But was she conscious – as much as the women who’d help build her would have been conscious if, for a few seconds, they’d forgotten themselves and focused entirely on their simple tasks: thinking of a word, matching a picture?
Still, at most it could only be a transient form of consciousness – with no conception of itself to underpin a fear of extinction. Splicing Fariba, and a thousand variants of her, into narratives in which they played no active part wouldn’t bolster their fragmentary minds into something more substantial; that was just the illusion that human players would receive. The Faribas would still live – if they lived at all – in an eternal present, doing their simple tasks over and over again, remembering nothing.
– Greg Egan in Zendegi
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Greg Egan’s newest novel, Zendegi, is that it’s the most grounded and hence approachable of any of his books. Inspired by the real-life events in Iran in 2009 and backed by a personal trip that the author made to the country, the book starts out being more of a spy thriller than a hard science-fiction novel. In 2012 as Iran readies itself for a fresh round of parliamentary elections, Australian journalist Martin Seymour makes a break with his previous life as he is sent to cover them. However the elections turn out to be more exciting than anticipated when a scandal involving a member of Iran’s Guardian Council is unearthed, with Martin right in the heart of the events, making news rather than just covering it. This leads to a massive uprising that eventually leads to the reinstatement of true democracy in the country.
Continue reading Zendegi
My wife mocks me for taking the better part of a year to get around to finishing this book. In my defense, I offer the following excuses:
- I’ve been busy catching up on my backlog of The Economist issues.
- With 18 stories in all, it’s a pretty hefty collection.
- Many of the stories are good but not great science fiction, and most would barely fit under the space opera label at all.
I don’t want to get into a lengthy discussion of what space opera is, let alone what “new space opera” would be. Suffice to say that old or new, space opera evokes images of starships and space battles, rip roaring action adventure on a grand scale and larger than life heroes. Think Star Wars instead of Star Trek (the pre-retcon version anyway). Most of the stories in The New Space Opera don’t really fit this mould.
Continue reading The New Space Opera
As for every human born since the Stone Age, as for the ancestors of every member of the Amalgam, there was nothing the universe was capable of doing that the Arkdwellers were not capable of comprehending. They were not mere clever-looking animals, with some hard-wired repertoire of impressive but inextensible skills. With sufficient motivation and freedom from distractions – and perhaps a modest boost in longevity – they could have grasped anything. Apart from the subjectivities of art or language, where everyone needed tweaking to cross the species barriers, there was nothing in the Amalgam’s million-year-old storehouse of knowledge that would have been beyond their reach. That was the ability, the potential in every one of them. There was, however, no drive to realize it: no curiosity, no joy in discovery, no restlessness, no dissatisfaction.
– Greg Egan in Incandescence
(After thinking about it for a while, I’ve decided to write a discussion of the novel rather than a review. There are already plenty of reviews on it available on the net, most of them probably better than anything I would be able to come up with. For a favourable review, check this out. For a dissenting opinion, read this and maybe Egan’s rather fierce rebuttal to same.)
Cracking open a new Greg Egan novel is always a momentous occasion for me and since Incandescence is the author’s first new novel in six years, you can imagine how great the anticipation must have been. At the end of it however, I’m left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can recognize the tremendous amount of work that must have gone into it and on a purely intellectual level, can’t help but be impressed by it. On the other hand, with not much to go on in the way of plot or characters, I had a hard time being emotionally engaged in the book. In that sense, it may be a work of fiction, but it’s more of an extended thought experiment than a novel.
Continue reading A Book: Incandescence
Where do we go from here? History can’t guide us. Evolution can’t guide us. The C-Z charter says understand and respect the universe… but in what form? On what scale? With what kind of senses, what kind of minds? We can become anything at all – and that space of possible futures dwarfs the galaxy. Can we explore it without losing our way?
-Greg Egan in Diaspora
Australian writer Greg Egan has consistently produced some of the most innovative, ambitiously speculative and technically rigorous science fiction stories of the 1990s. As an avid fan of the genre, my opinion is that Egan’s influence in the field goes far beyond what is evident in simple sales volume or media attention since many other writers seem to have taken note of his style and have attempted “Eganesque” stories or novels of their own. With his sixth novel, Diaspora, he probes the future of humanity, going farther than any other writer has ever gone before.
Continue reading A Book: Diaspora