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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: Crystal Nights and Other Stories

Crystal Nights and Other Storiesis Greg Egan's latest short story collection. I gave Egan's last book a poor review, but that was a novel, not a short story collection. Egan's talent at crafting a good short story is second only to Ted Chiang's, and this book definitely shows it off in spades.

One big theme of the book is the implications of quantum mechanics. Three stories revolve around it: Oracle, Border Guards, and Singleton. For Border Guards, Egan even invents the sport of Quantum Soccer.

Several stories deal with computation and simulation: Crystal Nights, in particular, but also many of the other stories, including one, Steve Fever, in which humans are used as pieces in an automaton. Another related story, Tap, reflects on the relationship between experience and words, and introduces several concepts that were a lot of fun to explore and think about.

In all cases, the science seems correct: in particular, there's no FTL, and a lot of transportation comes from beaming a scanned person around: Egan clearly believes that in a resource constrained future, sending human bodies around would be too massive a waste of resources to consider.

Most of the stories end with a satisfying conclusion, but a couple of stories felt like the author suddenly stopped when he ran out of paper (or ideas, or had written himself into a corner). Even those stories were full of interesting ideas. The first story, Lost Continent, clearly came from Egan's own philanthropic work in recent years on refugee's rights. I also enjoyed how Egan sets the stories in Australia whenever he can.

All in all, an excellent short story collection, full of stories I somehow missed over the years. Recommended.

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