on May 19, 2002
I absolutely loved this book! I knew little about Quantum mechanics before reading this, and now I have a good understanding of the concepts covered in this book. I learned something, but I also had a great time reading the story.
He develops some brilliant ideas, including neural mods that allow you to "program" your brain and run "apps" and tools to control your body, your thought processes, your emotions, etc.
I didn't like that it was set in New Hong Kong, though. The Chinese names really ran together and made it harder for me to visualize the characters, especially considering that he is an Australian writer writing for an English-speaking audience.
The ending really left me pondering. I don't think that I would have chosen that particular ending, but it is satisfying and left me wanting for more!
I was hoping for something a bit more when I decided to read Quarantine by Greg Egan. The concept was excellent, and it started off well. But in the end, it descended into technical explanations that ruined the story for me. Those who are less into story and more into "thinking" might love it, however.
The basics of the story work for me. In the future, you can download your brain to live online, and that's a big business. The story revolves around a private investigator who has to figure out the disappearance of a mentally disabled lady. She has the ability to escape from seemingly secure holding areas, and that means she's found a way to manipulate the concept of parallel universes. This has to do with the ability to collapse universes that have spawned as part of all the billions of possibilities that could happen with every choice that someone makes.
Egan does a good job of playing with the Schroedinger's Cat situation... at what point does your observation become the reality that you see and that actually happened. The only problem I had is that too much of the story ended up devolving into theory related to that angle. For those who want to think deeply about that scenario, this would be a good read. For those who are more interested in the story line, it slowed dramatically at that point, and I could have done with less of that.
Obtained From: Library
on November 21, 2001
The premise of this story is that our everyday world of experience is underpinned with a series of smeared, multi-valued quantum-probable worlds. My first whine is who picked the title, Quarantine--one having nothing to do with the story? Next the importance of the Bubble asked the reader to stretch since man hasnï¿½t ventured outside the solar system--who, besides academia, cares if the star show flickers out? The Author peeks into the future and finds that brains have been augmented with nanobug implants to make the wearer focused, loyal, strong, brave, this or that. I liked the cyber enhanced PI but after awhile it seems like Nick was playing a chess game with his own head. Also each implant enhancement came at the high cost of stifling human qualities. Finally, I liked the secret Ensemble group but got lost when the new secret, splinter group, The Canon, declared war on the Ensemble. The reader never finds out whether the original Ensemble groupï¿½s goals were good or bad.
Gregï¿½s story started out great but somewhere along the trail the theories of quantum physics, eigenstates, collapsed multiverses, and nanobot implants smeared up the ending, but good. I thought I was on board until page 264 when Nick burns that clean hole in the bad guys head. Then this tough guy PI turns baby-puss! It seems his brain implants are turned off and heï¿½s never ever killed anyone--ï¿½my guts are squirming.ï¿½ Then the name of the story becomes pick your ending--the reader gets several alternative conclusions. None of them are prepared for. At this point it doesnï¿½t really matter which ending you pick since they were all equally arbitrary. The ending was murkier than the probability waves that never seemed to collapse. ï¿½Am I still smeared, Mama?ï¿½
All in all it appeared that the storyï¿½s multi-layers of quantum complexity were inserted for their own sake, rather than to allow characters to develop and work out their conflicts.
on February 8, 1999
Quarantine begins as a high tech future thriller, with a private detective being hired to find a missing woman in a late 21st century Australia where, among other things, one can download software into one's brain, something has sealed the solar system within an impenetrable Bubble, and New Hong Kong has been built on top of Arnhem land. But these glimpses of an exciting future are never really developed or explored in detail, as the book's focus quickly shifts to the metaphysics of quantum mechanics. This is a science fiction oldie, and one that is usually dealt with rather poorly. (Giving humans conscious control over fundamental physics is all too often used as a deus ex machina to solve the plot problems at the end of a novel. Orson Scott Card's Xenocide is a recent example of this.) Egan makes one big (massively implausible?) assumption - that wave function collapse is the responsibility of a particular part of the brain and that with the right neural modification people can learn to avoid doing it, producing a "smeared out" universe - but otherwise his scenario is internally consistent. Even more importantly, Quarantine actually tries to "follow through" on the consequences of its assumptions, and manages to bring something of their full metaphysical immensity home to the reader. If you are interested in this kind of exploration of quantum mechanics then Quarantine is worth a look; if not then you will probably find it rather frustrating
On the whole, I think I enjoyed this book - film noir sci-fi, sort-of Sam Spade meets the Neuromancer. With an easy pace and well crafted story, the atmospheric narrative rolls along nicely until, about two thirds the way through when, surprise, surprise, we get hit with buckets full of quantum mechanics. The enjoyable narrative romp grinds to a halt while the unfortunate reader is lead through the finer points of particle duality, Schrödinger's Cat and the `many worlds' universe.
