(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Greg Egan is one of my favorite authors ever. His harder-than-diamond science fiction and his wild philosophical speculation are light years away from what most writers are capable of dreaming, let alone putting into words. Thus, when I first learnt that Karen Burnham was writing a book on Egan's work I knew that I had to read it as soon as possible. I had already listened to the episodes of the SF Crossing the Gulf podcast (starring Karen Lord and Karen Burnham herself) devoted to the Australian author and I had thoroughly enjoyed them, so I was expecting a lot from this book. And I was not disappointed.
First of all, I must mention that this is not your typical literary theory book. For one thing: Burnham's writing is extraordinarily accessible. You won't find here obscure critical terms that only a handful of people know the meaning of or references to cryptic papers which Ivory Tower academics published in arcane journals. Burnham's book can be read and enjoyed by anyone with an interest in Egan's work, despite their academic credentials, and that is something to be praised and celebrated (at least in my humble opinion).
The book is divided in five chapters that systematically explore Egan's novels and short stories from a number of different points of view: his main themes and obsessions; his characters; his approach to issues such as gender roles in fiction, the ethics of science or the rights of artificial and digital beings; his stance on religious beliefs; his examination of identity and consciousness; the central place of scientific thinking in all his writing. Most of these ideas might be already well-known to dedicated Egan's readers (and I like to consider myself one of them), but Burham's clarity of exposition and organization is nothing but brilliant. Thus, it is really a pleasure to revisit Egan's work under this new light, noticing details that you may have missed the first time.
For instance, it was quite a revelation for me (and it made, on its own, reading this book worthwhile) to learn that Greg Egan was, for more than ten years, a fervent believer in the existence of God, following what may call a sort of mystic experience. This brings totally new meanings to Oceanic, one of the stories by the Australian author that I have thought about the most since I began reading his work. This putting Egan's work in context, by means of references to his non-fiction writing or to a number of interviews with him, is one of the strongest points of Brunham's essay, and her own, very long interview with the author (exclusive to this book) is especially interesting.
My only problem with this essay is that, because of the way it is organized (around themes and not around particular works), some of the ideas and some of the summaries of the stories are repeated in different parts of the book. Although this is not a big concern, I think that it could have been avoided and it would have made the book even better. Also, but this is to be expected, there are lots (and I mean lots) of spoilers, something that can be an issue for those not familiar with Egan's work.
All in all, I highly recommend this book to any Greg Egan fan and to anybody who wants to explore in more detail the work of the author. Karen Burnham has certainly done a great job of analyzing Egan's work and of exposing it with rigor and clarity and in an accessible and interesting way.