Cover illustration by David Ho.
This latest novella from Greg Egan, Australia’s reigning master of hard, rigorous SF, is an astonishment and a delight. With great economy and precision, it tells the story of an unprecedented new disease—the Dispersion of the title—and its effects on both individual sufferers and the fragmented social structure they inhabit.
In a world not quite our own, every living thing is born into one of six discrete “fractions” that are incompatible with—and often invisible to—each other. These fractions have coexisted peacefully for centuries, but now a disease has appeared that seems to drag the infected parts of the body into a different fraction. The effects are devastating. Individual victims suffer painful, protracted deaths. Entire communities turn against one another, and a state approaching perpetual war takes hold.
Against this backdrop, Egan has constructed an absorbing account of people determined to confront, comprehend and ultimately overcome a disease that has no recognizable cause, that threatens to obliterate the bonds that hold the human community together. Like the best of Egan’s earlier work, Dispersion is both wildly imaginative and plausibly detailed. It offers the sort of unique narrative pleasures that only science fiction can provide, and that Egan’s many readers have come to expect. They won’t be disappointed.
From Publishers Weekly:
“The title of this remarkably resonant hard SF novella from Egan (Perihelion Summer) refers to a disease that wreaks havoc through a low-tech world whose inhabitants are born into one of six fractions, parallel but incompatible planes of existence... Egan’s worldbuilding is nuanced and imaginative and he expertly dramatizes the relationship between the fractions by showing fires, floods, and assassination attempts that originate in one fraction and manifest invisibly, but dangerously, in another. This is a prescient parable for a time of global pandemic and social distancing.”
“Dispersion combines motifs from all over Egan territory: the social-ethical drama of people under extreme stress of Perihelion Summer and The Four Thousand, the Eight Hundred; the diseases of Distress, “Silver Fire”, and “Reasons to Be Cheerful”; and the gnarlier physics-and-math exertions of Schild’s Ladder or Incandescence or the “Luminous”/”Dark Integers” duo.”
From Locus Online:
“A last angle that Egan fully exploits is the human prejudices and hatreds and competitiveness that arise amongst clans formed by ultimately meaningless and arbitrary distinctions… So the novella also functions as a parable of all those fault lines in our own society: racial, sexual, ethnic or what have you.”
A general note about Greg Egan's fiction from Tor.com:
“Egan’s fiction is more scientifiction than most of what passes as science fiction today. He believes that science fiction should be as hard, rigorous, and scientific as physics or mathematics… There are writers and there are writers’ writers, and I read Egan because I am a writer. For most readers, Egan’s books offer epic or intellectual ‘conquests’—he is the go-to man for challenging, complex ideas, whose fictional inventions are discussed on Silicon Valley forums.”
- David Ho
- Greg Egan
- 160 pages