Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Greg Egan

Go To
There are no images of Greg Egan on the Internet. Instead, here's a hyperbolic planet and its sun.
"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 an 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:

  • Dichronauts - Similar in concept to Orthogonal: A sentient society in a world with alien physics need to learn about their world's strange geography and physics in order to avoid the extinction of their race.
  • The Four Thousand The Eight Hundred - A philosophical thought experiment about the ethics of sacrificing a few to save many more plays out against a backdrop of an interplanetary refugee crisis.
  • 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, Transhumanism, 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.
  • 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 posted eighty thousand words along with hundreds of illustrative diagrams to describe the alternate-universe physics he invented for Orthogonal.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In “Uncanny Valley”, protagonist Adam, who is an Artificial Human with incomplete memories of a dead man, comes to believe that his suppressed memories are of the dead man committing a murder. It turns out that the man’s lover committed the crime, and he chose not to upload his memory of not turning his lover in.
  • Body Surf: In The Safe-Deposit Box short story, the protagonist's mind inhabits a different body every day. They all live in the same general area and are of similar age (and since the age the protagonist started identifying himself as a boy, they are usually male), but nothing else seems to give any clues as to how or why it happens. In fact, it wasn't until school age that the protagonist realized that this isn't a norm, and other people don't "change" into someone else every day.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Cure Your Gays: His short story "Cocoon" 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.
    • It gets worse: As the dream progresses, the man imagines or remembers speaking to an old uploaded human who tells him uploaded Copies used to be moved from server to server automatically as cloud-computing costs changed, unaware that this would have produced transition dreams every time. Initially, the man is glad this is no longer done; he then realizes with horror that biological brains are *more* noisy than computers, not less, and so brains must generate transition dreams constantly as they shift from state to state, as a byproduct of creating the "main mind". This means most conscious observers aren't "real", but are ephemeral ghosts, including him. An imaginary orderly says: "Do you think there could ever be one coherent, conscious self, enduring through time — without a billion fragmentary minds forming and dying all around it? Transition dreams blossoming, and vanishing into oblivion? The air's thick with them. Look!".
  • Eagleland: "In the Ruins" is a Type 2, presenting a future American society where science is disdained and vapid pop culture is king.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Genre-wise. Nearly all of his output, for which he is recognized and (relatively, considering the niche market) known, is science fiction of the hardest kind with a firm scientific focus, as evident on this page, but he has written a few "old-school", most definitely non-SF horror stories at the very beginning of his writing career. They can be found and read on his website.
  • Failed Future Forecast: "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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 either “evil” is a stretch).
  • Politically Correct History: “Uncanny Valley” has a minor case. The story takes place some time in the 2040s, with the protagonist being an Artificial Human copy of an elderly man who happened to be gay. This would mean he was born no later than the 1960s, and been a young adult when the AIDS epidemic decimated the gay community in the 1980s and when murderous hatred of homosexuals was completely acceptable in society at large. The plot is about the protagonist trying to recover the memories that were deliberately not uploaded to him, yet the idea that these may have included Gayngst from this time in his predecessor’s life is not even contemplated.
  • Reclusive Artist: So much so that there are no pictures of him in the internet.
  • 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.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: So far towards the Enlightenment end that one could make the scale into a trebuchet by tying down the Romanticism end. Unlike most writers of a similar bent, Egan is very hostile to even the slightest whiff of romantic sentiment, apparently thinking that everyone sympathetic to it wants to return to the popular conception of the Dark Ages.
  • 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.
  • Starfish Aliens: More often than not, Greg Egan's aliens aren't even based on the same physics, let alone the same chemistry or body plan, as Earthly life.
  • The World Is Just 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.
  • 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.)