Tag Archives: Greg Egan

Book Review: “Dichronauts” by Greg Egan

Dichronauts by Greg Egan

The cover has the tag line, “Welcome to the strangest world in Science Fiction’, and that’s not far wrong.   Reading SF all my life, I have encountered a lot of mind stretching universes, in many different directions.

Egan has two prominent predilections: space time geometry, and fluid personal identities.

This story is an old-fashioned “big idea” SF. In this case, he works out a parallel universe with a fundamental geometry different from our own. We live in a physics that has 3 space-like dimensions plus 1 time-like dimension. This alternative universe has 2+2.

This geometry has lots of implications for movement, perception, and celestial mechanics, among other things. You know it’s tricky when the author has a whole tutorial web site.

Egan has decided to create a sort of “Flatland” for this hyperboloid geometry. He imagines a whole world with hyperbolic geomety, and an intelligent race who lives there. Biology seems mostly conventional, though Egan never gets into just how molecular biology might work in this geometry, and the people are pretty human. One of Egan’s perennial topics is how we’re all humans, across a very, very broad range of variations.

To show off the properties of this alternative space-time system, the protagonists choose to become professional surveyors, in which capacity they directly deal with the shape of the world.   They also are scouts and explorers, so interesting travels ensue.

I have to say that I wasn’t especially interested in the characters or their society. It’s all pretty shallow (one dimensional?), and, frankly, boring. The expeditions are interesting, though mostly as a kind of geometry lesson. Much of the time, the characters have to think and talk about things that would be obvious to them, but we don’t understand, such as the way their vision works. (Hint: it’s complicated, at least by our own standards.) This endless stream of tutorial asides doesn’t help the story flow.

The worst thing about the book is that I don’t understand the underlying geometry at all. Yes, I’ve seen these curves in calculus class. No, I don’t know how gravity would work. Or how light cones would work. Or any of that stuff. And, not to put too fine a point on it, I still have no idea what these animals look like, or how they move.

I had to go to his web site, in search of clues. I didn’t find them there.

I can’t overemphasize the magnitude of this problem. We follow a mostly first person story of Seth/Theo, but I don’t have any picture of what they look like, how they move, how they see, etc.

The best part of the story has to be the planet, and the amazing geography. I won’t give away any of the wonders discovered by the trekkers.

At the same time, the ecology of this planet is not explained and makes little sense. There are human –like sapients, but it’s mostly a lifeless desert. Where are all the other animals, where are the plants, where are the microbes, fungi, insects, and all the rest?   As I pointed out, I have to wonder what sort of analog to DNA might exist in such a space-dime geometry. How would protein folding work? How would chemical reactions of any kind work with two time-like dimensions?  How would blood or other flluids flow?  I have no idea.

This book has a kernel of an interesting idea, but my own view is that there isn’t enough story here for more than a few pages.

  1. Greg Egan, Dichronauts, New York, Nightshade Books, 2017.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Books Reviewed 2015

Here is  housekeeping post, collecting all the books reviewed here in 2015.

Looking back at this list, I see that this year saw Terry Pratchette’s last book (a wrenching experience), and new novels by old favorites Stross, Perry, Macguire, Holt, Gaiman, among others. I also read older but still good histories by Goodwin and Graeber. I read several books about banking, Papal and otherwise, and overlapping works about Italy, fictional and (supposedly) real.

Over the year, I reviewed a sampling of important books about contemporary digital life, including cryptocurrency, the “sharing economy”, social media, and “mind change”.   These works covered a spectrum from enthusiasm to dark worry, giving us much to think about. There are many more I did not have time or energy for. (I will say more on this topic in another post)

Throughout 2015 I continued my ongoing investigation of the question, “what is coworking?”, including reviews of two recent (self published) books about coworking by practitioners. (More on coworking in another post.)

Shall I name some “Best Books” out of my list? Why not?

Fiction:

There were so many to pick from. I mean, with Neil Gaiman in the list, how can I choose? But let me mention two that are especially memorable

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Very imaginative and well written, and, for once, not so horribly dark. This book lodged in my memory more than others that are probably equally good.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Published a few years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. A wonderful, intricate story. The flight of the parrot is still in my memory.

Nonfiction:

There were many important works about digital life, and I shall try to comment on them in another post. But three books that really hit me are:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
From several years ago, but I didn’t read it until this year. Highly influential on the ‘occupy’ and other left-ish thinking. This is an astonishingly good book, and long form anthropology, to boot. Wow!

Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
An exlectic little self-published book about “home coworking”, which I didn’t know was a thing. Kane walked the walk, and made me think in new ways about community and coworking.

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
Unexpected amounts of fun reading this short book. It does an old, graying nerd no end of good to see that at least some of the kids are OK. Really, really, OK.

