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Egan, Greg

Entry updated 27 March 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1961-    ) Australian author whose first novel, An Unusual Angle (1983), is a lightly surreal and science-fictional coming-of-age narrative. In the same year he began publishing work of clear genre interest with the Hard SF story "Artifact" (in Dreamworks, anth 1983, ed David King). Some other early shorts were fantasy; since the late 1980s, though, he has increasingly concentrated on sharply written sf with an emphasis on Biology (including neuropsychology), Cybernetics and latterly hard Physics. Notable short works from near the end of the twentieth century are assembled in two collections, Axiomatic (coll 1995) and Luminous (coll 1998); the best of these stories – tales like "The Caress" (January 1990 Asimov's) and "Learning to Be Me" (July 1990 Interzone) – are among the finest of their period. "Learning to Be Me", for instance, embeds radical speculations about the nature of consciousness and Identity in a compact tale of a life both ordinary and fractured by the process of Upload. "Reasons to Be Cheerful" (April 1997 Interzone) is a particularly effective story of an adolescent whose surgery for a brain tumour leads to the placing of his own emotional reactions under voluntary control, making him question the roots of volition and affect. If there was one criticism to be levelled at Egan's earlier works, it was that he tended to privilege exposition of a concept over characterization. Later stories such as "Oceanic" (August 1998 Asimov's), which won a Hugo, and "Oracle" (July 2000 Asimov's) manage to accommodate both, "Oracle" interestingly featuring fictionalized versions of C S Lewis and Alan Turing (see Icons). These and others appear in his collection Oceanic (coll 2009), most of whose contents were previously assembled in the two books Dark Integers and Other Stories (2008) and Crystal Nights and Other Stories (2009).

Egan's early short work raised considerable expectations for the first volume in the loose Subjective Cosmology, the Hard SF novel Quarantine (1992), which effectively, and literally, encapsulates a Near-Future private-eye plot, of the sort familiar to readers of Cyberpunk, within a solar system now enclosed by a vast enigmatic Bubble that hides the Stars. The unfoldings of the plot, and of its implications about human identity in a world (or complex of Parallel Worlds) controllable at the quantum level through Computer-augmented brain functions, is extremely intricate; this multifacetedness also marks the next volume, Permutation City (1994), which searchingly examines the implications – in terms involving Mathematics, Computer science and Cosmology – behind the construction of binding Virtual Realities. Permutation City won the John W Campbell Memorial Award. Distress (1995) features multiple themes including exploration of Near-Future "Frankenscience" excesses, a quasi-Utopia on an artificial Island, and an unusual view of the anthropic principle in Cosmology. The final volume of the sequence, Diaspora (1997), features a cosmic Disaster that destroys the minority of Far-Future humanity which prefers to remain embodied in flesh upon Earth; the Uploaded and AI survivors scatter to explore an extraordinary range of higher Dimensions and their associated Mathematics.

Teranesia (1999) is an example of the more character-focused Egan, with a particular emphasis on biological Evolution and sexuality (see Sex). By contrast, Schild's Ladder (2002) tends almost to the abstract in its depiction of an expanding region of the universe governed by an alternate set of physical laws – at first seeming to be a purely destructive transformation of space itself, but in fact offering a rich new environment for life on a subatomic scale (see Great and Small), explorable by similarly scaled human Avatars.

After a hiatus of several years – during which he worked as an advocate for refugees arriving in Australia, an experience informing his bitter "Lost Continent" (in The Starry Rift, anth 2008, ed Jonathan Strahan) – Egan returned to publishing fiction from 2007. The first novel that appeared as a result, Incandescence (2008), has some of the flaws of Schild's Ladder, but shows Egan's imagination still at full stretch with its story of Conceptual Breakthrough by dwellers in a Space Habitat closely orbiting a Black Hole, who possess only a medieval level of Technology but to save themselves from Disaster must develop deep understanding of Gravity and general Relativity. Relativity and other aspects of Physics are dramatically altered in the Alternate Cosmos of the Orthogonal sequence, comprising The Clockwork Rocket (2011), The Eternal Flame (2012) and The Arrows of Time (2013), much of the action set on a Generation Starship. The Book of All Skies (2021) places a quest for something like Transcendence on a planet only properly describable as an exercise in topology, being sliced into a continuous climbing spiral that pilgrims may mount, encountering as they advance to new levels in the spiral (see Archipelago), a Babel of new perspectives.

A core concern of almost all Egan's fiction is the philosophical role of science and scientific inquiry in human society and psychology. Along with Ted Chiang, he is perhaps science fiction's most rigorous and challenging author of speculations.

Egan maintains a useful online index of Interzone magazine. [JC/GS/DRL/KB]

see also: Aphelion; Australia; Basilisks; Ditmar Award; Eidolon; Fermi Paradox; Interzone; Locus Award; Meme; Pariah Elite; Psi Powers; Seiun Award; Time Out of Sequence.

Gregory Mark Egan

born Perth, Western Australia: 20 August 1961



Subjective Cosmology

  • Quarantine (London: Legend, 1992) [Subjective Cosmology: hb/Peter Gudynas]
  • Permutation City (London: Millennium, 1994) [Subjective Cosmology: hb/Chris Moore]
  • Distress (London: Millennium, 1995) [Subjective Cosmology: hb/Image Bank]
  • Diaspora (London: Millennium, 1997) [Subjective Cosmology: hb/uncredited]


individual titles

  • An Unusual Angle (Melbourne, Victoria: Norstrilia Press, 1983) [hb/Cozzolino Hughes]
  • Teranesia (London: Victor Gollancz, 1999) [hb/photographic: Yasuo Seki]
  • Schild's Ladder (London: Gollancz, 2002) [hb/blacksheep]
  • Incandescence (London: Gollancz, 2008) [hb/Sue Michniewicz]
  • Zendegi (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2010) [hb/Michael Ellis]
  • Dichronauts (San Francisco, California: Night Shade Books, 2017) [hb/Justinas Vitkus]
  • Perihelion Summer (New York:, 2019) [pb/Drive Communications]
  • Dispersion (Burton, Michigan: Subterranean Press, 2020) [hb/David Ho]
  • The Book of All Skies (Pacific Grove, California: Greg Egan, 2021) [pb/]
  • Scale (Perth, Western Australia: Greg Egan, 2023) [hb/]

collections and stories

about the author

  • Karen Burnham. Greg Egan (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2014) [nonfiction: in the publisher's Modern Masters of Science Fiction series: pb/Percolator: hb/nonpictorial]


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