James Blish The Triumph of Time (1958)
James Blish impressed me on previous occasions, specifically with The Night Shapes and the Galactic Cluster collection, both of which delivered a lot more than I'd expected from an author whose name I had once associated with Star Trek adaptations. The Triumph of Time, plucked from the shelf of a second-hand book store without need of deliberation, seems typical of his style in many respects - hard science-fiction besides which even the usual big names of the genre seem soft in comparison. Blish was juggling concepts like stripped antimatter and electromagnetic flux back when even his most fiercely bespectacled contemporaries were sticking to safer subjects like rocket trajectory and escape velocity; in fact Blish now reads like Charles Stross or Alastair Reynolds or one of those guys, which is impressive when you consider his vintage.
The Triumph of Time deals with the nature of the cosmos - antimatter, m-branes, the big bang, the big bounce and all that good stuff before many of these ideas were even formally consolidated behind any ratified term - the big bang here being referred to as the monobloc, for example; and it does pretty well for a novel dated to an era prior to any strong consensus of opinion on whether the big bang was necessarily a more credible idea than the steady state model.
The only problem, at least for me, is this being the fourth novel in the Cities in Flight sequence - the Blish equivalent of Asimov's Foundation it might be argued - which, if hugely exciting in conception, I've found thus far impenetrable. I followed what was going on well enough, but much of The Triumph of Time seems unengaging, even mystifying in places - not exactly a chore, but neither is it especially rewarding beyond those few grand ideas. I know it's the fourth book of a quadrilogy, but I'm pretty sure I read a novella length version of the first part in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame collection edited by Ben Bova, and that was similarly bewildering.