Book Review: Sleep And The Soul by Greg Egan

Greg Egan latest short story collection “Sleep and the Soul” just dropped. It’s the kind of stories that I know and love him for, this time maybe with a touch more ambiguity and cooperation/trust as an overarching theme.

In the remainder of the blog post, I’ll give a quick rundown of the stories. If you are afraid of spoilers, don’t continue reading, but directly purchase it from one of the stores listed here and get into it.

The book starts with a banger. You And Whose Army? explores the concept of shared identity, has more than one memorable plot twist and should not miss from any “Top 5 ways in which Greg Egan villains try to cheat death” list.

This Is Not The Way Home tells the story of an unlikely escape from a moon holiday gone wrong. If you liked “The Martian” by Andy Weir or the movie “Gravity”, this is a must read.

Zeitgeber portrays a scenario in which a virus upsets the bio-rhythm of a whole civilization. Be careful not to not read it as an allegory for Covid. The uncanny parallels can not be intended since the story was first published in September 2019.

Crisis Actors pokes fun at climate change deniers. Can their conspirational thinking be leveraged for good?

Sleep And The Soul might, on first glance, be perceived as a preachy parable arguing for materialism by setting up a strawmanish version of the dualism doctrine: In the story most of the population believes that the soul departs the body if it goes to sleep. This means that people never go to sleep and that they might even be killed if they find themself in a position where they go unconsciouss. But for me the interesting bit about this piece are the things left unsaid. Why are these people capable of not sleeping in the first place? The story hints at strong evolutionary pressure to work insane hours. People might not need sleep anymore because sleeping tended to get you killed in this cruel universe. So maybe the talk about souls is a mere rationalization?

After Zero presents an interesting idea to curtail radiation to slow down/reverse climate change. Anyone up to crowdfund some magnets at the first Lagrange point between the sun and the earth?

Dream Factory is about neural implants for cats. It’s a great story. And Greg Egan’s rants about App Store policies and multiplex package delivery are highly amusing.

Light Up The Clouds is set in a quite interesting universe that allows purely mechanical space travel. The world building is quite unusual and sometimes a little confusing but it’s great fun to slowly figure it out.

Night Running is about a drug that allows you to work while sleeping. But will sleep-you always have the same priorities as awake-you?

In Solidity humanity has to wrestle with a calamity that is somehow reminiscent of – Stable Diffusion?

All in all I had a great time reading the short story collection. It feels very contemporary. Which is maybe not so surprising as reality seems to be catching up with Science Fiction more and more.

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