If nothing else, this is a departure from Egan's previous books. Maybe he has mellowed, maybe he has run out of steam, or maybe he simply wanted to write a story like this one. To readers who not only have become accustomed to being hit by a barrage of ideas, but who have come to expect it, Teranesia could be disappointing.
When Prabir Suresh was a child, he moved with his scientist parents from Calcutta to an uninhabited Indonesian island. The adults were biologists who came to study a species of butterfly that showed a series of remarkable mutations. In Prabir's youthful imagination the island was populated with frightful creatures, so he named it Teranesia, monster island.
Now, eighteen years after the fateful events that forced Prabir to flee the island with his then baby sister Madhusree, more mutant species are starting to show up throughout the Moluccan Islands. Madhusree, who is working on a biology degree, wants to join a scientific expedition and return to Teranesia to continue the work their parents couldn't finish. Haunted by inner daemons, Prabir follows his sister to Indonesia, where he teams up with another biologist and is drawn into an exploration of the mysterious mutations.
Egan unobtrusivelty confirms his identity as an Australian writer by setting the story in a part of the world that draws a blank in the European or American consciousness. Among all of his novels to date, Teranesia is set nearest to our own time, and although Egan in his usual way seamlessly blends in some future marvels, he doesn't dazzle us with inventiveness. There is a single outstanding idea: the central scientific mystery, which is plenty mysterious, increasingly horrifying, and a far out concept. Much of the novel is concerned with Prabir's emotional struggles and the ways he tries to come to grips with the past. Unfortunately, this didn't much resonate with me. For lack of a better term, Teranesia is a more conventional novel, with a single idea, like Egan used to dispense them in short stories, giving rise to a character driven narrative.
It remains to be seen whether Teranesia will mark a permanent change in Egan's writing or merely present an excursion.
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