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
The solar system is a dead loss right now – dumb all over! Just measure the MIPS per milligram. If it isn’t thinking, it isn’t working. We need to start with the low-mass bodies, reconfigure them for our own use. Dismantle the moon! Dismantle Mars! Build masses of free-flying nanocomputing processor nodes exchanging data via laser link, each layer running off the waste heat of the next one in. Matrioshka brains, Russian doll Dyson spheres the size of solar systems. Teach dumb matter to do the Turing boogie!
– Charles Stross in Accelerando
Accelerando is a hard book to recommend to anyone. At times it reads as if author Charles Stross wrote it by first making a bullet-point list of cool stuff he wanted to include: effective cyclists! Rubberized concrete! Agalmic economies! Corporate regulations written in Python! Distributed Internet reputation servers! As the exclamation points suggest, every mention of the latest and greatest toys is suffused with breathless enthusiasm. Only afterwards is the story worked in and the characters, in this case, three generations of the dysfunctional and idiosyncratic Macx family, created to serve the plot.
Continue reading A Book: Accelerando
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