Dragon’s Egg is a story assembled out of a few disparate parts. There’s the formation of a neutron star from a supernova, the discovery of said star by astronomers in 2020, an expedition to said star… and then there’s what’s happening on the surface of the neutron star, which proceeds through several different arcs.

That last, of course, is where the main imaginative elements of the novel come from. Incredibly, this is an exercise in hard SF, with the main speculative part dealing with the idea of the surface of the star hasn’t quite collapsed all the way to neutronium, allowing for complex interactions (and the evolution of life) utilizing the strong nuclear force. The resulting (very) alien ecology is never explored in any detail, but there’s plenty of details given in the chula’s (the intelligent life that evolves) biology(?) to drive home just how different everything is.

Since strong nuclear reactions are much faster than familiar chemical ones, it is posited that everything happens on the Egg at an accelerated pace, and this is continually driven home by each section being given a timestamp down to the second, with not a lot of time passing for entire generations of chula. The rise of an advanced civilization takes a few hours. This leads to a cast of characters that, in one part, is constantly shifting (“These fifteen-minute lifetime relationships are hard on the emotions.”), but are generally well-drawn.

This is ‘idea’ SF at it’s best. A suitably strange-seeming idea is proposed (what would life on a neutron star look like?), and then a story explores the ramifications of the idea. In this case, both the science and the plot are very good, and the novel is an overall fascinating read.