The Best of Greg Egan by Greg Egan | Book Review

TBoGEAuthor: Greg Egan

Illustrator: David Ho

Publisher: Subterranean Press

Published: October 2019

Genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Pages: 736

Click here to purchase the book!

“The wormhole makes tangible the most basic truths of existence. You cannot see the future. You cannot change the past. All of life consists of running into darkness. This is why I’m here.”

     – Greg Egan, “Into Darkness” in The Best of Greg Egan

Science fiction fans will be happy to note that there is no such thing as “the best.” This is the appropriate irony of this collection, as it unwittingly, clumsily, and carefully challenges the idea of an idea of an idea into infinity and beyond any foreseeable, preventable, diagnosable end. Time, existentialism, number theory, artificial intelligence, naturalism, simulated reality, metaphysics, human consciousness, religion (consistently battered, bruised, and bullied into a biased, likeable unlikelihood), quantum mechanics, and the existence of frontiers without the capability of definition, except through jerry-rigged laws and yet-to-be-believed theories in their place and paces, make up these thirty years of hard science fiction. Between the seasoned fact-checkers and mathematical zealots to the lighthearted space opera goers and speculative enthusiasts, there stands a haughty anomalist who comes from the nineteen-nineties (it would be criminal and oxymoronic to call him an Australian science fiction writer at this point) Greg Egan who has a hunch for what his best (so far) is, and what a hunchback he has (or not, since keeping up appearances is not his thing, and neither is Google).

From Subterranean Press, The Best of Greg Egan collects cybernetic think pieces with remarkable haptic situations. His depth of field is diverse and perverse, foreboding and familiar, experimental yet elastic. Although these stories manage a clarity that confounds itself as it grows more curious, a lot is still to be questioned despite the seeming disconnects threaded and plot holes filled. Characters are painfully aware and disturbingly made unaware of their second class citizenship and the capitalist and commercialist gains forced onto them in stories like “Learning to Be Me” and “Closer.” The willful ignorance and digital dire straits following the forgone autonomy for transhumanist robot bodies and plastic replicas, the literal turning over of the human brain and body to technology is all cause for concern, but never in time to admit the mindless reliance placed on these drawn-and-quartered alternatives. Before any digital dust kicks up, there are some novella-length companion pieces that bid for the noninvasive engineering of the human spirit. “Oracle” and “Singleton” share a skewed timeline between worlds not too foreign from one another that both raise the question posed by Alan Turing of whether or not a computer can think. That and if a computer can impersonate human behavior, social cues, and desires that may or may not be able to alter the visible and invisible universe, like in transcendental and nature-bending tales, “Unstable Orbits in the Space of Lies” and “Chaff” or “Luminous” and “Dark Integers.”

A few one-off stories also hold their own merit in this short story collection, bringing a singular, personal lens to the unnatural made natural. From a man’s brain being kept alive via blood from his wife’s uterine walls to the cultish outbreak of a dermatological disease worse than leprosy that burns the underside of the entire body’s skin, to the acts of faith put to work for an ocean-cultured boy placed on dry land and a chemical engineer and Iranian, Muslim girl inventing a breakthrough her country never knew it could have, it is etymologically more than possible Egan is a lionized substrate of a tin man made human rather the opposite way around. The guesswork is cleaned and polished yet still gets its nose gritted by the grindstone. The outlandishly unorthodox remedies to change the fallible into the infallible, the overwhelming indecision and limitations of physicality are these stories bread and butter or quarks and neutrinos. Whether he be man, machine, both, or none of the above, readers can be certain, and linguists can determine, that Egan is not without the remnant of a heart.

Final Rating:

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Red/Blue Pill

College: Week 1 – Survival

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“How many stock photos are sincere you ask? I don’t know either.”

College begins the time of your life, in a bout of four years or so. As highschool prepared you for the flashes of life before your eyes, college will be there too… with strobe lights. Forgive the hyperboles, but that was my thinking minus getting my feet wet. College at its basic necessity becomes a rehashed reflection of highschool with major differences. For starters, no more miscreants, rascals, deviants, and ne’er-do-wells (that has yet to be decided), formally speaking. Not that I don’t believe in the like, I just prefer not to find them to be true.

My glass is half-filled, so if you got something, you got it! It’s a level up sure and the expectations are of the same caliber upon graduating highschool. What is asked of you is fairly simple: follow your schedule; time, place, and anything in between. If any complications should arise, address them and the sort. Life hits you fast and they might be soft blows but it doesn’t matter. Time flies and it’s up to you to make those moments count, depending on that term paper or public outings, you choose. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, ride that bucking bronco when you can!

