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Diaspora (1997) – Greg Egan

This is now the second book that I have read by Greg Egan and I believe I will at some point work my way through the entire collection of books. I don’t think I could read two of these books in sequence as they are rather heavy. I don’t believe hard sci-fi begins to describe what you can expect from this book. I find myself to be reasonably knowledgeable of what is possible in regards to physics, mathematics, biology and computer science, but this frequently goes above and beyond that. I enjoy this aspect of the book, but it does present a couple of problems. I had trouble distinguishing at what point the book transitions from science of today, to science of the future to entirely science fiction. It is easy enough to know when real science is happening and then it gets more difficult when transitioning to theoretical science that could maybe be real, but humans of today simply lack the technology to make it feasible. The line between theoretically plausible science and science fiction is a bit more muddy. Regardless I had a great time thinking about and trying to comprehend exactly what it was the book was trying to have the reader imagine. There is everything from the real world of flesher humans, completely virtual worlds, 5-dimensional universes and the tunneling of the infinite multiverse.

The beginning starts off with the birth of a virtual human in a process called orphanogensis. It feels like a deep dive into the processes behind the conception of a virtual human and the precise mechanisms by which it transforms from merely a collection of algorithms and information into a true general artificial intelligence. This is the birth of our main protagonist Yatima and thus begins our journey from the perspective of a newborn orphan inside a virtual polis. Problems start to arise when it is discovered that a relatively nearby pair of neutron stars are going to inevitably collide and release enough gamma wave radiation to destroy all flesher life on Earth. This sets Yatima and Inoshiro off on a quest to make contact with the fleshers and warn them of their impending doom by uploading their minds into gleisner robots. By this point the flesher humans have already split off into so many factions that have such diverse biology that their modes of thought varies enough to make comprehending one another difficult.

When I started reading this I didn’t realize that the books title was an actual word. Upon looking up the definition it made a lot more sense and I believe it to be a great single word summary of the story.

Diaspora (/daɪˈæspərə/ dy-ASP-ər-ə) Any dispersion of an originally homogeneous entity, such as a language or culture.

The book seems to follow the concept of trans-humanism all the way to its inevitable conclusion which has humanity in some form or another spreading itself throughout the universe and through the multiverse. The lengths at which people will go to discover truths when they can virtually live until the end of the universe is limitless. You might just lose what made you yourself along the way and never be able to return.

Permutation City

Permutation City

Permutation City (1994) – Greg Egan

This is the first book I’ve read by Greg Egan, but won’t be the last. It is probably an unpopular opinion, but I often find the characters and the story to be my least favorite part of a book. What the characters want, their backstory and motivations are typically far less interesting to me than details about the technology of the fictional universe. Which might seem like a wild thing to say about a work of fiction, but I think the main thing I am looking for is something interesting and fun to think about which varies from person to person. The last few books I read had a severe lack of fictional science in its science fiction so this was a great change of pace.

The books premise revolves around the idea that the brain can be completely scanned and then simulated on a computer. The only problem is that the current level of computing technology only allows it to be played back at a far slower rate than real time. Our protagonist Paul Durham after doing experiments on his own copies has some wild theories about the nature of reality and what it means to even be human. One of my favorite concepts from the book is that regardless of how slow the simulation is running from the perspective of the simulated it feels like normal speed. This is of course assuming the simulated individual has no frame of reference from outside the simulation. Which I think is poking at the idea that we could all be in a simulated universe and could never know it as it feels completely normal to everyone inside of it. You also don’t need a system as powerful as the higher tiered universe to run it as it can get progressively slower without issue. Greg Egan does a great job threading interesting concepts together while maintaining the story.

I look forward to reading some more of Greg Egan’s books. I hope the others are as fun of thought experiments as this one.