the Little Red Reviewer

400 pages in: David Brin’s Existence

Posted on: November 29, 2012

I’m now around 400 pages into Existence, and it’s like I’m reading a completely different book by a completely different author.  The pace has drastically picked up, the plot now has every bit of my attention,  the characters are getting interesting, it’s damn good.   And the reveal? damn.  and the second reveal? holy shit, hotdamn! I now care about what is happening in Existence, and the scales are quickly tipping from “disappointed” to “this is pretty damn cool!”

But will they tip enough?

As my interest in the plot has increased, so has my appreciation for the asides and commentaries on near-future technologies and society’s reaction to them. Things like crowdsourced journalism and whistle-blowing, theories about autism, gene manipulation, self replicating machines, our growing interactions and dependence on the internet, the possibility of uploading the minds and personalities of people who are trapped in severely damaged or disabled bodies,  so many things that many of us are talking about right now.

Even better, reading the book now feels like enjoyment rather than work.

Still, some severe annoyances keep rearing their ugly heads, such as a wordplay trick that quickly feels gimicky,  loose ends that don’t go anywhere, and writing mechanics.

minor spoilers ahead:


the wordplay trick: Brin is showing us (or at least that’s my guess) that AI tech is ubiquitous by putting “ai” into words to denote the thing uses AI tech, leading to words like aissistant, contaict lenses, aixpert daitabases, and an anthropomorphic submersible becomes a sea serpaint. The trick works fine in some words and contexts and less well in othersRegardless of if my guess about reason for the wordtrick, after a while it felt very gimmicky, especially when it became inconsistent. Beyond the gimmicky feel, is this going to be like Mieville’s Railsea ampersand trick, something that won’t translate to audio?

Loose ends – a lot, and I do mean a LOT of time is spend on some very interesting plot lines. Including a family that has been forcibly split up, a poisoned politician, a billionaire with an earth shattering secret, the Uplift project, all sorts of really neat things and a handful of cliffhangers. And even though I’m not done with the book yet, there is a major directional turn in the story leading me to believe that without a doubt, none of these interesting plot lines will ever be returned to.

My other half has already finished the book, so we’re constantly discussing it, depending on how far I’ve gotten through it.  Last night he said he loved what the Existence was saying, but the book just didn’t speak to him in the right ways and I agreed completely.  I compared Existence to Radiohead’s Kid A. That was the last album of theirs I bought because that’s when they stopped speaking my language, and that’s not to say Kid A doesn’t have its merits, and Existence does as well. Existence has something amazing to say, but it’s not speaking my language. I’m getting bogged down by the syntax and the baggage. Or something.

I am starting to wonder if Existence was never meant to read like a traditional novel, with a beginning, middle, end, character development or a clear-cut plot.  Maybe Brin designed it to be snapshots and moments, a kaleidoscope of civilization Earth at the moment that humankind faces a crossroads.

I don’t mean for these “progress” posts to be all bashing.  I’m not out to convince anyone to not read David Brin. By all means, go find a copy of The Postman, or Earth, or KilnPeople.  Working on these posts has been very helpful to me as a process of understanding what Brin was going for with Existence. I know I’m getting more out of the book by writing these additional blog posts than by just reading it and then trying to sum up my thoughts in 800 words or less.

I expect to finish the book tonight, so formal review with organized thoughts coming soon!

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3 Responses to "400 pages in: David Brin’s Existence"

I think this is a good idea actually, breaking your thoughts down in this way. I sometimes think I should make notes when I’m reading so I can remember my exact thoughts at a particular point.
I confess that I wouldn’t pick this one up – even if you write the most amazing review tomorrow – I think if I have to read 400 pages before I start feeling anything positive then that would just be ‘no’.
On the positive side I do appreciate a book that provokes thought and discussion – and this one certainly seems to be falling into that category. At the end of the day I’d rather feel anything at the end of the read, even if it’s negative instead of just ‘meh’.
Lynn :D

Awww man. You hate me. Don’t you care how many books are in my to-be-read mountain? Because even though you are skeptical about the novel, this post activated the “get the book” itch.

“. . . . my appreciation for the asides and commentaries on . . .” – I hope your final review expands on your feelings on this. I’m rather hit or miss when authors take such asides to chat with us about this, that, and the other. Also, I’m glad your blogging your progress has enhanced your reading of the book.

***I allowed this spam through because it’s the best spam I’ve ever gotten. Author information has been edited to keep links out. I assume this is a paragraph out of a book? Anyone know what it’s from? -redhead ***

That first week, I read the book so often that I memorized the words; I knew the layout of the pictures on the pages. I dreamed that I was being chased by Rapscullio or forced by Captain Crabbe to walk the plank. Each week, I’d bring the book back to the library, because that was school policy. I’d have to wait until it was returned to the shelf a day later, giving someone else a chance to read it. But what other ninth grader cares about fairy tales? The book was always waiting for me, so I could check it out again and reconfirm my position as Public Loser Number One.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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