interwoven in complex and often profound ways. Egan is a major voice in SF, and this impressive work should help win him the wide readership he deserves.