Friday, December 19, 2008

Greg Egan Idea Man

At Jon Evans speculates on why Australian science fiction writer and computer programmer Greg Egan isn't a superstar. He says:
If you haven’t read any Egan, you so should. He takes the wildest frontiers of today’s science and turns them into truly brainbending speculative fiction that continually challenges the reader’s ideas of both reality and humanity. He’s also a terrific sentence-by-sentence writer.
Egan writes hard science fiction that is frequently based on mathematics, physics and computer science. For example, his short story "Wang's Carpets" involves the discovery of truly alien aliens that are living embodiments of Wang tiles.

Evans speculates that one reason Egan's writing doesn't enjoy more popularity is because his stories are actually too focused on complicated scientific ideas. It's hard to know how much of a role that has played in his writing career, but I do know it affected my interest in his novels. I've read a few of his short stories, including "Wang's Carpets" and "Border Guards", and enjoyed them, but I don't have a particular interest in quantum physics or mathematics, and his novels just didn't sound that appealing to me - at least not appealing enough to seek them out.

Now maybe I've been wrong - I really enjoyed Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, which seems to have some superficial similarities to Egan's Quarentine - and I'll probably give Egan's work a chance next time I run across it. But that points to another problem Evans points out: Egan's novels can be hard to find in bookstores and libraries. For example, the nearest library copy of his latest novel, Incandescance, is 60 miles away in the next county over. It's obviously not something I'd find by browsing the shelves.

It's nice, then, that a number of Egan's short works are available online. I've been downloading some of them for future reading, and discovered is that some of his stories are based on bioscience too. I haven't read them all so I don't really have anything to say about the actual science in them. All I can suggest is that you read them for yourselves. Here are a few links for your weekend reading pleasure:
And it's not biological at all, but definitely read "Border Guards". It both has weird science and a very touching ending.



  1. I've got to say that as much as I've enjoyed Greg Egan's works, he's not someone I can read casually. His stuff is genuinely demanding and regularly takes me past the point where my education can support the thinking that it takes to fully absorb. Reading Egan is, for me, exercise rather than relaxation.

    That said, I also regard him as a role model and I wish more people would meet his standards of intellectual rigor.

  2. The biology in these stories is fairly accurate, but they suffer from two problems that dog all of Egan's works, even the better examples: massive infodumps and "mouthpiece" characters. If these stories bore the name of an unknown author, it's unlikely they would have been published.

  3. Anonymous10:37 PM

    I'm busy reading Schild's Ladder, my first Greg Egan novel. Schooee!
    I'm a sci-fi addict, and I've never had to spend so much time trying to educate myself just to vaguely understand the physics behind the story. The plot is fascinating, but as Sean Craven says, this is hard work. At the same time, you can increase your knowledge of obscure physics substantially if you have the inclination


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