June 17, 2005

Teranesia by Greg Egan

Greg Egan is one of the few contemporary hard-sf authors to write about science passionately. He argues for scientific thinking with a clear voice. This novel is a valiant effort in that direction. It doesn't all fit together in the end, but it remains successful despite this failing.

This novel marks a change in style for Greg Egan. This offering is quite different from his previous novel: "Diaspora". The style here is similar to his recent short story "Oceanic" (highly recommended). At some places, where the old Greg Egan would have talked at length about quantum gravity, in this novel he inserts long comments about his protagonist's mental states. The novel itself is quite short, a bit longer than novella length, but contains its ideas well.

In previous novels, Greg Egan used speculative physics and ideas about artificial life, while in this novel he explores ideas in entomology, genetics and evolutionary theory. Nine year old Prabir Suresh lives on an otherwise uninhabited island in a remote part of Indonesia with his parents and a younger sister. The island is named Teranesia by Prabir, and he spends his time exploring it while his parents study the mysterious morphological aberrations in the local butterfly population.

The novel follows an emotional arc for Prabir, which contains but never actually intersects in any meaningful way to the scientific speculations. The speculations are what we have come to expect from Greg Egan: informed about the science, interesting and non-trivial. The crux of the story relies on contemporary ideas from computing. But in this novel, more so than his other recent stories, there were some clearly unsettling parts of the story which remained unexplained.

While the people involved in the story get a larger role and some individuating personalities, sometimes the old Greg Egan resurfaces and possesses a character if a scientific explanation is warranted at some stage in the plot.

Greg Egan seems to have taken what happened in The Sokal Hoax very personally. He launches a vicious attack in several parts of this book on postmodern literary criticism and feminist theory. While I was cheering him on, Egan's efforts are sometimes funny, more often they sound mean-spirited and righteous.

Other Greg Egan books reviewed in Special Circumstances

%T Teranesia
%A Greg Egan
%I Victor Gollancz
%D 1999
%G ISBN: 0575068558 (pb)
%P 249
%K science-fiction

Review written: 2000/11/24

Posted by anoop at June 17, 2005 01:54 AM