Book Review: Instantiation by Greg Egan

Greg Egan’s latest short story collection “Instantiation” consists of 11 hard science fiction stories that were published between 2013 and 2019.

His ideas on how technology and science might evolve are as interesting and mindblowing as ever, and you get a quite diverse set of them here. Just to name a few examples:

  • What would happen if gravity would pull you sideways instead of downwards?
  • How would life in a universe look like if its geometry were 3adic instead of euclidian?
  • What if you could transplant your memories into a robot?

There is something for every kind of Greg Egan fan here:

The Nearest is full of existential horror akin to his book “Quarantine”. It’s masterfully plotted and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The Slipway is about making sense of new stars suddenly appearing on the night sky. It not only describes the science behind this unlikely phenomena but also explores the social dynamics between scientists and the public.

Seventh Sight is a delightful take on technological self-modification. What were the consequences if you could hack your own brain to see more colours? It’s a subtle topic that Egan explores gracefully.

My least favourite story was Break My Fall, which describes a journey to Mars. The descriptions of the orbital mechanics went a little over my head. I felt a blog post with some nice visualisations would have been more appropriate to communicate this idea.

Shadow Flock is a heist story that makes you think about the scary consequences of insect sized drones.

Bit Players, 3-adica and Instantiation, are not three separate stories, but three parts of a novella. They are my personal highlight of the collection and are about a game AI trying to escape its game world. There is so much awesomeness here. Just to give you a little sneak peek: At some point in the story, the characters have to sneak into a vampire mansion to get a particular oil colour, so they can instantiate a GPU glitch.

Greg Egan stories are all about ideas. So in his old stories, the characters were often only of secondary importance. This seems to be no longer true. In this collection, he manages to write round and very human characters, which is quite hard to do in the limited space of a short story, while still conveying interesting scientific concepts. Zero Of Conduct is an excellent example of that. It’s about a girl making a world-altering discovery. The story illustrates that it’s not enough to be a genius if you grow up in a society where everything is rigged against you.

Another thing I noticed when comparing old with new Egan is the more frequent humour, often in the form of little quips. And in The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine you will also laugh (or cry?) when realizing to which absurd ends capitalism might lead us.

I also enjoyed Uncanny Valley, which is, among other things, about robot rights.

Verdict: It’s a fantastic short story collection you should not miss if you like hard science fiction 5/5

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