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08 Dec 2008


More hardcore sci-fi from Egan. Here, Egan takes some quantum theory questions to their simultaneously logical and absurd conclusions. As it’s more of a related topic than one might think, he also spends a lot of time covering neural implants which can affect mood, motivation, and that sort of thing.

The basic gist of the story is that a private eye (it’s always a private eye in sci fi) gets mixed up in a plot to produce a neural implant which removes a human’s propensity to collapse wave functions. Since the observation of wave functions causing them to collapse is utterly non-understood, Egan basically postulates what would happen if we turned that off. Why, after all, do humans not simply become a further part of the superposition?

Along the way, he’s jacked up with a loyalty modification, giving him unending loyalty and devotion to a mysterious organization. This absurdity eventually circles back on itself, as surely the only organization members with sufficient devotion to the cause are those with loyalty implants…but if that’s the case, what, exactly, is the organization? Whatever is in their heads? It’s very strange.

The ending(s) is rather absurd. It more or less has to be: macro-scale quantum effects will be just as nutty as quantum-scale ones. It’s pretty bizarre, by the end…the main character, running through life, rolling phantom dice to decide what he will do next. Whichever of him succeeds first wins, and gets to collapse. The rest of him, if they exist…continue perhaps not existing. It’s absurd. Finding the bad guy consists of chopping the city into chunks 40 square meters across, rolling dice to figure out which one to go to, and walking there. One of the copies will find him.

Egan is still not quite as involving as Stephenson…but he’s funny, and it all makes me think.