Creator / Greg Egan
"There are times when it's worth putting aside the endless myopic navel-gazing that occupies so much literature, in order to look out at the universe itself and value it for what it is."
Greg Egan (born 20 August 1961) is Australian author who put the Hard Science back into Hard Science Fiction
. Likes to show his work.
Quite unapologetic for being deeply technical - he's got his niche of the "1% that treats science as something of interest in its own right", the rest have enough authors writing for them already.
A lot of Egan's early stories first appeared in Interzone
magazine, which can thus boast that he's to some extent their discovery.
Works with a page on this Wiki:
His other works include:
- Distress - Political intrigue surrounding the development of a Theory of Everything.
- Incandescence - Pre-industrial aliens discover General Relativity because their world is located in a steep gravity well.
- Teranesia - Through quantum computing, life becomes capable of mutating into the optimum form for its environment.
- Zendegi - Simulations of human neural maps are used to add realism to a virtual world.
Common themes in his works include The Singularity
, atheism, regional politics, religion being the source of many problems, and non-standard sexual and/or gender identities.
Tropes in his other works include:
- Adaptive Ability: In Teranesia, an evolving organism is apparently able to anticipate future challenges and develop appropriately.
- A Form You Are Comfortable With: In works featuring the galaxy-spanning superculture known as the Amalgam (short stories "Riding the Crocodile" and "Glory", and the novel Incandescence), the Amalgam has mastered the trick of manipulating matter on an atomic level to turn pretty much any matter into pretty much whatever they want. The Amalgam's favored method of making First Contact with young races is to use artificial bodies that mimic the members of the race being contacted. The trope features most prominently in "Glory".
- All There in the Manual: He stuffs his stories with heady physics that is almost impossible to fully convey without diagrams and calculus. He has interactive animated simulations on his website for the confused yet still interested. He's recently taken this Up to Eleven, posting eighty thousand words along with hundreds of illustrative diagrams to describe the alternate-universe physics he invented for Orthogonal.
- Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome: "Oracle" is set in a world that diverged from ours around the early twentieth century, with a man named Robert Stoney being born in place of Alan Turing, who nevertheless enters the exact same field, and has the same sexual orientation. Because he was gay in a rather unenlightened time, he is treated about as badly as Turing was in Real Life, except that instead of being castrated and then killing himself, Stoney is subjected to what would have to have been considered Cruel And Unusual Punishment even by the standards of the time, but this is what allows a time-traveler from the future to rescue him, and tell him about future technology. It is this future knowledge that Stoney exploits to come up with such things as an imager that is more effective than X-rays, but provides no risk of cancer, genetically modified crops that have a much higher yield than anything known, sustainable energy, and even the beginnings of strong A.I. (though Stoney admits that he isn't at that stage yet.)
- Alternative Number System: Numbers in Egan's works are always shown in decimal thanks to a Translation Convention, but in several of his works that take place from a nonhuman perspective, it's strongly implied that the characters use a different number base. In Orthogonal, the unnamed race of aliens apparently use a duodecimal/dozenal (base-12) number system, while the six-legged "Arkdwellers" in Incandescence clearly use a base-6 system. The clearest evidence of this is that where a human might hyperbolize a large number as "a thousand" or "ten thousand" (ten times a hundred or a hundred times a hundred, respectively), the Arkdwellers tend to use phrases such as "six times thirty-six" or "thirty-six times thirty-six" when they want to exaggerate with an indeterminate large number.
- Author Avatar: Martin, the protagonist of "Oceanic" is quite clearly a stand-in for Egan himself, as the story of Martin losing his faith in the local Crystal Dragon Jesus religion is almost identical to the autobiographical essay wherein Egan recounts his own such experience.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: In "TAP", the users with the highest level of skill with the eponymous Applied Phlebotinum have this ability, being able to critically analyse everything perfectly. This is the reason that the villains want to suppress it, as if the ability were widespread, nobody would allow corrupt politicians or religious figures to remain in power.
- Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": The Clockwork Rocket takes place in a universe with entirely different laws of physics from our own. It still uses common words like "plant", "forest", and "wheat" to describe the things that are roughly analogous (never mind that plants gain energy by emitting light rather than absorbing it).
- Crapsack Only by Comparison: "Oceanic" gives us Covenant, which the narrative goes to great lengths to set up as a Bad Future in which society has declined, but which doesn't really seem that worse than 21st-century Earth. Of course, when the civilization that preceded it was one in which nobody ever died, it's a bit easier to accept that Martin wishes he were born earlier, especially since then he wouldn't have lost his mother.
- Creepy Child: Jane Remedios, of "TAP", gives off this vibe, because she appears to have the emotional maturity of an adult, in a child's body. She's one of the good guys, though.
