the Little Red Reviewer

200 pages in, David Brin’s Existence

Posted on: November 25, 2012

I’m about 200 pages in to David Brin’s Existence, and I can already tell this isn’t the kind of book that I’ll just be able to kick out a 700 word review. Hopefully doing a few blog posts as I get through the book will help me organize my thoughts, and see if my predictions and concerns were at least in the right direction.  It’ll be fun to go back and reread these posts once I’ve finished the book. I will do my best to avoid major plot points and spoilers. I picked this up because I’ve been a David Brin fan for years and I was thrilled to learn that he had a new book coming out. this is one of those writers that I will pick up anything with his name on it. I trust him to deliver.

Existence is dense, it is sprawling, it’s sometimes completely unfocused, parts of it read like a thesis. God help you if this is your first David Brin, or if you picked this up thinking it was something to read casually.

First off, there are a ton of POV’s to keep track of. half a dozen people, not to mention the interludes and asides that serve as world building and convenient spots for infodumps. Many of the interludes are from something called Pandora’s Cornucopia. I’m not sure what exactly the Cornucopia is, but so far it seems to be a list of all the man-made and natural ways humanity could come crashing to an end – nuclear winter, flooding brought on by climate change, asteroid impacts, all sorts of morbid things, and then it goes on to say how we have or could survive them. there are some interludes by a deep autistic, and I had trouble understanding the syntax in them (perhaps that’s the point?).  there is a metric-tons worth of people and places to remember, and stuff to keep track of.

The first hundred pages are incredibly slow. they are mostly observations, and very little plot development. I can see a casual reader who picked this up thinking “hey, this looks neat. it’s got a hand on the cover!” putting the book down at this point.  I’m not sure where any of this is going, which plot lines are major and which are minor. Some sections have a cyberpunk feel that read like the bastard love child of Charlie Stross and Neal Stephenson. Other sections are biting observations on our addictions to tech, to multitasking, to progress, even when that same progress may not actually be moving mankind forward.

Brin is presenting more than just a story, he’s presenting an entire world, where everything is connected to everything else. I feel like a bit of a cretin for asking “but where should I be focusing? Just tell me what’s important so I can skim over the rest!”

200 pages in.  the major plot has revealed itself and it’s very, very intriguing, but I’m still feeling pretty lost. Existence is a good read, and I believe it will soon become a worthy read, but so far it’s not a fun read.  So sue me, I enjoy fun books.

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12 Responses to "200 pages in, David Brin’s Existence"

Why are you forcing yourself to read it then?

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I’ve been thinking about this my self ~ when do you say that this book’s not for me and move on?

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In this particular case, I’d committed to finishing this one before i even cracked the cover. I know in the end this one will be worth it, but the journey is mentally steeper than I expected.

when do I give up on a book? if it’s boring as hell, if I detest the main characters, or if I find it offensive or insulting.

And Existence is damn compelling.

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Hehe, this was my first Brin, and I did find it tremendously daunting – so much tech to learn about, so many POVs, so much science, etc. I was quite divided over it – some parts were boring, some parts were interesting, but almost all of it was tough to read and I often felt lost too. You’re right, it’s not a fun book, but by the end I felt that it was undoubtedly worthwhile. I want to read it again some day.

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If you’re interested in trying some more accessible Brin, I absolutely recommend The Postman, Earth, or Sundiver (the first Uplift book).

that’s why I’m still reading – I know it’ll be worthwhile, and the further I get, the more the interesting bits outwiegh the boring bits.

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There’s a conundrum, fun vs worthwhile. I also like a fun read so I should probably be sued too. I have a new ‘thing’ in the last couple of years where if I’m not enjoying a book after 100-150 pages I stop reading (although sometimes I still press on for an extra 100 or so – then I usually think ‘I might as well finish now!’) And, just to be clear, when I say I’m not enjoying it I don’t mean all books have to be fun, but if they become too much like real hard work then I don’t see the point. Reading is my pastime, my chill and my moment to become lost in something else and if it’s not that then it aint happening.
Lynn :D

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Next book I pick up is definitely going to be something fun.

Agreed – a book not being 100% doesn’t make it a bad book, just one that’s not buckets of fun. I’m getting used to the weight of this thing, but man, those first 100 pages or so were WORK.

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This was definitely not one of my favorite reads of the year. Too much of the hard sci-fi element and not enough in developing rich characters that make me care about anything. I can hardly remember what this book was about other than it being yet another novel where humans discover a strange alien artifact.

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When you’re done, come check out my review and see what you think. I found the novel a huge disappointment: interesting ideas, but structurally and narratively a chaotic mess.

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I just posted on your review. i’m not quite done with the book yet, but I agree 100% with your review, especially that last sentence, which was painful for me as well.

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Interesting. I posted this and it’s gone… This is just to let you know I’m not reading this post or the related ones as I’m planning on starting to read this one soon and don’t want any hints, spoilers or previews or stray thoughts. Hope you’re enjoying the book!

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LOL, I think your post on the the Calling all Book Bloggers just made a ton more sense. . . take a look, see what you think.

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