Aug 12, 2012

Book Review–Existence by David Brin

I am still at odds with my feelings toward Existence by David Brin.  It is an epic book, in both page count and the story it encapsulates.

Of recent times there has been a suggestion that science fiction no longer gives us that hope- that our problems can be solved, that we can dream of far flung empires in galaxies far far away.

We landed on the moon in 1969, and it seems that we really haven’t done much since then.  Part of this stems from a better understanding of the extreme difficulties of travel even within our own solar system, the failure to find extra terrestrial life with SETI and perhaps even the current social and economic malaise in America. 

The current “thing” is dystopias - a chance to recast the world’s only superpower us an underdog or perhaps just a continued expression of youth casting off the mistakes of previous generations and starting anew?

Two books this year have bucked that trend, 2312 by Robinson and  Existence by Brin.  Brin extrapolates from current circumstances and gives us a world with risen sea levels, a multi-tiered immersive internet, artificial intelligence and uplifted animals.  Into this cacophonous, melting pot comes a first contact scenario.  A crystal pellet shot across the vastness of space carries within in it uploaded life forms, from civilisations long dead with a message for humanity. Whether we should trust it, whether it’s real, what threat it poses, make up the main part of the novel.

Existence feels like an ensemble movie, there’s not really a central character, but 3 or 4 that get a a well rounded development. I  fell short in my reading, of developing a deep connection with any of them.  But perhaps I am judging the novel by the wrong standards.  I think  Existence is perhaps more of a return to what we generally think a science fiction novel is?  More a book that is a vessel for an idea, planting a message, a hope and warning in the mind of the reader, much like the Crystalline pellets.

For much of  Existence I teetered on the edge of interest, I much prefer very character centred novels.  There seemed to be too many strands to pull together.  For much of the text I felt that  Existence was another of those hard Sci-Fi books where the likelihood of us extending civilisation beyond the solar system was nil.  This feeling was turned on its head in the last 150 pages with an ending that seems to one of hope and optimism, if we can just remain non-typical in regards to the fate of most civilisations.

Existence is not necessarily for the “hard science” Sci-Fi reader, but its certainly not a book that I would recommend to someone inexperienced in science fiction conventions and tropes. 
As for me, well I am still thinking and perhaps that was Brin’s intent.

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost

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