Roundtable on Greg Egan

Karen Burnham

Russell, I think you captured something very important with that small word, ‘curiosity.’ Egan seems to have it in spades, and I can’t quite make up my mind if he has a difference in quantity or in kind from other sf authors of his generation. As Kathy mentioned in the beginning, he seems to fictionalize philosophical concepts in a way that’s unique–even compared to other canonical hard-sf writers such as the Gregs Bear and Benford. With thoughts towards closing remarks, could folks chime in with any expansions on that thought?

Russell Letson

“Curiosity” is such a watery word for what I sense in Egan. I’ll bet there’s some double-jointed polysyllabic German term that means “a passion not only for structural, functional, and operational understanding but for the implications and connections that make for value or meaning.” With a side order of irony and humor, to cut the Teutonic earnestness a bit.

Egan is a close-up version of Olaf Stapledon, minus the interwar sense of impending tragedy and with a willingness to engage the individual. The DiasporaIncandescenceTeranesiaZendegi subset shows a range that stretches from the personal-familial-social through the epistemological right out to the most nose-bleeding, toe-curling parts of metaphysics. What is a “person”? What is love? What is free will? What is “the invariant of consciousness”? What do terms like “spirituality” or “transcendance” or “beauty” mean in a universe of purely material processes? If you can be anything you wish for, who is doing the wishing and where does that entity go when the wish is “Make me into something utterly different”? Who is Mister Volition, that we should be mindful of him?

And the guy can write. What more could we ask for, except that he keep doing what he’s been doing.

Kathleen Ann Goonan

When it comes to melding philosophy and humans/posthumans, Egan tacks closer to the wind than any author I can think of.  He takes wild chances, yet maintains full control, which makes for a very exhilarating ride.

I read science fiction because I enjoy the view.  Egan is like an expert sherpa.  He transports the reader into gradually more alien territory, but we move step by step, advance up the mountain in recognizable camps, adjusting gradually to the lower oxygen level.  When we finally get to the mountain peak, whether it is the day after tomorrow, as in Zendegi, or a billion years hence, he steps back, leaving nothing between the reader and a view that is prenaturally sharp–utterly real, completely supported, and astoundingly revelatory, as if we have been stealth-launched to hang glide on the edge of a new atmosphere, at a place where we can’t really survive for long as we are now but which we might be able to fully inhabit in the future.

He does this with a unique style and an inimitable point of view.  I think that because of his mathematical bent–he writes as if building a theorum, but one that is fully human–he goes places that few other writers even understand, much less try to visualize fictionally.

His work is so pure that it rings, like crystal.

8 thoughts on “Roundtable on Greg Egan

  • Pingback:SF Tidbits for 3/5/12 - SF Signal – A Speculative Fiction Blog

  • March 5, 2012 at 6:46 am

    I agree with much that’s said here.
    Egan’s Clockwork Rocket shows another aspect beyond the posthuman — a radically different universe based on new physical laws. This seems a way of looking at the implications of the multiverse ideas infesting and I think expressing the problems of theoretical physics and cosmology: a poverty of richness, no way to choose.
    So many retreat into a rather weird idea (in my view) that everything that emerges from our equations must somehow exist in another space-time. To me this expresses the frustrations of our collision with mathematical difficulty and how to carry out the grand determinist agenda of modern science: find a unique, predictive theory of Everything.
    So he may be venturing into lands new and vital, beyond the posthuman horizon.

  • March 5, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Very enjoyable discussion. My feeling lately (and I admit I’m a few books behind) is that Egan has become a bit undervalued in the field. It’s good to see some renewed enthusiasm for his work. I like Kathleen’s closing observation: “so pure it rings like a crystal”. Very true, I think.

  • Pingback:Locus talks Greg Egan at Night Shade Books

  • March 6, 2012 at 4:10 am

    Interesting discussion, and good to see Egan’s work being discussed by people who don’t think there’s “too much science”. I have to agree that philosophy, morals and love are central themes, but the engine is always the scientific “what if?” (and also “come and see”). Egan seems to provide an answer to anyone who thinks science is robbing us of the magic and poetry provided by myth and religion: don’t underestimate how strange and beautiful is the universe revealed by physics. No mention of Clockwork Rocket – if you haven’t read it yet, read it soon because the author is at the height of his powers and pushing those boundaries even further.

  • Pingback:Roundtable « Panglossian Hubris

  • Pingback:Strange Horizons - Enjoying the View

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *