01/11/2008. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Gollancz. 346 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08209-0.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
Many of the themes and grand concepts from Greg Egan's earlier works come together in 'Diaspora', a book that left me dumb-founded with its astonishing scale. You've likely read other books that span millennia or even billions of year or that cross universes, but believe me this book will leave them all behind.
The setting is a 'polis' or software city full of AIs like those introduced in 'Permutation City' and also used in short stories such as 'The Planck Dive'. Other humans have transformed themselves into effectively immortal 'gleisner robots' that also featured in stories such as 'Transition Dreams'. Occasionally, the software randomly generates an orphan AI within the polis that pushes the boundaries of their existence. As Earth faces disaster, the orphan Yatima becomes involved in the fate of the planet.
The virtual life of the AIs is explored to the full by Egan who doesn't feel the need to make things too comfortable for our understanding. The personalities don't necessarily have a gender and manifest themselves with whatever icon they fancy. The possibilities of a software existence are fully extrapolated as characters spend time in artificial landscapes, perceive the same environment in completely different ways, run multiple strands of themselves or live in different time scales. It can be hard to comprehend at times, but is ultimately satisfying to the inquiring mind.
The psychology of their existence is explored, too. Beings who exist only as streams of data and have full control over their environment think differently to us and that is demonstrated in both their dialogue and their relationships. They have a different view of time, too, and that becomes especially evident as the book's grand climax is played out.
As with all of Egan's work there is much here to please the fan of hard SF and plenty to give your brain a good work out.
Gareth D. Jones
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