Back in the heyday of sci-fi the stories were all about androids, weird aliens, weirder civilisations and FTL drives and the masters of the genre really knew how to grab, and keep, the reader's attention. The cover art, too, was brilliant. I'm glad I have a well stocked library of Asimov, Pohl, Harrison, Aldiss and others when I need a fix of proper sci-fi. I don't want to appear too harsh, however. I've certainly read worse, but on the other hand, I'm looking forward to reading something better.
on April 26, 2001
Egan's "Quarantine" is an elaborate mind-bender that takes place after the formation of the "Bubble," an impenetrable veil that mysteriously encapsulates the solar system. Against a backdrop of subdued hysteria and infinitely useful neural modification, "Quarantine" focuses on the inexplicable disappearance of a mental patient and the mind-stretching lengths a private detective goes to find her...and whatever's left of his own identity after the death of his wife. What he finds proves to be one of the most intriguing plot devices in science fiction, handled with the same sensibility on display in "Distress." Egan's deeply human treatment of futuristic ideas (artificial personalities, quantum matter manipulation) makes "Quarantine" a topical, innovative read as gripping as Greg Bear's "Blood Music" or Arthur C. Clarke's "Rendezvous with Rama." Greg Egan is a contemporary master of the genre.
on May 22, 1998
I was bored silly by this book, which speculates on ways the human mind may be able to manipulate quantum mechanics. While the beginning of the book was engrossing -- with a well-drawn main character, and the beginning of a good, futuristic mystery plot -- the story soon bogs down. The main character is captured, forced into the service of a faceless corporation that is doing quantum research, and begins to learn how to mentally manipulate subatomic particles. Over half the book is taken up with discussions of the relationship between "choice" and "being." These are, unfortunately, never very interesting. The main character keeps speculating, in an endless soliloquy, on what he is doing, why he's doing it, and what it really means. By the time the I reached the end of the book, I had no sympathy for any of the characters, no interest in the story's outcome, and no desire to read anything else by Egan.
on December 6, 2000
Some people have criticized Quarantine for its lack of characterization. Frankly, if you're looking for that kind of book, you're in the wrong place. Don't get me wrong: I love a good character-oriented book--but Quarantine is much more about drowning the reader in a profound sense of wonder.
Be forewarned, this is not light reading material: Egan demands full intellectual participation from his reader, and a reader without a basic understanding of quantum mechanics and the many-worlds theory might not enjoy Quarantine as thoroughly as someone with that background. But if you're willing to put in the effort, this is a richly rewarding book to read.
(One more warning: I strongly suggest that you not read the description on the back of this book. Not only does it spoil the plot, but it is also very misleading and it ruins a great deal of the story's suspense.)
on June 7, 2001
Quarantine is a brilliant page turner. I love the science fiction private-eye sub-genre but what surprised me was Mr. Egan's intuitive grasp of quantum theory. I would recommend this book for the enjoyable story but also to anyone who is about to embark on learning quantum mechanics. People who study it always complain that QM is all mathematics with very little intuitive grasp. A few authors have quantum insight like Feynman but even he said that no one truly understands the quantum world (siding with Neils Bohr). Well, Egan manages to make the implicit manifest in the "normal" world for us. At the same time he gave me a mystery that kept me guessing. A great read! I am now primed to read all of his books especially his short stories. Check out Greg's home page for a real treat! Greg, you are brilliant!
on January 29, 1997
This is truly a hard-sf whodunit. The Hero is an ex-cop private eye with so much physics under his belt to make me wonder . . .. The mystery peels off like an onion, revealing another mystery, on and on. Meanwhile, the reader is educated on non-obvious speculations on the nature of reality from the standpoint of a hard-core scientist--the Hero is one intellectual PI indeed. Plot flows well, but leaves a couple of loose end, and sadly, the closing is weak. Dialogue is usually good, but sometimes the narration is too didascalic, I feel I'm not reading fiction, yet it's so interesting that I don't care. Characters are almost credible . . .. But then, I'm picky. Don't look for sense of wonder, though