Greg Egan is arguably Australia’s greatest living science fiction writer. In a career spanning more than thirty years, he has produced a steady stream of novels and stories that address a wide range of scientific and philosophical concerns: artificial intelligence, higher mathematics, science vs religion, the nature of consciousness, and the impact of technology on the human personality. All these ideas and more find their way into this generous and illuminating collection, the clear product of a man who is both a master storyteller and a rigorous, exploratory thinker.
The Best of Greg Egan contains twenty stories and novellas arranged in chronological order, and each of them is a brilliantly conceived, painstakingly developed gem. The book opens with “Learning to be Me,” about a society in which the organic human brain can be replaced by a miraculous piece of technology called “the jewel,” a “mock brain” that confers, among other things, a kind of immortality on its recipients.
“Bit Players”—the opening movement in a trio of tales that continues with “3-adica” and “Instantiation”—posits a world in which cheaply generated software beings are exploited for the basest commercial purposes. (Other sets of interconnected stories—all of them reprinted here—include the mathematically-themed “Luminous” and “Dark Integers,” and a pair of stories centered on the complex marriage of a physicist and a mathematician: “Singleton” and “Oracle.”) “Reasons to be Cheerful,” concerns a young boy whose brain tumor has an unexpected effect on his life, moods, and view of the world.
“Axiomatic” tells the story of a society in which “implants” can be used to alter the human personality, with potentially lethal results. And the Hugo Award-winning novella “Oceanic” is a powerful account of a boy whose deeply held religious beliefs are undermined by what he comes to learn about the laws of the physical world.
This book really does represent the best of Greg Egan, and it therefore takes its place among the best of contemporary SF. Startling, intelligent and always hugely entertaining, it provides an ideal introduction to one of the most accomplished and original writers working today. This is an important and provocative collection, and it deserves a place on the serious science fiction reader’s permanent shelf.