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Works by Egan, Categorized

I don't really have much to say here; this essay is just an excuse to talk about how much I like Greg Egan's books.

These three are awesome. You should read them all immediately.

Permutation City
Schild's Ladder

These two are only slightly less awesome.


I hate to admit it, but there are a couple of books I'm not fond of.


Then there are these two.

Orthogonal (3 books)

Let me start by telling you about Orthogonal. As a novel (or set of novels) it's not remarkable, although it does have some great moments, but as a more general work of art it's a triumph, a genuinely new thing. I don't even know what to compare it to except Flatland. But, where Flatland explored a different geometry, Orthogonal explores a different physics, and it does so in tremendous detail, with plenty of figures and equations. I won't say what the difference is, that'd be a spoiler, but I will say that it's small enough to allow and even encourage meaningful comparisons with real-world physics, yet large enough to have surprising and interesting consequences.

Another thing that's great about Orthogonal is that it shows what science is like. There's the mystery of the unknown, the excitement of finding a clue, and the satisfaction of figuring out the answer; there's also all the slowness and frustration along the way.

Speaking of what science is like, here's an alternate view from How the World Was Saved.

The machine whined, and in a trice Trurl's front yard was packed with scientists. They argued, each publishing heavy volumes, which the others tore to pieces; in the distance one could see flaming pyres, on which martyrs to Science were sizzling; there was thunder, and strange mushroom-shaped columns of smoke rose up; everyone talked at once, no one listened, and there were all sorts of memoranda, appeals, subpoenas and other documents, while off to the side sat a few old men, feverishly scribbling on scraps of paper.

“Not bad, eh?” said Trurl with pride. “Science to a T, admit it!”

(As explained in How Jolly the Lot of an Oligoglot, there's a translation issue in that part of the story. I've applied option (7) to Kandel's translation and changed “Nature” to “Science”.)

It's also a triumph that Egan was able to get Orthogonal published. That many figures and equations? In a trilogy? That must have been a tough sell, even for him.

Incandescence, I think, is best viewed as a first attempt at the same kind of thing. It doesn't have many figures or equations, and it's about real rather than imaginary physics, but it features the same process of scientific discovery. Unfortunately it just doesn't come together as well as Orthogonal does.

Speaking of figures and equations, here's an excellent work that's a web site rather than a book.

Greg Egan's Home Page

Among other things, it contains, as Egan says, “information, illustrations and applets to supplement some of my work”. The existence of the site makes the existence of Orthogonal less surprising, and in fact we can think of Orthogonal as a successful fusion of novel and supplementary material. (Successful, but not complete—the site has supplementary material for Orthogonal, too.)

Finally, there are the short stories in these collections.


I like almost all of them, especially the ones that deal with the mind; my favorite is Reasons To Be Cheerful.


  See Also

@ July (2013)