Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

1997: Diaspora (Egan, Greg)

Accelerating the genre w/ indecipherable hard science (4/5)
From October 31, 2010

Diaspora reads more like a series of interconnected short stories than a solid novel like Egan's Permutation City or Quarantine. Much like Charles Stross's Accelerando (which was admittedly published in 2005 compared to Egan's earlier 1997), there is an acceleration in technology towards the mythical technological singularity, each short story driving the science further and further.

Rear cover synopsis:
"It is the thirtieth century. The "world" has evolved into a vast network of probes, satellites, and servers knitting the solar system into one scrape from the outer planets to the sun. Humanity, too, has reconfigured itself. Most people have chosen immortality, joining the posises to become conscious software. Others have opted for disposable, renewable robotic bodies that remain in contact with the physical world. A few holdouts stubbornly remain fleshers struggling to shape an antiquated existence in the muck and jungle of Earth. And then there is the Orphan, a genderless digital being grown from a mind seed. When an unforeseen disaster ravages the fleshers, it awakens the polises to the possibility of their own extinction from bizarre astrophysical processes that seemingly violate fundamental laws of nature. It is up to the Orphan and a group of refugees to find the knowledge that will save them all--a search that will lead them on a quantum adventure to a higher dimension beyond the macrocosmos..."

As mentioned above, my experience with Egan's novels are drawn at Permutation City and Quarantine. Each of these novels was rich in science and had my head spinning like a cyclotron of wonder. The science was deep but it wasn't over my head like I needed to skip entire paragraphs to get past the meat. However, in Diaspora it's exactly the opposite. There's like room was awe to blossom as the meat of the science was so dense I found myself just skimming paragraphs and sometimes entire pages.

Don't get me wrong, the direction Egan takes is impressive, it's big; the ideas go unchallenged as far as I'm concerned in the realm of science fiction. The characters refiguring the long established physics upon witnessing an impossible event is so deeply engrained in the cast's psyche that it's even possible the Egan, himself, dares to challenge modern theories on theoretical physics. It's big... but it's not an easy read nor is it, at times, a particularly enjoyable journey.

I don't read Egan for his straightforward writing style, but he surprised me a few times with some clever, insightful prose to contrast his rambling science bits. Best example was on page 208 in the first paragraph of a new story: "...the occasion seemed to demand the complete ritual of verisimilitude, the ornate curlicued longhand of imitation physical cause and effect." Actually, that entire chapter is composed of a mere two paragraphs but easily stands out from the rest of the book as if touched by Midas himself. I've never seen any author describe the sky as isotropic.

As much as I would like to give a synopsis of each short story, the amount of work it would entail would be equally as arduous as some of the passages about six-dimensional physics and spatial awareness. Each of the nine stories was a solid 4-of-5 star rating while the final story sort of lost steam and fell behind with 3 stars.

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