Greg Egan

The dreamers must flow. 

If I’m right, then of course it makes no difference what I do; if all the versions of me who received the tip-off simply marched out of the whirlpool, it would have no impact on the mission. A set of measure zero wouldn’t be missed. But my actions, as an individual, are always irrelevant in that sense; if I, and I alone, deserted, the loss would be infinitesimal. The catch is, I could never know that I was acting alone. 

I’d rather swim in this cacophony of a million contradictory voices than drown in the smooth and plausible lies of those genocidal authors of history who control the Hazzard Machines.

I couldn’t give up hoping that the next book I opened would start with the words, ‘One sunny morning a boy woke up, and wondered what his name was.’

For the past eleven years now, I’ve been spending my days at the host’s workplace. It’s certainly not for the host’s sake; I’m far more likely to get him sacked by screwing up at his job than by causing him one day’s absence every three years. It’s, well, it’s what I do, it’s who I am these days. Everybody has to define themselves somehow; I am a professional impersonator. The pay and conditions are variable, but a vocation cannot be denied.

As for worrying about those alter egos who desert, or fail, or die, there’s a simple solution: I disown them. It’s up to me to define my identity any way I like. I may be forced to accept my multiplicity, but the borders are mine to draw. “I” am those who survive, and succeed. The rest are someone else.

they replaced the isotope trigger with a manual control, and took turns trying to change the immutable future. Hazzard said, in a interview several months later: “At first, it seemed like some kind of perverse reaction-time test: instead of having to hit the green button when the green light came on, you had to try to hit the red button, and vice versa. And at first, I really believed I was ‘obeying’ the signal only because I couldn’t discipline my reflexes to do anything so ‘difficult’ as contradicting it. In retrospect, I know that was a rationalization, but I was quite convinced at the time. So I had the computer swap the conventions – and of course, that didn’t help. Whenever the display said I was going to open the shutter – however it expressed that fact – I opened it.”

I couldn’t hit the wrong button, no matter how hard I tried. And then, after a while, the whole thing began to seem perfectly … normal. I wasn’t being ‘forced’ to open the shutter; I was opening it precisely when I felt like opening it, and observing the consequences – observing them before the event, yes, but that hardly seemed important any more.

As a birthright, though, everyone on the planet is granted one hundred and twenty-eight bytes a day. With the most efficient data compression schemes, this can code about a hundred words of text; not enough to describe the future in microscopic detail, but enough for a summary of the day’s events.

I believe we’ve lost nothing; rather, we’ve gained the only freedom we ever lacked: who we are is now shaped by the future, as well as the past. Our lives resonate like plucked strings, standing waves formed by the collision of information flowing back and forth in time.

(People have talked about automating the whole process – transmitting what must be transmitted, without any human intervention whatsoever – but nobody’s ever done it, so perhaps it’s impossible.)

The soon-to-be Opposition Leader never tired of listing the promises the new Prime Minister would break; she in turn countered with statistics of the mess he’d create as Treasurer, in the mid-eighties. (The causes of that impending recession were still being debated by economists; most claimed it was an “essential precursor” of the prosperity of the nineties, and that The Market, in its infinite, time-spanning wisdom, would choose / had chosen the best of all possible futures. Personally, I suspect it simply proved that even foresight was no cure for incompetence.)

“Do you know what gambling is? Gambling is a kind of tax: A tax on stupidity. A tax on greed. Some money changes hands at random, but the net cash flow always goes one way – to the government, to the casino operators, to the bookies, to the crime syndicates. If you ever do win, you won’t have won against them. They’ll still be getting their share. You’ll have won against all the penniless losers, that’s all.”

The TV ads for the game were the most crass and emetic

They wasted too much time using ineffectual chemicals before steeling themselves to nuke the site. By then, the winds had already made any human action – short of melting half a dozen states, not an option in an election year – irrelevant.

I’d sworn to myself that I’d keep on working, keep on living exactly as if nothing had changed. The idea of indulging in a credit spree, or a world trip, or some kind of self-destructive binge, held no attraction for me at all. Any such final fling would be an admission of defeat. I’d go on a fucking world trip to celebrate my cure, and not before.

It was more a matter of nostalgia than miserliness; this minuscule bit of hacking was a token gesture, proof that in spite of impending middle age, I wasn’t yet terminally law-abiding, conservative and dull.

Revenge? Revenge was for the morally retarded. Me, I’d signed petitions to the U.N., calling for the world-wide, unconditional abolition of capital punishment. I’d meant it then, and I still meant it.

Out-of-body experiences are supposed to suggest proximity to death … but then, all the thousands of people who’ve reported them survived to tell the tale, didn’t they? With no way of balancing that against the unknown number who must have died, it’s absurd to treat the situation as signifying anything at all about my chances of life or death.

These two men are not close – but that’s not the end of the world. They’re not close to a few billion other people, either. It doesn’t matter.

The process of deciding what would or wouldn’t be acceptable to my corporate clientele required no intellectual or emotional exertion; after two decades in the business, it had become a purely mechanical act – as uninvolving, most of the time, as standing at a conveyor belt sorting nuts from bolts.

My parents were machines. My parents were gods. It was nothing special. I hated them.

They talked about Plato and Descartes and Marx, they talked about St. Augustine and – when feeling particularly modern and adventurous – Sartre, but if they’d heard of Gödel, Turing, Hamsun or Kim, they refused to admit it. Out of sheer frustration, in an essay on Descartes I suggested that the notion of human consciousness as “software” that could be “implemented” equally well on an organic brain or an optical crystal was in fact a throwback to Cartesian dualism: for “software” read “soul.”

I quit philosophy

a neural net is a device used only for solving problems that are far too hard to be understood

Then the corpse can go into orbit – preferably around the sun. I don’t care how much it costs, just so long as I don’t end up part of any fucking natural cycle: carbon, phosphorus, nitrogen. Gaia, I divorce thee. Go suck the nutrients out of someone else, you grasping bitch.

I’ve psyched myself into half believing that I couldn’t live with myself, however understanding other people might be, and that helps a little. The only trouble is, this lie might be self-fulfilling, and I really don’t want to become that kind of person.

Out on the street, in the dazzling sunshine of a warm Atlanta morning, a dozen young children were playing. Chasing, wrestling, and hugging each other, laughing and yelling, crazy and jubilant for no other reason than being alive on such a day.

When even the law can keep up with you, you know you can’t be doing anything very radical or profound.

Mapping strange attractors; if that’s not rationalist jargon, what is it?” Maria shrugs. “Basins, attractors – they’re all rationalist words, but everybody uses them. You know what they say: the Devil has the best tunes, but the rationalists have the best jargon. Words have to come from somewhere.”

The street here lies about thirty degrees off radial.

I leave a small electric lamp on the windowsill – carrying it with me would render it useless

I stare into the darkness of the room’s inward corner, and yell, “Crouch down, as low as you can,” then mime doing so. I pluck the demolition gun from my backpack, and aim high. The recoil, in normal space, would send me sprawling; here it’s a mere thump. I step forward, giving up my own chance to use the door. There’s no immediate sign that I’ve just blasted a meter-wide hole in the wall;