01/08/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Orbit. 547 page enlarged paperback. Price: £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50172-7 pub: TOR/Forge. 566 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), $31.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-0361-5) .
check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net, www.tor-forge.com and www.davidbrin.com
It's hard to believe that it's been over a decade since David Brin's last novel. In fact, my taking up of this review gig kinda interrupted my reading his last three 'Uplift' novels and still haven't had the time to catch up with yet. This one, 'Existence', I wasn't sure if it was or wasn't part of the series as Brin's love of dolphins still comes over here but this appears to be a red herring or dolphin, especially when there are so many Science Fiction references.
Trying to work out what is going on though is a bit difficult. Much of the first half of the novel is a travelogue of the future Earth that has personal AIs that are linked to the future Internet and the various people it helps. If anything, there are too many of them and the discovery of alien artefacts is mixed up in all of it. I'm not sure if Brin wants to show off with all the knowledge he has accumulated in the past decade and bring it into this novel or what. In many respects, I'm soldered on, trying to work out what is going on than dwelling too much on that. Having large sections of background in italics is going to hard press a lot of readers to absorb the material. I found even I had to focus hard to keep it going and suspect that there's far too much conditioning in many of us to treat italics as inconsequential information away from the main text. Whether that is a good thing or throwing readers a hardball is hard to say, just don't ignore them.
Let's see what I've worked out. There's wealthy Hacker Sander, who's somewhat out of the mix after his space capsule crashes into the sea sand, rescued by a school of dolphins and discovers them to be markedly intelligence and whose plot-line suddenly vanishes. There's the delightful colourful scientific expert and Jamaican sounding Professor Noozone who I wish there was more of. Then there's humble Peng Xiang Bin, the discoverer on Earth of another alien artefact stone that can hear its voices and who is effectively kidnapped but at a price, some of which is given to his family for his services. The real breakthrough is with Gerald Livingstone and the artefact stone aliens are willing to give all the information that they ever want. Blended into this, Brin covers the very valuable point why we're never likely to meet aliens by problems of distance and longevity. An odd one, especially as the aliens offer longevity. One part of the deal they have to commit to is allowing a copy of one individual to be added to the stones so they can go on looking for the next civilisation.
Just when you think you've got a grasp of what is going on, Brin reverts back to oblique only with the artefacts themselves. Any advances in human technology, like the AIs, are sadly forgotten. If you are going to show the smoking gun, AI or dolphin, shouldn't it be used at the end?
Brin admits in the afterword, that he's following the trend of other SF authors in using the choices available to our current reality, although looking at who he lists, I hadn't spotted it in their material unless he's reading advance manuscripts.
In many respects, I ended up thinking that Brin wanted to show a complex world in a way that you would have to share that reflects how he sees our reality is changing. Doing this, he is moving away from the emphasis on the standard protagonist/antagonist situation we normally see in novels let alone being able to root for anyone in particular. Whether you're prepared for that in this more of a mind-screw, is something you'll have to decide for yourself because there is so much that needs to be absorbed. I found, in many respects, that it easier to read on than contemplate my naval with the amount of information he imparts cos it saves getting distracted. I suspect a lot of readers will find themselves overwhelmed and trying to work out where Brin is taking all of this.
Don't expect a standard Science Fiction novel and you'll probably find 'Existence' a bit easier to read. Hopefully, now Brin's got this book out of his system, things should get back to normal.
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