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by Greg Egan
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I was extremely into this book until the last 5 pages or so. It felt like Jurassic Park meets John Varley. There was more than one point when I had to set the book down, stand up, and walk around my apartment for a little bit, just to shake off the emotions I was able to feel in connection with Prabir. I loved the way Prabir came out to the reader by simply growing up and having a partner. I loved the way this story would be unrecognizably different with a straight protagonist--it's an indelibly queer story, and I like that. Then Madhusree talked to a test tube and it understood her, and I was just left wondering if Egan should have shut the manuscript in a desk drawer for a few years before trying to finish it.
Not his best work. I liked the shift from astrophysics and technophilia to biology, but even though the main evolutionary puzzle/MacGuffin in the book was fairly interesting, a good cross between quantum computing and evolution, I thought Prabir was one of the weakest protagonists Egan has ever written, and the emotional logic behind his decisions was as incoherent as it was annoying. Prabir was especially irritating in the beginning of the book, when he was an unconvincing wunderkind; it was the least believable child character I've read since I suffered through a Don DeLillo novel. It really seemed like Egan got it into his head that he would write an Indian main character just because he could, because though his heritage plays a very minor role in the story, it's fairly incidental and ultimately doesn't add much. Also, maybe I only noticed this because I had read Luminous so recently, but Prabir's attitude towards his homosexuality ("aggressive ambivalence", if that makes sense) is almost exactly the same as the attitude of the protagonist in the short story Cocoon. My final complaint: the post-modern parody sections might have seemed funny when they were being written, but they provoke barely a chuckle at this point. I think this book could have been stronger if Egan had tossed a few more ideas in (the genetic changes described could have been much more dramatic and cooler; speaking of Luminous again, the setting of the Chaff short story would have been a much better choice) and if he had made the main character less of a tool. Time for a break from Egan, sadly.
I love Greg Egan's novels, and hard sci-fi, but just didn't like this book. It started out painfully slow, and while there was eventually some interesting content toward the end, I just didn't enjoy it or get much out of it. I'd still probably have read it for completion purposes (as I'd eventually like to have read all of Egan's work), but this is not one to prioritize. (Lots of internal dialogue with a character I didn't really like; lots of details about really boring things; the interesting science part could have been described in about 3 pages, and deserved a lot more.) The ending was rushed, but whatever. Maybe the main character was "realistic" as a fairly normal or plausible person (very intelligent, but lots of self doubt and generally pathetic), but not someone I particularly empathize with.
One of the more interesting parts of the book was the takedown of postmodern/transgressive/etc. dialogue in the social sciences. This might seem be a bit too much like kicking a retarded puppy, but it's more like excising cancer.
(This was the Audible version; the narrator is far better than the narrator of Egan's first books.)
“’Do you know how computers work, Prabit?’
‘More or less.’
‘Zeroes and Ones. You understand the binary system?’
‘Have you ever wondered why computers are so hostile to women?’
‘Hostile?’ Prabir had some trouble deciding what Keith was most likely to mean by this claim. Paranoid delusions of artificial intelligence weren’t necessarily out of the question.
‘Zero is female: the womb, the vagina. One is male: Unmistakably phallic. The woman is absent, marginalised, excluded. The man is present, dominant, imperious. This blatantly sexist coding underpins all modern digital technology!’
In “Teranasia” by Greg Egan
“’You know what I hate most about you, Menéndez?’
‘Everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Everything that doesn’t kill me just fucks me up a bit more.’”
In “Teranasia” by Greg Egan
'YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!!!!!!! YOU ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO GIVE AN ORGANISM THE ABILITY TO BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE!!!! BECAUSE IT WOULD BE ABLE TO SURVIVE FULLY WITHOUT COGNITIVE IMPAIRMENT IIF THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF THAT ORGANISM TIME TRAVELS EVEN IF IT IS PICKED UP BY ANOTHER TIME TRAVELLER! THE COMPLEXITY OF THE UNIVERSE AND INTELLIGENT LIFE WILL CAUSE SO MANY TIME ANOMALIES YOU WON'T EVEN BE ABLE TO COUNT!!!'
Even before getting into the superposition business, I would find it fascinating if it could be shown that a living organism could be placed in a coherent ground state without killing it. The authors seem to base their hopes for this on papers they cite for cryogenic survival at liquid nitrogen temperatures, ~77 kelvin. Compared to the millikelvin needed for this experiment, that's positively roasting...Well, only Schrödinger thought the idea was stupid. His point was indeed that the superposition idea was nonsense because such a thing was impossible. But in fact Bohr was right and if it were not for phase decoherence, it would be exactly what happens. Since the experiment actually carried out (following the link in the article) was done at 20 millikelvin to avoid that decoherence (in a simple piece of aluminum), one doesn't need to worry very much about putting a living bacterium, let alone a cat, into a superposition of alive and dead states.
