Why is Everything Tilted?
January 6, 2014 4:32 PM   Subscribe

One of the best SF writers ever!!
posted by Kevin Street at 4:33 PM on January 6, 2014

During the early 1990s Egan published a body of short fiction—mostly hard science fiction

Hard science fiction? It's downright intractable! Permutation City might better be described as number theory fiction than science fiction. And I love it so I'm going to shut up and go read the story now.
posted by aubilenon at 4:38 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, Permutation City... I just zoned out after reading the original short story (Dust) and thought for an hour or two. Did the same thing after reading the novel. You have to think about his fiction so much it becomes a mind expanding experience.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:42 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Science Fiction is full of stories that question the nature of reality. Even mass audience friendly Star Trek had episodes where Riker was lost in alien hallucinations or Crusher got trapped in a decaying artificial universe. But "Dust" was the first story that forced me to accept the possibility that reality might actually be a simulation. Or more precisely, that there may be no difference between simulation and reality if you're the one inside. Then The Matrix came along seven years later and the concept went mainstream.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:54 PM on January 6, 2014

Permutation City might better be described as number theory fiction than science fiction.

Permutation City is a child's story compared with his latest Orthogonal series which chronicles the history of alien physicists discovering the laws of physics (from Newton on past Einstein) except in a universe where the speed of light varies.
posted by straight at 5:23 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay I read the story. Totally Egan! As he does, the only character with any real personality is the Universe, and as usual that ends up being profoundly interesting and troubling enough to carry the story.

Maybe I should read that Orthogonal series.
posted by aubilenon at 5:26 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]


All the bit players figure the trick out really quickly. Now is that because it's blatantly obvious, or because their contributors were a sort of people that would be particularly good at puzzles of this kind? But what sort of person is good at detecting brain-in-a-vat scenarios and ends up having their brains scanned?

Yep. These guys were slapped together from cryonics patients.
posted by topynate at 5:44 PM on January 6, 2014 [6 favorites]

I'm re-reading Diaspora right now! I still like it. Have also read Schild's Ladder but I don't remember it as well.
posted by curious nu at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2014

Diaspora was my first Egan and I don't think I have ever recovered. Or found anything like it. It is one of my favorite books.

I also need to get to his current series.

But for now, marking this short story to read.
posted by mountmccabe at 6:23 PM on January 6, 2014

My favorite is Quarantine, because I can't resist rules lawyering.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:39 PM on January 6, 2014

Permutation City might better be described as number theory fiction than science fiction.

Egan's short stories Luminous and Dark Integers are even more deserving of that label. In Luminous, the protagonist is on the run from Industrial Algebra, a corporation that wants to steal and weaponize his discovery of a contradiction in the fundamental axioms of mathematics.
posted by teraflop at 12:30 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

As he does, the only character with any real personality is the Universe,

Making the exception that I guess proves the rule, Egan's excellent novel Zendegi has well-drawn characters and is very emotionally affecting.
posted by aught at 5:39 AM on January 7, 2014

I'm pretty sure the "obscure pulp novel called East, by a man named William Tush" ("tush" as in "ass" I would think), referred to as the basis for the world in this short story, is almost certainly a cheeky reference to Adam Roberts and his novel, On, which has a scientifically-dubious premise identical to that of the world in "Bit Players."

It's worth noting that Adam Roberts, who is a literature professor, has reviewed a couple of Egan's works pretty harshly for their focus on concepts over characters; one might say that Egan and Roberts stand at opposite ends of science fiction; Egan uses cut out characters as props to let him play with the science, which Roberts uses not-always-thought-through Big Ideas to experiment with how characters interact in unusual situations.
posted by aught at 6:14 AM on January 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

It's worth noting for those interested in Egan's work that his backlist is now available in relatively cheap (USD $2.99) e-books, listed here.

Also, after reading the story a second time, I definitely think it's a rebuttal to Roberts' negative review of Egan's Incandescence: "My cardboard characters can kick the ass of your silly novel's big idea - so there!"

For the record, I really like both writers' books - they're both on my "read everything by x" list.
posted by aught at 7:04 AM on January 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

I read the story too! And, um, was underwhelmed. The first section is incredibly tedious world explaining. Then some more interesting story, but unevenly told, then an abrupt sort of half-conclusion. I like the premise well enough, the Bit Players, but I wish he'd done a better job writing it.
posted by Nelson at 12:21 PM on January 7, 2014

yea, i couldn't get thru _incandescence_ tbh :P (_zendegi_ btw makes a nice companion piece with _reamde_!)

also speaking of video game developers...
-30 Years Later, One Man Is Still Trying To Fix Video Games (Paradigm Shift)
-Wearable gaming exoskeleton pairs up with Oculus Rift for the ultimate virtual reality experience [1,2,3]

oh and The Universe Really Is a Hologram, According to New Simulations
posted by kliuless at 4:11 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I liked this. It reminded me of "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge.
posted by notbuddha at 9:45 AM on January 8, 2014

(_zendegi_ btw makes a nice companion piece with _reamde_!)

I like how Zendegi serves as a disclaimer (or even a rebuttal) for his books like Diaspora featuring characters who are all living in computer simulations, like Egan saying, "No, I'm not ignoring how enormously hard it would be to get there."
posted by straight at 9:47 AM on January 9, 2014

I really liked this. And I love all the room left to imagine how this goes. Part of me wanted expansion into a novel but the game itself seemed too obnoxious (on purpose) to want further exposure.

I really loved Incandescence though I was initially disappointed that it didn't build into what I thought it was building into; it went a smarter but somewhat less satisfying route. (Which should be no surprise for Egan).

And I would agree that Zendegi works to refine Egan's position but I don't see it as turning his back on Diaspora. "Bit Players" also seems to be in this vein, focusing on issues he left under/unexplored in some of his further reaching work.
posted by mountmccabe at 4:53 AM on January 10, 2014

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