List of books reviewed in 2015

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick
Candy Apple Red by Nancy Bush
Chicks and Balances edited by Esther Friesner and John Helfers
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Electric Blue by Nancy Bush
Forty Thieves by Thomas Perry
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Get In Trouble by Kelly Link
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Koko the Mighty by Kieran Shea
Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
Mort(e) by Robert Repino
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Shark Skin Suite by Tim Dorsey
String of Beads by Thomas Perry
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Nine ed. by Jonathan Strahan
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
The Fortress in Orion by Mike Resnick
The Future Falls by Tanya Huff
The Good, the Bad, and The Smug by Tom Holt
The Mark and the Void by Paul Murray
The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley
The Rook by Daniel O’Malley
The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett
The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Wild Ways by Tanya Huff
Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman
Ultraviolet by Nancy Bush
We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler
Witches Be Crazy by Logan J. Hunder
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

Non Fiction

Arrival of the Fittest by Andreas Wagner
Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols
Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper
Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
LaFayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Let’s Be Less Stupid by Patricia Marx
Live Right and Find Happiness by Dave Barry
Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi
Mind Change by Susan Greenfield
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
No More Sink Full of Mugs by Tony Bacigalupo
Not Impossible by Mick Ebeling
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Peers, Inc by Robin Chase
Reimagination Station: Creating a Game-Changing In-Home Coworking Space by Lori Kane
Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Age of Cryptocurrency by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney
The Next Species by Michael Tennesen
The Reputation Economy by Michael Fertik and David C. Thompson
The Social Labs Revolution by Zaid Hassan
The Ugly Renaissance by Alexander Lee
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

 

Book Reviews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Housekeeping: Second Quarter Round Up

This blog has now passed 500 days of daily posts.

This quarter saw the start of the “Inappropriate Touch Screen” File, as well as other grumbling about cruddy digital design.

I also posted initial “Notes on “What is Coworking?””, which will be continued in ongoing research.

  1. Notes On “What Is Coworking?” (Part 1)
  2. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 2): Rules
  3. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 3): Recruitment
  4. Notes On “What is Coworking?” (Part 4): Noisy versus Quiet
  5. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 5): Demographics
  6. Notes on “What is Coworking?” (Part 6): Research Methods

Book Reviews

Non Fiction

Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy by Sam Maggs
God’s Bankers by Gerald Posner
Mindsharing by Lior Zoref
Pax Technica by Phillip N. Howard
Twentyfirst Century Robot by Brian David Johnson
Women of Will:  Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s Plays by Tina Packer

Fiction

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
Corsair by James L. Cambias
Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright
Diaspora by Greg Egan
Distress by Greg Egan
Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

For reference, the Q1 summary is here.

 

 

Book Review: “Diaspora” by Greg Egan

Diaspora by Greg Egan

 Night Shade is rereleasing several of Egan’s works from the nineties, including Distress and Diaspora (1998). The amazing thing is how well they hold up, especially the info tech which has certainly developed a lot since he wrote the novel. If there is one major anachronism in Disapora, it is that the virtual worlds strongly resemble Second Life, which seems really dated today.

Diaspora is a detailed fictional account of the digital rapture, with people uploading to both robots (the gleisners) and digital worlds (the array of ˆpolisˆ environments). He adds in a whole bunch of more-or-less serious multiverse theory, which gives him a lot of room to work with!

The “Diaspora” in question becomes a trek out of the Milky Way to avoid a sterilizing blast from a giant gamma ray burst. The only exit that can be reached in time is “up” to another universe (six dimensional, if I understood correctly). This leads to yet another universe, and, indeed, infinite universes.

Egan makes a valiant attempt to actually describe the conscious experience of these uploaded minds, and also what it would be like to visit six dimensional and other very strange universes. This is not easy to do.

Unfortunately, I had trouble following it. There is way, way more abstract geometry here than really fits in a novel, and the descriptions of the uploaded minds are difficult to understand. It is also impossible to really grok the motivations of the essentially supernatural beings, so the plot is obscure in many places.

This is a very geeky book, that has received praise from Math professors but will be hard going for many mortals.


 

  1. Greg Egan, Diaspora, New York, Night Shade, 1998.

 

Sunday Book Reviews

Book Review: “Distress” by Greg Egan

Distress by Greg Egan

I gather that this is a republication of a story originally published in 1995.

I read and enjoy lots of fiction, in many styles. But sometimes I want some “hard” science fiction (“with rivets on it”): you know, based on real science, with numbers that add up and technologies that are very, very plausible. Real engineering. Not so many wizards or vampires or magical powers.

Well, my friends, this book is the pure white powder.

The biotech and nanotech are awesomely strange yet completely possible. God I love it!

Many of his extrapolations about the Internet have turned out to be pretty real, though way earlier than he guess back then.   His geopolitical back story tends to run on, and feels very out of date, his rendition of a technology-enabled “off-shore, anarchist” retreat are surprisingly current. Check out the cryptocurrency discussion threads to see this idea coming at you.

He spends some time on interesting permutations of sexual identity, and technological manipulations to let people do their own things. He gives us a half dozen ‘sexual identities’ or more, and these ideas are only more timely than when he originally wrote about them.

Unfortunately, the plot hinges on supposed developments in grand physical theories, and the supposed public reactions to them. The former is not that interesting, and the makes little sense—no one cares that much. Seriously, we didn’t need so many pages of yammering about it.

Bottom line: read this book for the technological speculation, and put up with the yammering about Theories of Everything (TOEs).


 

  1. Greg Egan, Distress, New York, Night Shade Books, 2015. http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/DISTRESS/DISTRESS.html

Sunday Book Reviews