- Cure Your Gays:
- In Oracle, an alternate universe Alan Turing is locked in a punishingly cramped cage by the secret service in an attempt to cure him of his homosexuality. The No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Turing notices the Anviliciousness of the situation:
Quint was silent for a moment, then he replied with a tone of thoughtful sympathy. "It's unnatural, isn't it? Living like this: bent over, twisted, day after day. Living in an unnatural way is always going to harm you. I'm glad you can finally see that."
Robert was tired; it took several seconds for the meaning to sink in. It was that crude, that obvious? They'd locked him in this cage, for all this time ... as a kind of ham-fisted metaphor for his crimes?
- His short story "Cocoon" also has the eponymous treatment for pregnant women that semi-inadvertently prevents gay-making hormones from reaching the baby.
- Despotism Justifies the Means: In "TAP", it turns out that the murder victim's death was caused by a secret cabal who wish to suppress the TAP technology so that their power is never threatened by a generation of perfect critical thinkers. The murder itself is just a means to that end.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: The main conflict of "Glory" is between two factions of an alien species, which don't trust each other at all and spend most of their time trying to one-up the other at the expense of the planet's smaller countries, and despite their posturing to the contrary, neither side has the moral high ground. The human main character monologues about how irrational the whole thing is.
- Dying Dream: An unusual version of this is found in the story "Transition Dreams". A man's brain is scanned and transferred to a computer. The end result is an exact copy, as though the man's mind had been instantaneously transferred from brain to computer. But the mind is conscious of the transfer, and realizes that all its dreamlike experiences of the process must be annihilated before it can be identical to the original brain scan. The real twist, though, is that the end of the story calls into question whether he even really is being transferred to a computer, or if he's just plain dying and the whole brain-scan thing is a hallucination born of denial.
- Evil Reactionary: Present occasionally, though subverted in "Oracle". Jack Hamilton's Establishing Character Moment is taking pride at the fact that a Loony Fan of his fantasy novel appears to actually believe the setting is real, instead of being appalled at the Fan Dumb like any sane author would be, because he considers the book to teach children about the importance of blind faith. He also makes arguments against "materialism" that are quite transparently full of logical holes, is convinced that Robert Stoney is a Satanist even after Stoney gives him almost undeniable proof of the contrary, and believes that science itself is of the Devil. However, as the story goes on, we find out that he is being brought to despair over his wife's terminal disease, and by the end, he comes off as pitiable, rather than The Scrappy.
- Fallen States of America: "In the Ruins" is set here, with American scientists being forced to debase themselves by being called "poopy-heads" and American university students jumping at the chance to study abroad, because the American scientific and technological infrastructure has collapsed. One character outright states that the United States used to actually understand the scientific process, and wasn't always in the sorry state it currently finds itself in.
- First Contact: Quite a few of Egan's works prominently feature the idea of a spacefaring race making contact with one that hasn't yet attained space travel, and a few, bizarrely, don't even involve space travel at all. A surprising number of them play the trope from the perspective of the spacefaring race.
- Diaspora, "Glory", and Incandescence all feature spacefaring humans making first contact with aliens who haven't attained space travel, although in the first case the aliens in question have already met other spacefaring aliens.
- Permutation City and "Crystal Nights" feature humans who create computer-simulated universes in which life "evolves" from first principles, and the humans make "first contact" with the aliens from literally outside their known universe (imagine realizing that our entire universe was being simulated—not manipulated, but simply run on a computer—and then imagine meeting the beings who designed the computer).
- "Luminous" and its sequel "Dark Integers" feature humans making first contact with a race of intelligent beings who live in a universe that exists alongside ours—not a parallel universe, exactly, but one that exists in the same space and time. The two universes follow different mathematics, and once each race realizes that the other exists, they are able to communicate more or less by doing math at each other. Yeah.
- Fling a Light into the Future: A species doomed to extinction by a black hole crashing through their starsystem in Incandescence takes a radical approach to Fling A Light Into The Future: they engineer a de-novo descendant species and culture able to live within chunks of rock orbiting inside the accretion disk.
- Genius Ditz: "In the Ruins" has Emma, who, despite being a textbook Dumb Blonde, actually knows how to solve some pretty advanced physics word problems, at least when she actually goes through the effort to do so. That's pretty impressive for someone who isn't a physics or engineering major and has no interest in science at all.
- Giving Radio to the Romans: Played straight in "Oracle", albeit with the twist that the past time that the time traveler improves is no more distant that 1950s Britain. However, since the time traveler is implied to be from pretty far in the future, the native she helps out manages to invent technology that is incredibly advanced even by twenty-first century standards.