Here I am, holding onto the reins. My first week of college was a bit unceremonious. You go to your first class, walk the halls and stairs with brisk, mellow steps, enter the classroom, and sit where you like. Normally, that’s how it’s done; you go in with no expectation yet burrowed deep in the back of your mind, the gears are turning for the outcomes only possible to you because you’re worried about yourself, and from what you can see, everyone must be thinking about their own skin. The teacher takes role which makes me cringe slightly, but when you’ve been conditioned by the repetition, you muster up the courage to say you’re here instead of having a modest hand be your form of confirmation.

Then they give you the run down, the functions of the class, assignments and his or her protocol and preference. That’s fine, I like to hear a person’s end of the conversation before I deliberate my thoughts. The day progresses, time runs its fast course, and before you know it, class is dismissed until tomorrow. College so far is a great change of pace. You take a class they offer at specific times and at the end of it, you’re free the rest of the day; that I can get around! Another thing, nothing is a mystery. You’re given a syllabus with all the assignments and according due dates to keep at it or get ahead. The only worry may be the onslaught of new faces, worrying over who’s name belongs to who’s face.

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“The campus is the first and largest. Translated: it’s hard to get around.”

Some friendships last longer than others, in reference to how often friends live together or interact, but for the time, it’s good to have a readily available affable ability. An affability if you will (how’s that for a portmanteau?) Getting that experience of talking to someone could mean talking to that same someone long after school is done and applied with. Other times it’s short lived, but think of it this way. You gave that person an attention sans judgment and filled with kindness that for some reason is considered a rarity. If you ask me, having a friend whether short-lived or life-lasting, is worth while and special to encounter. It gives that person the confidence to talk to more people in the hopes that they too can find a friend for solace and meaningful concern in. On a related note, a few familiar faces from familiar places came my way. Even new people I met had a touch of reminiscence to older friends not seen; those people bore names that hit home which is wonderful! Every Tuesday and Thursday morning I get to English early, which leaves half an hour at the most on the back burner. During that time, I talk to Sam (his class adjoins mine) who agrees that it’s good to have someone to talk too. English, I can also see, shares the same philosophy.

To make everyone more comfortable and approachable, group work was introduced. Our teacher is relaxed but on point and she does enjoy her English teaching; it’s nice to witness and inspires you to find something you love to do yourself. She generalized the importance of group activities, sharing each others frame of mind that we could try on for size. In one partnership, I talked to a girl named Emely (yes, with two E’s), an interesting variant of the name and another reminiscent moment for me. On the second day, we got into groups decided by a personal number distributed by the professor. This time it was all girls. Three! It’s the magic number! Sorry School House Rock… We discussed a list of situations and how they would be handled in the form of writing, by genre, purpose, rhetoric and social context, for instance. English is the more sociable of the two classes I take. Psychology, well… we were left to think.

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“My binder’s artwork for Psychology. No one asked about it sadly.”

After role, you think everyone would ease and settle but contrary to thought, not quite. Part of it might be because of our professor’s accent of either Japanese, Chinese or Korean descent. Of those countries she gave examples for collectivistic cultures, a form of thinking shared by a society as a whole, they are still indecisive choices for her nationality. She’s not hard to understand, it just takes her a fair amount of time to translate the words in her native tongue into English for her to speak. Until we can hear a complete sentence, it stays quiet during a good portion of the class and unless curiosity strikes one of us, I swear you can hear the grass growing outside. What a bummer though. I bet if it’s anything like for the Spanish, she probably dreams in her country’s language. Sounds worse if you’re bilingual, and worse than that if you’re not (I’ve had weird dreams).

Anyway, Psychology is an interesting science that calls for your assumptions to reflect upon. Social science is my kind of science since it isn’t math oriented, I hope, and it talks more about actions and reactions and the explanations for them. Going behind the reasons why, critically thinking on what is what and what things are and why they are what they are is like math. We hope to find the right definitions and answers that can be more personal than a number (I say “can” because someone out there might have a case of numerophobia). The more you know.

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“Time to hit the books!” ¹

So far, the college experience is new but also the same before me. The joy of getting to class early means not having to wait outside with other wandering eyes, accompanied by small chatter between close mouths or feet, taps and clicks on phones or laptops, or unwanted eye contact in some instances. My classes happen to be next door to each other so there’s a plus. It took a few minutes to realize a previous class occupying the rooms had left the door open but the lights off before leaving. Out of complete chance, I twisted the door knob and by surprise do I find an open door I thought was close. From now on, I’ll be using them freely at the earliest convenience, granted it becomes a running gag we start to notice and not a ploy we fall victim to (Note to self, check all the door knobs).

Other than that, the mix of new and old friends will keep me balanced and more open-minded than I have been. I’ve actually been able to open up to strangers, on and by the bench, outside, and in the halls a couple times now. They’ve also already caught wind of my mellow and meticulous mannerisms as well as my love for graphic T-shirts! This college thing seems to be going my way. I like it mostly. Now I’ll leave you to compare this time in my life and possibly yours with the fine words of Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”


¹ Brent Wiggins does not support book violence in the form of hitting, throwing, or other. End book violence.