Existence (book, David Brin, 2012)

SFX #223.


Author: David Brin

Publisher: Tor Books

Brin tackles Fermi again.

Brin’s back with another story exploring the Fermi Paradox (short version – Where are all the aliens?), a theme he’s returned to time and again in his work.

When an alien artefact is snagged in Earth orbit, and a similar one is uncovered in the submerged ruins of a Chinese mansion, it looks like the age-old question of whether we’re alone or not is answered. And then things get bad.

In some ways Existence could be read as a prequel to Brin’s Uplift stories (it’s not explicitly stated), with the human race still planet-bound but possibly about to take that great leap into space. Brin’s backdrop here is a neurotic near-future bereft of privacy, where everyone is online all the time. Technological advance and globalisation have led to the decline of democracy and the reassertion of aristocratic privilege, and the twitchy populace see an apocalypse around every corner.

If anything this is the book’s strongest and weakest aspect. Brin’s way of presenting his future is via a tsunami of data. He socks every last detail to you hard, and that extends from how micro-economics work to his character’s mannerisms. It’s too much, and makes reading a slog. His usage of faux neologisms containing the letters “AI” goes from playful to annoying quickly, while the overall tone is irksomely didactic. Thankfully, things become quicker once we’re into alien invasion territory.

Overall, this is a good SF novel. For some readers, it will be a brilliant one.

Did you know?

Brin has written a number of articles taking Star War and The Lord of the Rings to task for promoting elitist power structures!


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