“The Planck Dive” is a 1998 science fiction novelette by Greg Egan. It is about a group of beings who are sending cloned copies of themselves on a scientific journey into a black hole.
Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:
In the polis known as Cartan Null five explorers are preparing to make a revolutionary journey – they are going to send cloned copies of themselves into the black hole Chandrasekhar. They have been preparing for centuries and now, in the days before their departure, a real flesh man and his daughter arrive from Earth. Prospero, a self-proclaimed “narratologist,” has come to make the travelers immortal by writing their story. Well, perhaps “writing” is too simple a word – he is going to enshrine their journey in a truly worthy epic poem – and he isn’t going to let the truth get in the way of his artistic narrative! His daughter Cordelia, however shy and backwards she may seem, has other plans and soon begins extracting information from the team members – which leaves them wondering about her true intentions for making the long journey to Cartan Null.
“Welcome to Cartan. I’m Gisela.” She stretched out her hand, and the visitor stepped forward and shook it — though it was possible that she perceived and executed an entirely different act, cross-translated through gestural interlingua.
“I’m Cordelia. This is my father, Prospero. We’ve come all the way from Earth.” She seemed slightly dazed, a response Gisela found entirely reasonable. Back in Athena, whatever elaborate metaphoric action they’d used to instruct the communications software to halt them, append suitable explanatory headers and checksums, then turn the whole package bit-by-bit into a stream of modulated gamma rays, it could never have fully prepared them for the fact that in a subjective instant they’d be stepping ninety-seven years into the future, and ninety-seven light years from home.
“You’re here to observe the Planck Dive?” Gisela chose to betray no hint of puzzlement; it would have been pointlessly cruel to drive home the fact that they could have seen everything from Athena. Even if you fetishised realtime data over lightspeed transmissions, it could hardly be worth slipping one-hundred-and-ninety-four years out of synch with your fellow citizens.
My Two Cents:
• The good:
- The idea of sending beings into a black hole is brilliant! Sure, the idea has shown up in science fiction several times, but this is the first story I’ve come across that makes an intelligent case for the “how” and “why” of it.
- Greg Egan’s writing is both wonderful and frustrating. On one hand he tells an amazing story and backs it up with strong scientific knowledge. On the other hand, you almost need an advanced degree in particle physics to understand what he is talking about!
- The less scientific side story of Cordelia and her motives for coming to Cartan Null was very cool! A ray of hope for people who desire to have more freedom in their lives.
• The bad:
- This story contains some very heady stuff including detailed discussions about the nature of quantum mechanics. If reading several paragraphs about Feynman diagrams and electron phase isn’t your cup of tea then you may want to skip this story.
- There are a few instances of strong language in this story – so be careful.
- Perhaps most distressing is the man who refuses to expand his knowledge or even see the truth – and holds his daughter back from realizing her true potential. Very sad indeed.
• Page Count: 23
• Word Count: 12,367
• “The Planck Dive” garnered the following awards:
- It won the 1999 Locus award for best novelette.
- It was nominated for the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.
- It was shortlisted for the 1999 Sturgeon award.
Where you can find “The Planck Dive”:
- This novelette first appeared in the February 1998 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
- “The Planck Dive” is part of Greg Egan’s short story collection entitled Luminous.
- You can read a great free version of this story at Greg Egan’s website.
Some Interesting Links:
- If it has been a while since you studied Feynman diagrams, or the Planck constant, or quantum electrodynamics then you may want to brush up on these concepts. Yeah, it helps if you ratchett up your geekiness to “anal-retentive” level for this story!
Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Wang’s Carpets, about a group of cloned beings who discover an amazing life form on a planet orbiting Vega, also by Greg Egan.