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Greg Egan
Victor Gollancz, 249 pages

Greg Egan
Greg Egan was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1961. He attended the University of Western Australia, graduating with a Bachelor of Science. An early interest in film is apparent in his first published novel, An Unusual Angle (Norstrilia Press, 1983). Later sales to Interzone and appearances in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror demonstrated that he was truly developing as a writer, with stories such as "Learning to Be Me," "The Safe-Deposit Box" and "Axiomatic." His 2nd novel, Quarantine, came in 1993. Then came Permutation City (1994), a collection of stories, Axiomatic (1995), and Distress (1995). He has won the Australian National Science Fiction Achievement Award 4 times, his story "Cocoon" was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1995 and Permutation City won the John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in English in 1994.

Greg Egan Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Diaspora
Greg Egan Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

It's hard to think about science fiction in the 90s and overlook Greg Egan. A string of successful novels and stories, all overflowing with interesting and creative ideas, puts his name near the top of those authors who have come of age in the last decade. It feels a bit like nit-picking, then, to note that Egan has not yet written a really great science fiction novel. While there is no shortage of ideas and sense of wonder in his work, there has too often been a somewhat cold feeling to the characters. They lack emotional depth.

Now comes Teranesia, a near-future novel set mainly in the South Pacific, dealing with speculation in the biology of evolution. Teranesia is not a great SF novel, but it is a good one, and is strongest in exactly those areas where Egan's work has previously been the weakest.

Prabir Suresh and his younger sister Madhusree live on a small island that Prabir names Teranesia. Their parents are biologists studying mutations in a rare species of butterfly. When civil unrest breaks out in Indonesia, Prabir's parents are victims and Prabir and Madhusree flee the island. They end up in Toronto with their mother's cousin, Amita.

Amita is a politically correct academic who is the target of much vicious and hilarious satire on the part of the author. Prabir fears her influence on Madhusree, but his fears prove groundless, and his sister grows up to become a graduate student in biology. When reports of strange new species arrive from the area of Teranesia, a research expedition is organized, and Maddy signs on, over Prabir's objections. And it is at this point that the story begins: a quest to discover what is happening to the animals who live in the area.

Until this time, Teranesia has been almost completely concerned with establishing the character of Prabir, and Egan does a very good job of it. Prabir is a complete human character, whose fears and desires we come to know and understand in great detail. When he decides to follow Madhusree, his story starts to become mingled with the biological speculation.

At this point a strange thing happens. Though the last half of the book is filled with just the sort of ideas that have made Egan's reputation, it is not the speculation that is the most compelling component of Teranesia. It is Prabir and his emotional crisis that we are most interested in. In developing Prabir's character, the book has a relaxed feel to it that slowly builds to a crisis point, revealing the secret that lies at the heart of Prabir's emotions. With that, Prabir's story feels complete.

But the book doesn't end there. The emotional crisis occurs independently of the biological story, until Prabir's moment of revelation has passed. The genetic speculation then takes over for the final chapters of the book, which feel rushed in comparison to the rest of the novel. Teranesia is a hard science fiction novel that wants to be a novel of character, but doesn't quite know how to make it all fit together.

Don't let that keep you away. There is much to enjoy here, from the descriptions of life in the South Pacific to the satire of modern academic jargon. And best of all is the character development of Prabir, who is believable and easy to sympathize with. The parts just don't happen to add up to a larger whole.

Teranesia will do nothing to subtract from the author's reputation as one of science fiction's best idea men, yet the real strength of the book is Egan's growth in his ability to create a complete character, and in the display of a real sense of humour. Greg Egan may not yet have written a great SF novel, but the improvement he shows as a writer in Teranesia ensures that one day he will. We can all look forward to that day with great expectations.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson actually felt warmed by the fictional heat of Teranesia's South Pacific while looking out his window to the cold reality of winter in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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