Greg Egan is among my favorite science fiction authors. He especially stands out to me if I limit the field to authors currently writing. Egan might not be a working scientist, but he has a degree in mathematics and his work is known in that field. His math and physics background shine brightly in his science fiction writing and that light is why I like his stories so much. I love hard SF most, and Egan delivers the goods.
I just finished his 2010 novel, Zendegi. There have been some recent disappointments from my reading list (including the last Egan story I read), so it’s nice to read a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and find worth posting about.
Zendegi is about what it means to be human…
Orthogonal, book #1
Generally I like my SF hard, even diamond hard. I don’t disdain fantasy; some of my favorite stories are fantastic. (As I’ve said often, Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series is my #1, my proverbial desert island companion.) But I definitely lean towards harder SF.
Growing up it was, of course, the Holy Trinity, Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, but there was also Clement, Niven, and many others who stirred a large measure of science into their fiction. More recently the list of hard SF authors includes Forward, Steele, Stephenson, and a particular favorite of mine, Greg Egan.
I can safely say his Orthogonal series is as hard as science fiction gets.
In what seems the distant past of late summer 2019, I posted about an interesting science fiction novel by Greg Egan, Quarantine (1992). The post didn’t get many views back then — only 13 that August, and only 27 total by the end of the year. And through 2020, it only racked up another 37 views. (That’s 64 total for those keeping score at home.)
Then, this January, the post got 257 views — 161 in the first three days. After being largely ignored for a year-and-a-half, something made the post go mildly viral. No one commented, so I have no idea how or why the post got so much traffic.
I have a thought it might have to do with the title.
I’ve seen objections that simulating a virtual reality is a difficult proposition. Many computer games, and a number of animated movies, illustrate that we’re very far along — at least regarding the visual aspects. Modern audio technology demonstrates another bag of tricks we’ve gotten really good at.
The context here is not a reality rendered on screen and in headphones, but one either for plugged-in biological humans (à la The Matrix) or for uploaded human minds (à la many Greg Egan stories). Both cases do present some challenges.
But generating the virtual reality for them to exist in really isn’t all that hard.
Last week I read Quarantine (Greg Egan, 1992), a science fiction novel that explores one of the more vexing conundrums in basic physics: the measurement problem. Egan’s stories (novels and shorts) often explore some specific aspect of physics (sometimes by positing a counterfactual reality, as in the Orthogonal series).
In Quarantine, Egan posits that the human mind, due to a specific set of neural pathways, is the only thing in reality that collapses the wave-function, the only thing that truly measures anything. All matter, until observed by a mind, exists in quantum superposition.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to explore how this ties into the plot without spoiling it, so I’ll have to tread lightly.
In a previous post I wrote a story about how the guns might work in the HBO show, Westworld. In this post I thought I’d take a stab at describing how the host brains might work — a much more challenging task!
As with the guns, as with any of us fans trying to understand any work of fiction we love, our guesswork depends on the facts we can observe in the show — the official canon, so to speak. Additional facts can come from the Word Of God (the show’s creators). Any creation of ours has to fit all these facts, and has to be logical and plausible within the context of the story.
So what do we know about host brains, and what might we guess about their operation, capabilities, and limits?
My last post ended up with a misleading title (oops). When I started it, I planned to rag on more than just the Fargo TV series — figuring I didn’t have all that much to say about it — but the post become a total spleen vent about that one show (with a bit of shade for Hulu). Ah, well, better out than in.
This post, and at least two I’m planning after, will fall on the other side, my good side. To Yin the Yang of the previous two posts, these will be about shows I’ve really enjoyed (or even loved).
This post is about shows I’ve enjoyed that are produced by Netflix.
Fair Warning: Next week I have some political and social foaming at the mouth to do over current events and modern society, but that can wait. The weather recently has been too nice for my hot-collar wardrobe. The swelter is supposed to return next week; the forecast is for serious ranting with scattered raving.
For the weekend, for Science Fiction Saturday in particular, for all my disdain of movie and TV science fiction (especially TV SF, most of which does nothing for me), literary science fiction is very alive and quite well!
Recently I’ve been enjoying three authors in particular…
Science Fiction — or rather Speculative Fiction — has the general quality that it contains all other fiction genres. There is mystery and detective science fiction. There is romance (and sexual) science fiction. Action? Horror? Psychological thriller? Drama and pathos? Allegory? Westerns? Science fiction has them all and more.
In a sense, SF is just a property that fiction can have. I’ve tried to explain what I think that property is. I also took a stab at separating science fiction from fantasy. Now that thread resumes to explore the idea of SF hardness.
But first we return to and start with…
It’s official, I really like science fiction author Greg Egan! He’s among the modern science fiction authors; his first SF work, the short story Artifact, was published in 1983, so he’s been writing SF for about 28 years. Like many science fiction authors with a science or technical education, he writes non-fiction as well.
And here’s the thing: If you like your science fiction hard, you want to know about Greg Egan. He writes SF as hard as any I know. For instance, consider a novel (Incandescence) in which a key plot thread involves alien beings discovering (Einstein’s) General Relativity in a completely different way than Einstein did.
He reminds me of Hal Clement on several levels, particularly so in the novel I just cited, as part of it is told from the aliens’ point of view (a common device in Clement’s work).