Thursday, 19 December 2002

Greg Egan: Teranesia (1999)

Edition: Gollancz, 2000
Review number: 1137

This novel cunningly avoids two clichés of the science fiction genre, something that in itself makes Teranesia an interesting read for aficionados. The first, one which has tended the ghettoisation of science fiction as a genre considered suitable only for adolescents, is the coming of age story of a precocious teenager. Central character Prabir Suresh is certainly precocious, but his adolescent years are omitted - in part one he is not yet a teenager, and in part two and the rest of the novel he is in his twenties. The second cliché is the science fiction novel which is more interested in ideas than people, something which is a problem with other Egan novels. Prabir is an interesting central character not just because a homosexual non-Caucasian hero is unusual in genre fiction, and his personality is made more central than the idea. (This is why it takes almost the whole novel for it to become clear just what its main idea actually is.)

In part one, Prabir is a nine year old child, living on an otherwise deserted Indonesian island with his biologist parents and baby sister; his parents are there to investigate some strange mutations in the butterflies of the region. Political instability becomes civil war, and armed men kill the adults; the children are able to escape and end up in Canada with their aunt (made a figure of fun by Egan for her post-modern relativist ideas). In part two, about fifteen years later, Prabir has a strong emotional reaction when his sister (now a student) wants to join an expedition to that part of Indonesia, where abnormalities are beginning to be observed in a wider range of animals.

The biggest problem that Teranesia has is its ending - which it is not really possible to discuss without giving it away (so you are warned!). Things seem to be heading towards a bleak finish rather similar to Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, when a frankly unconvincing happy ending is suddenly contrived. It undermines the whole novel, leaving the reader unsatisfied. Up until the last ten pages, Teranesia is a most enjoyable read, better than most genre novels.

No comments: