Fiction Reviews


(1998/2008) Greg Egan, Gollancz, £7.99, pbk, 330 pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-8208-3


This is a 2008 reprint of Egan's first collection of shorts that was originally published in 1998 (1999 in the UK) and now a decade on given another airing by those good folk from Gollancz. It is all part of their 2008 reprint of his backlist. Greg Egan is, of course, a master of ultra-hard SF: his genre writing is diamond-tipped. So if you are looking out for arty-farty purple prose, or multi-layered personalities, then tough: Egan is first and foremost an ideas man based on a sound knowledge of science and will let nothing get in the way of such intellectual exotica. Having said that, half the stories here do have a new wave tinge. Interestingly (and here you need to turn to the book's back and not the copyright page) three of the titles were first published in the US magazine Asimov's Science Fiction and the rest by the British magazine Interzone which says about as much about these magazines as it does about Egan's stories.

Anyway, enough of the chat; on to the stories:-

Chaff. A bounty hunter goes after his prey in a future Amazon that is hugely biodiverse with genetic modification. But will the bounty hunter's own biotechnology enable him to survive, or will the hunter end up hunted?

Mitochondrial Eve. In the near future a war of the sexes is brewing. Who fathered humanity? Or should it be who mothered humanity? Should one analyse 'Y' chromosomal DNA or mitochondrial DNA? But then again what is humanity? What is speciation? A war of the sexes can not only get heated but is fraught with potentially huge misunderstanding.

Luminous. A couple are being hunted by a major maths corporation, Industrial Algebra. With one of them having survived a potentially fatal attack, they need a hugely advanced AI to protect the world from a new mathematics that could unravel the universe... Now this title tale is for my money easily the best of the bunch. It covers a wide area of philosophical science including the participatory anthropic cosmological principle (something Egan returns to in a couple of his novels). It is a rollicking good adventure too. Brilliant (either that or very luminous).

Mister Volition. The problem with mugging someone in the near future and stealing their latest high-biotech hybrid toy is that you really do not know what you will end up with...

Cocoon. A private eye has to wrestle between his gay perspective and professional ethics when he discovers a client's firm has found a way to prevent the next generation from being homosexual. Interesting and it touches upon real human GM ethical conundrums.

Transition Dreams. You are unconscious when they transfer your mind to a young android but you still dream. This story has Philip Dick elements but unlike any Dick story I have read its elements did not seem to quite fit. Still, what do I know.

Silver Fire. A modern mystery plague needs tracking. When a pattern seems to appear out of a spread of apparently random outbreaks it needs investigating. A good premise to this story but I am not sure if the direction it was being taken actually delivers.

Reasons to be Cheerful A tumour leaves a boy unable to feel anything but happiness. The cure ends up with him in the opposite condition. This story is a fairly neat exploration of 'contentment'. However this story is also one of those that has actually come true! A woman in real life has actually had an electronic implant to control her life debilitating depression.

Our Lady of Chernobyl. In the near future a private eye is hired to retrieve a religious icon. Only it is not what it seems. This is a good detective story and you can play along unravelling one of the science clues.

The Planck Dive. No Egan collection should be without a post-human tale from the far future. In this one the protagonists are about to send copies of themselves on a one-way dive of discovery into a black hole.

And there you have it. High tech glimpses of near and distant futures that really are fictions spun out of science.

Jonathan Cowie

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