Eos/HarperCollins / 304 pages / 1 December 1998
Been awhile since you’ve read any hard science fiction? I mean, really hard scifi? Well, if your brain is ready for a workout, you must give Diaspora a try. Honestly, if there had been a test at the end of the novel, I would have had no chance. The combination of particle physics, quantum physics, relativity, and every other course I would have “dropped” in college made it a challenging read. But, one of those challenges that pays off.
In the year 2975 the Earth is still alive, although it’s in a form none of us would recognise. Pollution, war, overcrowding, and all the other joys of civilisation, have pushed humanity into new directions. Most “people” exist as complex programs inside computers called “polises”, one of which is named Konishi. Many have transferred their minds and personalities into robots. The purists remain in some semblance of human form on the vastly altered planet.
Diaspora follows the lifespan of Yatima, a Konishi citizen. In one of the most mesmerising passages in the book, the reader experiences Yatima’s creation and “birth.” Complex and artificial, it nevertheless mirrors the natural process of self-realisation and learning of all sentient creatures.
And, there lies the heart of the book; no matter how advanced the characters in Diaspora, they are at their deepest levels, still human. Intertwined with the complex theories and mind-boggling calculations, is the story of life. I suppose it could be any form of life, but in this case, it is humans, or just plain people.
From a wider viewpoint, it is a story of survival and the costs of survival. Egan tracks his creatures through a seemingly endless chain of events that carry them ever further from their beginnings. Loss, discovery, and renewal mark the passage of time for readers; the characters barely register the passing of years. So seamlessly does Egan handle the segues, it is all too easy to get swept up in the flow, to move forward lifetimes without noting the race into the future. When one does pull back to scrutinise the time span, it seems breathtakingly real. There is no way to put on the brakes.
But, let me not forget the impressive science that fills every moment of Diaspora. The list of reference sources backs up the obvious fact that Egan dove into the research that made the novel such a demanding and rewarding read. (Let me clue you in ahead of time that there is a glossary of terms in the last pages of the book that should make it easier to get your mind around the sometimes exhausting science and pseudo-science.) He dares you to stretch your mind to consider the impossible and the impossibly complex. It is a tribute to his skill as both a writer and a mentor that Egan leads us to accept his version of reality completely.
It’s a different world between those covers — a world where the Diaspora is the only plausible answer.