Thursday, 26 February 2015

Axiomatic - Greg Egan (1995)

Greg Egan is a highly regarded writer of science fiction and somewhat of a mystery man. Despite publishing his first work in 1983 he has remained totally anonymous; never attending science fiction conventions or writer’s festivals and nor are there any verified pictures of him on the web. As a fellow Perth denizen I could have passed him on the street for all I know and perhaps I have. Axiomatic is a collection of short stories published between 1989 and 1992. Egan deals with hard science fiction and if these stories are anything to go by he shares something with cyberpunk, with most stories set in the near future and featuring themes that explore the nature of consciousness, biotechnology, technology and its psychological impact and less typically, temporal anomalies.

Axiomatic features some brilliant ideas that are extremely well executed. The first story, The Infinite Assassin, is pure cyberpunk; featuring an agent tracking  down people who take drugs that allows them to move between parallel worlds. It’s a dynamic way to begin a collection of stories and effectively draws the reader in immediately. Many of the stories give the impression that Egan came up with a great idea and then considered what would happen if that idea was allowed to occur in a certain situation. What would happen if the beginnings of ‘the big crunch’ were detected via a time reversed blue shifted galaxy?; well you’d harness it to examine the future and humanity could see exactly what was coming. This is explored in The Hundred Light Year Galaxy, but as always things are not quite what they seem. What would happen if there were axiomatic implants that could convincingly change your perception? Egan explores this possibility brilliantly in both The Walk and in the tense title story.

Perhaps the most fascinating and intellectually stimulating stories are the two involving the Ndoli device, a ‘jewel’ embedded in the human brain that allows conscious immortality when an individual ‘switches’; in other words have their brain scooped out and replaced with a mock brain that is merely an unthinking vessel for a device that will endure for a billion years. Learning to Be Me explores how a sensitive individual copes with the ramifications of doing such a thing. Egan takes this further in Closer, in which the protagonist’s obsession with knowing the unknowable subjective experience of others inspires extreme experiments with shared consciousness.

This is a superb collection of science fiction stories. A few are the kind that you only fully understand a week later whilst having a shower or laying on the couch listening to Fripp and Eno. As a fellow Perthite it was great to read stories with a recognizable Perth environment; whilst there are no specific Perth settings Egan conveys the feel of the place in many of these stories beautifully. I’m a late-comer to Egan, so it is probably a moot point to recommend him thoroughly, but maybe I’m not the only late one.


  1. I came across his name in my large SF short-story anthology but haven't read anything by him yet. You're review has convinced me that I need to read his stuff asap. Thanks for bringing him to my attention.

  2. No worries, I'm sure you'll love it.