- Hitler's Time-Travel Exemption Act: Justified in "Oracle"; the people of Helen's time desperately want to prevent the atrocities of the totalitarian dictatorships of the twentieth century, but are currently unable to do so, as the nature of their time-travel-enabling Applied Phlebotinum means that any change to an event of that magnitude would affect all timelines which had a Second World War, thereby causing a Temporal Paradox. Helen does say though, that the researchers from her time are trying to figure out a way to avoid this problem, suggesting that the situation is not permanent.
- Karmic Twist Ending: "The Moral Virologist" subverts this trope. The Mad Scientist who created the Synthetic Plague is convinced that he is doing God's will, but once he is told that he made a miscalculation and his virus is also killing innocent babies, he has a Villainous B.S.O.D.. He contemplates turning himself in, so that the world will have the knowledge to cure the virus, and it looks like he will get his comeuppance. But then, he decides that that would undo all of his plans to force people to conform to fundamentalist morality, and instead chooses the least-effective method of warning people about the virus's effects possible, thereby changing the story to a Shoot the Shaggy Dog.
- Life-or-Limb Decision: Another recurring theme, usually followed by an extended description of the Self-Surgery required.
- Living Forever Is Awesome: A recurring theme, with "Border Guards" having a Character Filibuster against people who believe otherwise.
- Meaningful Name:
- In "Oceanic", the very thinly veiled Jesus stand-in is named Beatrice. The name happens to be derived from the Latin word for "blessed".
- "Oracle" features a Captain Ersatz of C. S. Lewis as the main antagonist, and alludes to his fictional works, with the Narnia counterpart being called "Nescia", which is most likely derived from "nescience", that is to say, willful ignorance. "Oracle" is anything but subtle.
- Mundane Made Awesome: "Glory" opens with a loving description of the process required to transport the human main characters to the aliens' star system, which involves creating a kilogram each of matter and antimatter just to explode them in the core of a star, using the resultant energy to shoot two nanomachines to an icy moon several planets away from the aliens' home world, and then build both the heroes' spaceships and their new bodies (which look just like those of the aliens) individually, atom by atom, from the surrounding materials.
- No Historical Figures Were Harmed: In "Oracle", any historical figure who would be important to the plot gets replaced, though less important figures are name-dropped without alteration. Specifically, Robert Stoney replaces Alan Turing, and Jack Hamilton replaces C. S. Lewis. At least in Stoney's case, there is some Fridge Brilliance about it, since Helen couldn't save Turing himself, because it would quite possibly negate her timeline, but a Captain Ersatz of him is perfectly fine.
- Obliviously Evil: When they aren't straight up Evil Reactionaries, his villains tend to be people who honestly do not comprehend that their worldview is self-contradictory and harmful to society as a whole. Jack Hamilton of "Oracle" and Prospero of "The Planck Dive" are probably the best examples (though calling the latter one "evil" is a stretch).
- Religion Is Wrong: Having future humans having Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions is typical of Egan's oeuvre, but only in "Oceanic" does he set up a wholly fictional religion, which the characters discover to be entirely wrong.
- Save Both Worlds: What Helen's ultimate goal is implied to be in "Oracle", by getting people to combine with Alternate Universe versions of themselves, in an attempt to produce an optimal time line. A Gainax Ending ensues.
- Schizo Tech: "The Moral Virologist" is set in the year 2000, yet is about a religious fanatic engineering a virus that would kill much of the world's population, all by himself. Fortunately, people are nowhere close to creating synthetic viruses in Real Life even at the current time, let alone all the way back in 2000.
- Speculative Fiction LGBT: He likes this trope, frequently either using it or at least paying lip service to it. It's notable in at least 5 of his works.
- The Cuckoolander Was Right: "TAP" opens with Helen Sharpe being convinced that her mother was murdered as part of a conspiracy to discredit the eponymous technology and the subculture that has fully adopted it. Nobody, not even the private investigator she hires to take the case, actually believes that Sharpe's mother was murdered. As it turns out, a reactionary conspiracy did kill her to turn the public against TAP, but the methods used were different from how Helen initially suspected.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up: "Yeyuka" was written in 1997, and as a result has the Democratic Republic of the Congo still called Zaire by characters who live in the 2020s.
- Villain Protagonist: "The Moral Virologist" has one. The first few paragraphs lead the readers to think that Shawcross is your typical Science Hero; however, he is anything but.
- Worthy Opponent: Despite their previous history, Stoney actually considers Hamilton this in "The Oracle" after their televised debate, as Hamilton is actually able to make a cogent argument, relatively free of Logical Fallacies, (instead of the typical creationist fare) which references actual mathematicians and scientists, rather than the medieval philosophers that Stoney was expecting.
- Zeerust: Though still hard science fiction, some of the stories Egan wrote in The '90s, such as "TAP", haven't aged well because of Virtual Reality being an important plot point. (Though given recent advances, this may swing back to respectability in a few years.)