the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘David Brin’ Category

Existence USAExistence, by David Brin

published June 2012

where I got it: purchased new

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A favorite question of science fiction is one of first contact, and Existence is Brin’s answer. Even as a child, I knew of the concept of Fermi Paradox, even if I didn’t know the formal name for it.  The Fermi Paradox states that in an infinitely large universe, there has to be other planets with evolved life. So why haven’t we heard from any of our neighbors? Where is everyone?  Why is it so quiet out there?

It’s difficult to get into the nuts and bolts of Existence without giving away some of the plot, so be warned, this review contains a few spoilers.  Through the eyes of a half dozen characters of every walk of life, Brin offers the reader a much bigger picture than just first contact. This isn’t just a story about a space garbageman who grabs something shiny, or the story of a shoresteader who finds a buried treasure, or the journalist forced to relearn how to live her life.  This isn’t a story about individual humans, this is a story about humanity. And it’s an ambitious one, at that. (But wait, isn’t “ambitious”  exactly what we want from our science fiction authors, the perpetrators of our favorite “what if” question? Don’t we want the envelope to be pushed until it starts to tear at the edges, showing us something new and unexpected?)

One of the major plot lines follows Gerald Livingstone, who retrieves an artifact from high Earth orbit. The artifact is sensitive to sunlight and human touch, and soon proves to include nearly a hundred uploaded alien personalities in its crystalline structure. A message in a bottle of sorts, the aliens welcome humanity to the galactic culture, and offer untold technologies. As communication with the artifact moves forward, hundreds of other artifacts of similar design make their locations known, making the orbiting artifact simply the most recent to reach us.  What the aliens offer is incredible, is unheard of, is unexpected, is truly amazing. But do we want it? and can we trust them?

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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:

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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.

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Kiln People,  by Davin Brin

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used

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If this had been published today, I’m sure it would have started a frenzy of golem-punk stories. And who isn’t fascinated by the idea of golems? A non-person who exists for a fixed amount of time to do your bidding, and then melts away when they are no longer needed. The perfect solution to jobs that are too dangerous or tedious for humans, Dittos are certainly a sort of salvation.

In the near future described in Kiln People, technological advances are in the arena of the weighing and measuring of the human soul. “Ditto-ing” yourself has become so mainstream that many families have a private kiln and storage unit for clay blanks that are delivered daily. Simply lie down on the copier with your head between the tendrils, and a few minutes later a clay “you” sits up from the other table, ready to do manual labor, run errands, run your business, attend your classes, do your homework, or a myriad of other activities you might do during your day. The golem may be clay, but it’s still you. A you with your memories, your soul, your voice, and your mind. At the end of the day hopefully you return home to yourself for inloading, so the original flesh and blood you can get the memories your golem collected during the day.

Color coded to denote internal quality, golem society has it’s own stratified classist attitudes. Designed to only last 24 hours, if the golem can’t get home to inload at the end of the day, it reflexively seeks out a public recycling dumpster, to return to that which it was. The society Brin has created is incredibly fascinating, and was probably my favorite part of the book.

“Maybe we should suggest a 24 hour lifespan to the professor” “Nah, he’d never go for something like that. besides, what could possibly go wrong?”

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this is about two weeks worth of book hauling. and goodies in the mail from publishers who I want to give a giant hug to:

Let’s see what we got.  in an attempt to actually read the stuff I acquire, I’ve prioritized these. We’ll see how well I stick to my “rules” after a few months and another book haul. Don’t expect to see reviews instantly, I just this morning got back into town and haven’t started on any of these (just finished Sarah Zettel’s Fool’s War and then picked up Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies for our read along). I’ve also got few library books not mentioned here that I need to eventually get to as well.  Le sigh, the life of a book lover!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson (May 2012) I’ve been a fan of Kim Stanley Robinson since Red Mars. His science fiction is deep, detailed (really, really detailed. Like Neal Stephenson detailed) and realistic feeling. Ok, sure, Antartica was kinda boring, but I appreciated the concept. I am really looking forward to diving into 2312. Priority – high.

The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett – SF Noir? Perhaps some kind of mix of Dark City and Sam Spade? looks good to me! I loved Bennett’s The Troupe, so am excited to read more of his works. By the way, have you seen his recent book trailer? priority – medium

The Mongoliad book one (April 2012) by a multitude of cool people – I’m really not sure what this is. rumors were swirling around the interwebs a few years ago about some kind of subscription where beta-readers could interact with the authors about the story while they were writing it. Woah, totally meta! And Neal Stephenson’s name is on it. I therefore want to read it. Also stars this decade’s favorite historical character, Richard Francis Burton.    priority – high

vN – by Madeline Ashby (July 2012) Looks sort of like the author took Asimov’s three laws of robotics and removed them from our main character android. Also, she’s part human? and the environs are kinda Bladerunner-ish? Sign me up for some of that!!    priority – high

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.