Dark Integers and Other Stories (2008)

If I can find any fault with this collection, it’s that while the quality of the fiction is as high as in Egan’s other collections, the quantity isn’t. There are only five stories and one of them has already been collected before, even if it makes sense to bundle it here. It’s just that there are still so many stories by Egan who haven’t been collected before, that I feel like this is a chance missed to really shine by putting together more stuff.

Three of the stories have been published after Egan’s hiatus from writing had ended, and if these stories are any indication of things to come, I’m happy to report Egan is back and hasn’t lost his touch. Luminous, the one story that had already been collected before, gets a sequel with Dark Integers. Luminous has always been one of my favorites of the early Egan stories (and since they where all great, that’s not an easy feat), but Dark Integers even surpasses it.

There’s an unusual edge to the story, a touch of realpolitik very uncommon to Egan’s early work. His characters are still similar to earlier characters, wanting for a better world, but this time, unlike in an earlier Egan story, they don’t strife for the best solution, but for the more realistic one that may isolate both universes from each other while saving them. There’s no further chance of mutual learning or sharing of knowledge, survival trumps everything.

Similarly, Glory doesn’t end with the characters spreading the truth they’ve learned with no concern for the consequences and neither does Riding the Crocodile ends with the characters having overcome their death wish and accepting to live forevermore. These changes in direction are very subtle, but to me they still seem noticeable, if you compare Glory to a story like the Planck Dive or Riding the Crocodile to Border Guards. I’m not even sure whom I like better, the early Egan or this more seasoned one. But it’s good that, despite these changes, the quality of Egan’s fiction hasn’t suffered.

Luminous (1995)
Riding the Crocodile (2005)
Dark Integers (2007)
Glory (2007)
Oceanic (1998)