Orthogonal Writing

Greg Egan: Orthogonal



When Yalda was almost three years old, she was entrusted with the task of bearing her grandfather into the forest to convalesce.

Dario had been weak and listless for days, refusing to move from the flower bed where the family slept. Yalda had seen him this way before, but it had never lasted so long. Her father had sent word to the village, and when Doctor Livia came to the farm to examine Dario, Yalda and two of her cousins, Claudia and Claudio, stayed close to watch the proceedings.

After squeezing and prodding the old man all over with more hands than most people used in a day, Doctor Livia announced her diagnosis. “You’re suffering from a serious light deficiency. The crops here are virtually monochromatic; your body needs a broader spectrum of illumination.”

“Ever heard of sunlight?” Dario replied caustically.

“Sunlight is far too blue,” Doctor Livia countered, “too fast for the body to catch. And the light from the fields is all sluggish red. What you’re lacking lies between those extremes; a man of your age needs umber and gamboge, saffron and goldenrod, jade and viridian.”

The interesting thing about this synopsis is that it reads like AI generated text, with the appearance of unusual concepts (‘monochromatic crops’), expanded definitions (‘more hands’) and puns (‘flower bed’). Yet Egan’s book series is a well-paced and carefully plotted family saga, in the tradition of The Onedin Line by Cyril Stanley Abraham, a sea-faring history with many characters.

Exploration & challenges
Exploration & challenges

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