Monday, November 18, 2013

Review of Oracle by Greg Egan

In a tribute to Alan Turing, Greg Egan’s 2000 Oracle puts science to the test in ideological and practical terms.  The novella soaked in theory, Turing is represented by the fictional computer scientist Robert Stoney, a homosexual man imprisoned and tortured for his lifestyle choices at the end of WWII.  Broken free of his prison by a most unique ‘saving angel’, the two escapees are later challenged by one John Hamilton, a Classics professor at a prestigious university who strongly disbelieves the possibility of science’s ability to create a thinking computer.  A thinly disguised C.S. Lewis, Hamilton proposes a debate to Stoney on BBC which, interestingly, sees one using the ideas of the others' expertise as proof. 

At heart, Oracle is thus a hotly contested ground of scientific theories and their relationship to reality.  The juxtaposition of science vs. creationism waved in the reader’s face, anyone with an interest in the philosophy of science and religion should pick up this novella.  They will find this one of Egan’s most dense stories from an ideological perspective—Turing and Lewis his combatants.  Very little plot buoying matters along, the story is a platform for Egan to promote his pro-science views (like the majority of his fiction), as well as get in a few jabs at the issues which result from too narrow a worldview.  Given this side-stepping of plot and emphasis on theory, the ‘story’ is one of Egan’s better written as his skills as a technical writer coming strongly to the forefront in positive effect.  

And did I mention the time travel motif?

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