The quantum world of the tiny is weird, and doesn't share our passion for common sense behaviour. Imagine a snooker ball: it can be one of eight colours. Now imagine the same snooker ball shrunk down to the size of an atom, where quantum mechanics and probability dominate. In this realm, the snooker ball is not a definite colour; rather, it is all possible colours at the same time until the point in time where someone actually has a look at it. That's an example of what physicists call a 'superposition of states'. Weird, but it seems to be true. The same can be said of the cat. Until you have a peek, the cat is in a blurred state of dead and alive at the same time.
There is a theory – The Many Worlds Theorem of Quantum Mechanics – that's a personal favourite of mine even it’s for the wrong reasons: The cat (or tiny snooker ball) is not in a superposition of states at all. Instead, there is simply a universe where someone opened up a box to find a dead cat, and a separate universe where the box was opened to reveal a live cat. And another universe where the cat has one less whisker. And another universe where the cat's flea is about to jump... That's a lot of universes, but it's a simple concept. It means that if something can happen it does happen. Surely there is a possibility, small but still a possibility that instead of the observer deciding if the object exists or not the object decides if the observer exists or not and the observer is either there or not there. or both or in two places at the same time...Does it really all come down to DNA...? For evidence I would probably point to decoherence. A simple object could not "decohere," but an object composed of atoms/particles can. Decoherance is not just an implementation problem any more than the vaporization of a liquid. It is more like a physical change of state with quite different properties in each phase. Thermal effects are not just noise to be addressed in implementation - the motion and constant collisions between atoms (which in and of themselves would "collapse the wave-function") cause a physical change in the collective properties - such that matter at room temperature is "decohered." There are then no collective quantum effects. Such a system could not exist in a superposition, and we can very clearly define a transition from quantum to classical. Or, in Egan’s words: “One of the many approximations made by the modellers involved the quantum state of the protein, which was described mathematically in terms of eigenstates for the bonds between atoms: quantum states that possessed definite values for such things as the position of the bonds and its vibrational energy. A completely accurate description of the protein would have allowed each of its bonds to exist in a complex superposition of several different eingestates at once, a state that possessed no definite angles and energies, but only probabilities for a spectrum of different values.”
The structures of our brain and the meta-structure of our mind must reflect an unknowable yet structured reality. Kant suggests that time, space and causality are not basic constituents of that reality. Max Born postulated that physics IS philosophy. My own experience of time is much more "the eternal now" than a logical sequence. Endlessly iterative processes, such as suggested by Quantum Bayesianism, lend imaginative support to Dyson's "Infinite in All Dimensions." Getting to know "the mind of God" may be another infinite process. The proper translation of the Greek "Know Thyself: is "always be trying to get to know yourself." You'll never get there.
Bottom-line: Egan plays with the wave-function collapse (with and without DNA entities) concept in a fictionalized narrative. I just wish he’d rewrite it in 2020 - 20 years later - and remove the Deus-Ex-Machina finale...having the São Paulo Gene developing a conscience in the last few pages...uhm...). Upon re-reading, still a solid 4 stars. "Idea" (with a capital "I"). What makes Egan's ideas different from any other SF stuff out there? They're much more complex and disconcerting, veering off from the more mundane staring-into-space-SF; but his touch is nevertheless light -- philosophical questions hinted at rather than announced and telegraphed a mile away as see in most of today’s SF.
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Wikipedia in English (1)
TERANESIA is set in 2012. Prabir Suresh is nine years old and the son of two scientists specialising in entomology. They live on an otherwise uninhabited island in a remote part of the Indonesian peninsula. The island has no real name, but Prabir calls it Teranesia and populates it with imaginary creatures even stranger than the evolutionarily puzzling butterflies that his parents are studying. His world falls apart when civil war kills his parents and leaves him to look after his infant sister. Eighteen years later, rumours of bizarre new species of plants and animals being discovered in the peninsula that was their childhood home draw Prabir's sister back to the island - Prabir cannot bear for her to have gone out alone and he follows, persuading a pharmaceutical researcher to take him along as a guide. Prabir's sister and the researcher succeed in isolating the gene responsible for these new mutations - the T-gene promises that any form of life on Teranesia will out compete those in the outside world. When Prabir himself is infected with a virus carrying this T-gene the bulk of the scientists on Teransia want him dead - the ultimate quarantine that will safeguard humanity as they know it.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)823.914Literature English & Old English literatures English fiction Modern Period 1901-1999 1945-1999
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