Greg Egan
Quarantine (1992)
Reviewed: 1995-08-23

Intriguing; that is the attribute most befitting of the first SF novel of Australian writer Greg Egan. This book exemplifies the "what if...?" approach of science fiction. Take an assumption, a speculation, one that can range from seemingly trivial to preposterous, and follow it through with all the consequences that can be derived, including the non-obvious ones. This is what Egan keeps doing on various scales throughout Quarantine.

15 November, 2034. The stars go out. The solar system has been enclosed in The Bubble, an impenetrable sphere of a radius twice that of Pluto's orbit, centered exactly around the sun. From an Earth perspective, it looks like the rest of the universe has been engulfed by an event horizon. How? Why? Who? Nobody knows.

It's the second half of the 21st century. Earth has mostly managed to overcome the psychoses that appeared after The Bubble had come into existence. Bio- and nanotechnology have mingled with today's computer and communications complex to create entirely new possibilities. People can enhance their bodies; "neural mods" to the brain are installed like programs on PCs are today.

We enter the novel, told in first person and present tense, through the person of a private investigator, who uses some of the slickest tools SF has ever seen, in a world where technology has expanded to such a degree of sophistication and variety, of lack of control, that the legality of an action seems to be nearly irrelevant. His task: to find a mentally retarded patient who has been kidnapped from a psychiatric hospital for mysterious reasons.

It may not look exceptional at first, but by the middle of the book what started out as a conventional thriller set in front of an interesting backdrop has tied the foreground story with the secret of The Bubble, and become a most intriguing contemplation of meta-physics. Quarantine is not an easy book. It can tie knots in your mind, just the way it keeps tying knots in the mind of the protagonist. It is wildly imaginative and would have been deserving of a Hugo. You might want to read up on Schrödinger's cat before you tackle this book.

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