Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Subversive theophysics - Greg Egan

I've been composing a post about Greg Egan's Permutation City for a while. I'm afraid I'll never get to the whole thing, so I'm going to toss off the short version. (Warning, contains spoilers)

Greg Egan is usually said to write "hard" science fiction. That's inadequate. He writes neutronium grade science fiction. His mathematical physics bent has become so extreme that his latest book is a thin layer of fiction around a core of speculative physics (Amazon promises me a copy in 3-4 weeks, apparently they have to retype it. Egan has put a prequel to the story on his web site).

Permutation City is one of his best works. Despite the math science bent several of the characters have stuck with me.

The best part though, is the fusion between theology and physics -- theophysics. In Permutation City reality is fundamentally mathematical, much as imagined by Stephen Wolfram and many more conventional physicists. A group of experimental modelers creates an artificial world with a different sort of mathematical reality.

No wait, hang in here for a minute. I'm really going somewhere.

The creatures of this new world are fantastically alien, but like us they're compelled to understand their world. Problem is, their world is fundamentally incomprehensible. It was created by omniscient and omnipotent Creators. Gods.

So the alien critter(s) is(are) "anguished". They are compelled to understand, but they cannot understand. The human Creators are sympathetic, and decide to manifest themselves in the alien world. The Truth shall be known, and the aliens will understand.

Except, the aliens come up with their own Theory of Everything; their equivalent of quantum gravity. It looks crazy and absurd, but it's internally consistent. It explains everything but the appearance of the Creators, and that detail can be quickly forgotten.

The Creators suddenly find themselves written out of the script, but that's a different story. I'm telling the story of the subversive aspects of Egan's fiction.

Obviously, the invented aliens of Permutation City aren't alone. We too are compelled to comprehend, and modern physics is getting pretty damned absurd...

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