Best-selling, award-winning futurist David Brin returns to globe-spanning, high concept SF with Existence.
Gerald Livingston is an orbital garbage collector. For a hundred years, people have been abandoning things in space, and someone has to clean it up. But there’s something spinning a little bit higher than he expects, something that isn’t on the decades’ old orbital maps. An hour after he grabs it and brings it in, rumors fill Earth’s infomesh about an "alien artifact". Thrown into the maelstrom of worldwide shared experience, the Artifact is a game-changer - a message in a bottle, an alien capsule that wants to communicate. The world reacts as humans always do: with fear and hope and selfishness and love and violence. And insatiable curiosity.
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Will its universe envelop you?
I have noticed that reviewers are very divided on this book. I am one of those that found it amazingly entertaining. But might it be for you?
I had not read anything by Brin before, but will now. "Existence" tells me he is one of the authors that puts more emphasis on ideas rather than characters, sometimes even creating characters only to illustrate a philosophical notion.
To me then, he is an expert in making the philosophy I love come to life. He shows how abstract thinking might matter and he makes thinking the central activity around which the novel revolves. I would place him in the tradition of Asimov's Foundation series, although the philosophy Brin represents, is less invested in modernist and chauvinist notions of man's control over nature and the future. Brin's characters cannot control society or plan the future, but they try to matter in a universe driven by chance and that is partial to diversity.
So, if you are a lover of philosophy and other fields of ideas, you will love this book. On the other hand, if you find philosophical thinking boring, you will probably find the novel boring. Thirdly, if you are a person that have difficulty following abstract lines of reasoning, it is possible you will find the book difficult to follow and its plot full of lacunae. Many reviewers have this third kind of comments on the book, which actually made me a bit hesitant before I bought it. Although my comprehension of English is quite good, I do have difficulties following novels where timelines and plots are experimentally rearranged for some lyrical purpose. To my relief, I found "Existence" is not one of those novels. My conjecture is therefore that Brin's book is difficult to follow if you have difficulties following the ideas that are the actual core of the book. The plot does make some jumps in time here and there, and those can be irritating if you are invested in a certain character or series of events. The jumps are much more tolerable if you follow the ideas Brin develops.
There are however two slight shortcomings. Brin overuses the cliff-hanger trope. When every chapter ends with something akin to "He turned around and could not believe his eyes", it does become a nuisance. Secondly, although Brin mostly explores ideas, he sometimes starts to advocate them and does it too openly. The whole point of the plot, I would argue, is that humankind have choices and needs to embrace diversity. As that is a viewpoint I endorse, I am always hesitant when sci-fi authors advocate a certain way of doing things, rather than explore hypothetical scenarios. Brin should have excluded his postscript in particular, where he openly "explains" the thinking behind the novel and comes with some frustrating admonishments for humanity. I believe the novel is much more effective when that kind of advocacy is left out. With those two shortcomings, this otherwise brilliant novel only gets four "story stars" from me.
- Andreas Henriksson
And answer for "Where are the aliens"
That Dr Brin took his Futurist ideas to a story
A battle on a blimp
Dr Brin is a physicist and a futurist. He not only tries to figure out where current tech is going, he tries to figure out its impact on society. In this book, he takes all that to extreme levels and tells a story. It contains one answer to the question, "Where are the aliens" With over 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, there should be some around. He also includes a lot of what is happening now, such as global warming. I quite enjoyed the story he built around this.
- David E