I always thought I read and liked hard science fiction. Silly me, I was never exposed to Egan before I read this novel.
Let’s list the facts. Diaspora starts off with tens of pages describing how a future artificial consciousness comes into existence. This lengthy treatise is apparently based on Marvin Minsky’s Theory of Mind—which I have to admit I have not yet read—and yes, it is a lengthy treatise. Indeed, it is hard to read past this heavy introduction, but it is not impossible. Secondly, Egan throws a lot of higher level mathematics and physics in the mix. Admittedly, these are mostly extrapolations of real-world findings, so I think these are only fun for a very limited audience—though, of course, hard science fiction is not very mainstream anyhoo. Still, Egan’s attempts at describing higher-level universes struck me as imaginative and, actually, as quite compelling. Thirdly, the last point I wish to make is related to the first. Diaspora’s story arc is, in my opinion, weird. Apart from the long introduction, the central quest of the story takes long to take form and when it is taken care of, the story continues for some fifty-odd pages. This does reflect some key ideas of the story, however, yet whether Egan performed this feat on purpose remains unclear to me. I still liked the ending, though. It tries to go past defined sci-fi borders and actually succeeded to some degree.
So, to summarise: Egan has distinguished himself by pushing the boundaries of hard science fiction—at least, as known by me. It seems that this other novels are in line with this one in terms of being heavy on the science side, but this does not scare me away. Like I said in my review about Zima Blue and Other Stories, by Alastair Reynolds, science fiction is about evoking a sense of wonder. Diaspora does that in an enjoyable manner that takes some getting used to—but it works.
4 / 5