Review: Quarantine by Greg Egan


In the summer of 1995, during my first visit to San Franscisco, after I attempted my first novel and before I started my senior year of High School, I purchased and read Permutation City by Greg Egan. I don’t think I’ve ever fallen so head over heels in love with a book before or since. That’s how long I’ve known about the existence of Quarantine, as it was mentioned in the “Books by Greg Egan” section at the front of Permutation City. However, I couldn’t immediately find a copy of Quarantine and the title didn’t really jump out at me, so it kind of fell off my radar.

After reviewing Spin, I read through reviews on amazon and someone mentioned that Spin and Quarantine had similar premises. I bought a used copy on the spot. The tag line for Quarantine is “It all started the Night the Stars Went Out.” The sentence that starts the earlier chronology in Spin is “I was twelve and the twins were thirteen the night the stars disappeared from the sky.” The narrator of Spin is named Tyler Dupree where as an off screen character in Quarantine is named Marcus Duprey. That last makes me wonder if Wilson was paying homage to Egan in a small way.

The first sentence of Quarantine let me know I was going to appreciate the book as noir. “Only the most paranoid clients phone me in my sleep.” The checklist of technological brain mods (complete with prices) was the first of many things that make me think Paulinuck read Quarantine before writing Fight Club. The collection of mods that explain the first sentence could easily have inspired the Van Eck phreaking sections in Cryptonomicon.

An ex-cop, with a technological hallucination of his dead wife as a side kick, heads off in search of a missing woman. Offhandedly it’s mentioned that the Solar System has been enveloped by what can only be explained as a reverse black hole. That becomes important later. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first will be followed easily by the casual reader, as will much of the second part. Eventually you reach sections where Egan doesn’t just talk about quantum mechanics but begins to tell the story in such a way that it can only be fully understood if you accept some of the seemingly paradoxical tenants of quantum mechanics. This is why this book is labeled “A novel of quantum catastrophe” and not just “science fiction.” It’s also why I found myself bouncing in my chair and mumbling “He totally wrote this JUST for me!”

Be sure to pay attention whenever there’s a break in the text

Conspiracies abound in the text, but my favorite is the Canon. Subverting your captor via a simple mathematical proof, consensus without compromise, weaving the noir back into the narrative, just when you thought the scientific metaphysics had taken over. I LOVE songs that crescendo on multiple levels (The Story or Black Parade). Quarantine does this in spades. Scenes that might have inspired aspects of The Matrix both reveal the inner workings of the narrator and explore the very fabric of reality.

I can’t praise Quarantine highly enough, but its target audience is probably the sophomore student of either physics or philosophy. It’s a short read and I’d love to hear the opinion of someone who’s never taken either a course in quantum mechanics or metaphysics. One last tid bit: reading Quarantine TOTALLY made me want to re-watch Fringe. The light board is 1000 times more awesome if I mentally picture Egan explaining it.

U Continuing on the Noir and Speculative Fiction trend, I just received an ARC of Finch. Now I have to decide if I start that or The City and The City next.

~ by mentatjack on August 12, 2009.

3 Responses to “Review: Quarantine by Greg Egan”

  1. […] Quarantine by Greg Egan […]

  2. […] find it intriguing to think about a quantum narrative outside of a narrative explicitly about quantum mechanics and it’s a perfect way to think about this […]

  3. I realise this is an old post but I read Quarantine a few months ago and have never studied any of the sciences beyond high school chemistry … I adored this book. I have loved every Greg Egan book I’ve read. Sure, a lot of it goes over my head but he has a real way of making all of this incredible science so beautiful and so human. I actually cried at the end of Diaspora because it was just so beautiful. So yes, people who haven’t studied metaphysics CAN enjoy this book. 🙂

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