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Quarantine (1992)

by Greg Egan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Subjective Cosmology Cycle (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,0471813,488 (3.86)36
In the late 21st century, bioengineering has meant that people can modify their minds in any way they wish - an era also shaped by information systems so vast that security, in any form, can be easily breached.
  1. 11
    Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (asalamon, moietmoi)
  2. 00
    In Search Of Schrodinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality by John Gribbin (hungeri)
    hungeri: A good scientific book and a sci-fi based on the same subject. The scientific base of the sci-if is strong, but as it is a fiction, you can relax and enjoy it without a worry about "but is it true", "can it be true?". That worry is for books on science.
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» See also 36 mentions

English (16)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
I've had Greg Egan on my radar for a long time but aside from a lucky chance encounter with a novella, it still took me almost two decades to finally break down and read him! It wasn't his fault. That lies entirely with me. I'm absolutely ashamed.

Why? Because this hard-SF novelist is unashamedly tackling some of the hardest quantum physics interpretations, (smearing possibilities and collapsing the wave functions of reality) to very, very courageous levels.

The writer runs with a loaded gun with a safety off. It's pretty awesome. The risk he takes from turning a cyberpunk Private Investigator novel into a completely sidelined thought experiment including the mythical Observer and the death of all the wave functions to create a single reality, multiplying it by a few observers, and then eventually to the whole Earth, is not an end ANYONE ought to miss. I cheered. I gasped. I whooped.

Am I explaining this too esoterically? Possibly. Okay, let's back up. The Earth is suddenly quarantined in a quantum bubble to protect the rest of the universe from summarily changing realities willy-nilly because we THINK it into being. It starts out as quantum tunneling on the macro scale, cheating at cards, getting hugely improbable number sequences right, but then we go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole where multiple worlds can be chosen from at will, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and each die as the "best" possible world becomes real. Now let's throw that into the stew and add more people. How about adding everyone to that powerful quantum schedule? What happens when we all get the ability to be gods?

Yeah, Egan attempts just this. :) Brilliant attempt, too!

So why didn't I give it 5 stars? Because great ideas don't always equate great fundamental stories with plot and characters. There's nothing wrong with this one, but most the plot and characters are puppets to the need to make clear what is going on, science-wise. I like good exposition when I need it to follow the intent of the author. In this case, it's absolutely necessary. And delightful. But it necessarily slows down the plot, too. Like, to a crawl.

Fortunately, it was never boring to me. Just uneven. No harm, no foul! And what we have here is a novel of quantum possibilities gone totally nuts. :) I LOVE THIS! ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
“[character referring to quantum entanglement and wave function collapse] ‘so, what should they call it?’ ‘Oh...neural linear decomposition of the state vector, followed by phase-shifting and preferential reinforcements of selected eigenstates.’”

In “Quarantine” by Greg Egan

“’So...where’s the problem?’

‘The problem is: before you make a measurement in either of these cases, the wave function doesn’t tell you what the outcome is going to be; it just tells you that there’s a fifty-fifty chance either way. But once you’ve made the measurement,a a second measurement on the same system will always give the same result; if the cat was dead the first time you looked, it will still be dead if you look again. In terms of the wave function, the act of making the measurement has, somehow, changes it from a mixture of two waves, representing the two possibilities, to a ‘pure’ wave - called an eingestate - representing just one. That’s what’s called ‘the collapse of the wave function’.
‘But why should a measurement be special? Why should it collapse the wave function? Why should some measuring device - itself made up of individual atoms, all of which are presumably obeying the very same quantum mechanical laws as the system being measured - cause a mixture of possibilities to collapse into one? If you treat the measuring device as just another part of the system, Schrödinger’s equation predicts that the device itself should end up in a mixture of states - and so should anything that interacts with it.’”

In “Quarantine” by Greg Egan

What’s at play here? Quantum entanglement (quantum entanglement occurs when pairs of particles interact in ways that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently) in one of the best narrative treatments I’ve ever read in a non-SFional setting.

If the nature of reality is consciousness then, there are no perfect symmetries, there is no pure randomness. We are in the gray region between truth and chaos. These extremes can only be ideals, not reality. Process only occurs in the gray region, time does not exist at the extremes. If we think of coin tosses, with truth, the coin is either heads or tails as a frozen expression of meaning, and with chaos the coin is always both, it never stops spinning, and contains no meaning. The dynamic tension between the two is where time comes from. Either spin is imparted to truth or the perfect randomness of the perpetual spin symmetry is broken. At each extreme is a different form of symmetry, one is a symmetry in the relationship of meaning and the other is a symmetry of potential.

Truth as a static structure vs a dynamic system. To simplify, think of a stack of copy paper with one word on each page. In time, we see each page one at a time, outside of time all of the words, on all of the pages combine to make a single word. This single word is truth, it is the entire story, told in an instant of time. The fractal version of this story has another feature. As each page is presented to us, our intent creates a slightly new meaning that branches out, changing the story, an effect that turns the stack into a tree like structure.

The direction of time's arrow is the breaking of the symmetry of the potential of the boundary condition. In other words, if I toss a coin and it has perfect symmetry of potential it will land heads half the time and tails half the time. The symmetry of the potential is broken if the coin tosses are not 50/50. In a perfectly random system, after a sufficient number of tosses, the symmetry for all even number tosses would always be 50/50. Coin tosses are a lot like squaring the circle. You get closer and closer to the true value but you never reach it, like an infinite recursive iteration.

With the earlier novels (e.g., “Quarantine”), Egan tends to be more story driven, though there is always a mathematics/physics/computational basis, and the later ones tend to be more bit less driven by the story and more by the maths/physics (e.g., “The Orthogonal Trilogy”). With some writers it takes them a while to fully master their narrative skills but Egan was great from the start, so there is no work to avoid. ( )
  antao | Apr 26, 2019 |
Fun look at free will, especially the conflict between entities which can shape reality. Who makes the choice? ( )
  sarcher | Mar 28, 2019 |
If you like to philosophize on quantum mechanics then you will love this novel. I enjoyed it but found the internal debates the main character went through too long. ( )
  ladyoflorien | Nov 19, 2018 |
This was lots of fun. The story is told in a four-star way, but it has so fucking many great concepts: Having a fuckton of software for your brain, and the implications of loyalty software, of cours. But mostly the idea that humans are unique in collapsing the wave functions of possibilities, and basically the implications of xenocide that come with it. Wow. And the implications of learning to suppress that reflex, and having human made quantum computing in the brain. ♥ ( )
  _rixx_ | Aug 30, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Egan, Gregprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Békési, JózsefTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bollinger, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gudynas, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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