Greg Egan was born in Perth, Western Australia in 1961. Although he had expected from the age of six to end up working as a professional scientist, he was side-tracked into film-making in his final year of high school. After completing a BSc at the University of Western Australia, majoring in mathematics, he applied to the Australian Film and Television School and was accepted, but dropped out after realising how much he would hate to work in the film industry. In 1983 he got a programming job in a Sydney hospital, where he stayed until he moved back to Perth in 1987. From 1987 to 1992 he alternated between stretches of programming and writing, and since 1992 has supported himself by writing alone.
A couple of choice quotes from different interviews:
"I suppose I have a vision of a universe that we're increasingly able to understand through science - and that includes understanding who we are, where we came from, and why we do the things we do. What drives me is the desire to explore both the details of this vision, for their own sake - things like quantum mechanics and cosmology, simply because they're beautiful and elaborate and fascinating - but also the ways in which we can adapt to this situation, and use what we're learning constructively." - interview by Marisa O'Keeffe, noise!, January 1998
"Anyway, no one has ever waved money in my face and begged me to write Blade Runner vs. Predator in Isaac Asimov's Robot City. I'm sure it's obvious to the people who manage these franchises that I'd be no good at it." - "The Way Things Are", interview by Carlos Pavón, Gigamesh, 1998
If there is one thing that attracts me to Egan's writings, it's the sheer number of ideas they contain. Before my first exposure to Egan, in the form of Permutation City, I had never encountered an SF author who could pack so many new, mind-blowing ideas into a single novel, and I haven't found another one since. This ability is most pronounced in his fifth novel, Diaspora, which takes place over a much greater area and a much longer time than any of his other works. It contains, among other things, a detailed description of how new self-aware AIs might be formed automatically from scratch, naturally occurring biological computers made out of molecular Wang tiles functioning as Turing machines, and a description of gravitational and electrostatic attraction in five dimensions.
As well as overflowing with amazing ideas, Greg Egan is simply a very good writer. While he doesn't always shine in this regard and some critics have accused him of breaking the flow of his writing to explain technical concepts, especially in his earlier work, I find him consistently readable. The only thing that has ever thrown me about his style is his use of the gender-neutral pronouns proposed by Eliezer Yudkowsky (ve for he/she, ver for him/her, vis for his/her), which I had never encountered before. Perhaps half his books and stories deal in some way with gender and sexuality, though seldom as the main focus of the story, so frequent readers quickly get used to these pronouns.
Among the common subjects of Egan's work are consciousness, reality, artificial intelligence, cloning and biotechnology, and another good thing about his writing is that he never moralises excessively on any of these subjects. Instead he simply tries to map the consequences of what we are just learning in these areas, or what we think we might be able to learn and do in the future. Similarly, his "villains" are seldom painted as evil, but as either rational but amoral, misguided (by the protagonist's standards) or (willfully) ignorant. The most striking examples of this are the Ignorance Cults depicted in Distress, groups dedicated to stopping "evil" scientists from revealing the deepest mysteries of the universe, driven by the fear that doing so will negate humanity's collective sense of wonder at the complexity of Nature.
In short, if you're at all interested in hard SF full of interesting new concepts and gizmos, backed by intriguing plots and characters, I recommend you read anything and everything you can by Greg Egan. A good place to start would be his website (http://www.netspace.net.au/~gregegan) where you can find several of his short stories and links to more on other sites.
- An Unusual Angle
- The Subjective Cosmology cycle
- Permutation City
- Short Story Collections:
- Our Lady of Chernobyl