Short Fiction: Border Guards by Greg Egan
I reread Border Guards by Greg Egan last night, because I’m writing a story about quantum mechanics. I always enjoyed it’s description of quantum soccer and wanted to revisit the descriptions. I’d forgotten that it was such an intense story after the game ends.
The paragraph about Lie Groups hit me with nostalgia like a ton of bricks. One of the last classes I took in college was a math seminar called Complex Semi-Simple Lie Algebras. I took the class for two reasons. It was an intro to some of the math involved in string theory and that was just cool. Also, a tight circle of friends that I’d never actually had classes with were all taking it. I took it pass/fail, and mainly remember the people. I’m not sure I understood that paragraph in Border Guards any more this reading then I did when I could only pick out the meaning of Lie Group in context, but it definitely brought to mind that group of friends.
The story then shows an existence where the understanding and dissemination of knowledge is infinitely more important than discovery. That’s something I need to hear more often, sometimes many times a day. I’m a knowledge seeker and I often regret not continuing my physics studies further to the point that I might be in the position of discovery. It’s important to remember how powerful acquiring and sharing knowledge is in its own right. Keeping that in mind is what will drive me to keep writing.
The second to last big issue the story deals with is death. I had a rather surreal brush with death over the holidays when my apartment’s onsite manager passed away New Year’s Eve. I’ve lost other people in my life, but no one that was “important yet tangential” like Barbara was. I first read this story 2 years before my baby brother passed away and it definitely hit me harder this time now that I have both his memory and the recent loss of Barbara.
Last there is the titular border. Not a physical border, but a philosophical border between paradigms. It’s the border between labeling wars good and bad vs living with the constant threat of terrorism. It’s the border between economic systems twisted to the breaking point and whatever comes next. It’s the border between the industrial revolution and the end of fossil fuels. It’s the border where great science fiction exists. It’s the border that can describe both the post-human singularity and countless more mundane yet equally interesting science fictional transitions.
I’ll have to read the story again for the writing inspiration I was seeking. This read it ended up offering me much more to think about. It’s online, go read it: