400 pages in: David Brin’s Existence
Posted November 29, 2012on:
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!