Thursday, December 18, 2008

Greg Egan - strong drink for experienced readers

Greg Egan leads my list of mind expanding authors. He's strong stuff though. You don't start with Greg Egan, unless you like your reality straight, no water.

You start with Vinge, or Iain M. Banks. They're superficially benign. If an inattentive reader skips through the embedded essay on the relationship between the problem of evil and the Simulation Hypothesis in the midst of Bank's Matter the rest of the book is only mildly perturbing.

Of course Banks is a masterful deceiver. There are lots of perturbing ideas beneath the superficial space opera. I'm a veteran reader, and I'm sure even I've missed some of the many levels of meaning in Matter. There's always another layer of player in Banks.

Egan doesn't bother with mere accessibility. The first chapter of Diaspora outlines a persuasive model for the development of consciousness and self awareness, and a prescription for the creation of human-like minds within a digital world. In 27 pages. At the start of the book.

Jon Evan's essay on the mysterious non-stardom of Egan explains why Egan is not for the novice ...
... I love his short story “Wang’s Carpets,” (also part of his novel Diaspora) which is sort of about Fourier-transformed aliens4—but would I have understood what the hell was going on if I didn’t have an electrical engineering degree, the acquisition of which required the calculation of far too many Fourier transforms before breakfast? Do readers without any technical background have any hope of getting Egan at all?
Vinge, Stross and Banks do some deep dives, but their cover stories are accessible to the newcomer (Banks is especially good at this wonderful trick). Egan doesn't condescend -- he's strong drink, straight up.

I like my coffee black, my whisky rough, and I like Egan. His ideas haunt me like no others. Egan is the ultimate mind expanding author.

So don't start with Egan. But when you're ready, his books are waiting.

Update 6/16/09: See also my later post on Egan's Permutation City.

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