Welcome to Teranesia, the island of butterflies, where evolution has stopped making sense.
Prabir Suresh lives in paradise, a nine-year-old boy with an island all his own to name, to explore, and to populate with imaginary monsters stranger than any tropical wildlife. Teranesia is his kingdom, shared only with his biologist parents and baby sister Madhusree. The unexplained genetic mutation of the island’s butterflies that brought his family to the remote South Moluccas barely touches Prabir; his own life revolves around the beaches, the jungle, and the schooling and friendships made possible by the net.
When civil war breaks out across Indonesia, this paradise comes to a violent end and his family is broken apart, leaving Prabir with nagging feelings of guilt and an overwhelming, almost irrational, sense of responsibility for his sister. The mystery of the butterflies remains unsolved, but nearly twenty years later reports begin to appear of strange new species of plants and animals appearing throughout the region—species separated from their known cousins by recent, dramatic mutations that seem far too efficient and functional to have arisen by chance from pollution, disease, or any other random catastrophe.
Madhusree is now a biology student; proud of her parents’ unacknowledged work, and with no memories of the trauma of the war to discourage her, she decides to join a multinational expedition being mounted to investigate the new phenomenon. Unable to cast off his fears for her safety, Prabir reluctantly follows her. But travel between the scattered islands is difficult, and Madhusree’s expedition is out of contact. In the hope of finding her, Prabir joins up with an independent scientist, Martha Grant, who has come to search for clues to the evolutionary mystery and whatever commercial benefits it might bring to her sponsor. As Prabir and Martha begin to untangle the secret of Teranesia, Prabir is forced to confront his past, and to face the painful realities that have shaped his life while also dealing with the implications of an unprecedented biological revolution.
A scientific mystery, an adventure story, and a meditation on the origins of love, Teranesia is Greg Egan’s most ambitious and accessible novel yet.
Nine-year-old Prabir Suresh lives alone with his baby sister, Madhusree, and his biologist parents on a tropical Indonesian isle. Teranesia is so small and remote, it’s not on the maps, and its strange native species of butterfly remained undiscovered until the 21st century. Prabir never wants to leave, but war forces him to flee with Madhusree. He believes he has saved his sister—until she returns to Indonesia, a grad student seeking to carry on their parents’ forgotten work, pursuing reports of strange new plant and animal species. Prabir follows, to discover birds and orchids even stranger than the butterflies: mutants that are evidence of frightfully sped-up evolutionary changes with no discernable cause.
Greg Egan has received the Hugo Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. He was widely considered the best SF author of the ‘90s, and one publication (Science Fiction Weekly) has named him “perhaps the most important SF writer in the world”—high praise, but not unjustified. For evidence, check out not only Teranesia, but works like Diaspora, Distress, and Quarantine. —Cynthia Ward