It's the late 30th century, and mankind has splintered into diverse beings: the human fleshers, the Gleisner robots, and the artificially intelligent polises. Polis orphan Yatima has traveled back to Earth as an interstellar disaster is about to destroy the planet, beginning a monumental struggle for survival. Greg Egan explores issues of human identity in a future world. It's a heady concept that is grounded by Adam Epstein, whose sober and clear-headed approach - as well as his judicious use of accents to delineate the characters - makes Diaspora a fascinating exploration of human existence.
Behold the orphan. Born into a world that is not a world. A digital being grown from a mind seed, a genderless cybernetic citizen in a vast network of probes, satellites, and servers knitting the Solar System into one scape, from the outer planets to the fiery surface of the Sun. Since the Introdus in the 21st century, humanity has reconfigured itself drastically. Most chose immortality, joining the polises to become conscious software.
Others opted for gleisners: Disposable, renewable robotic bodies that remain in contact with the physical world of force and friction. Many of these have left the Solar System forever in fusion drive starships.
And there are the holdouts. The fleshers left behind in the muck and jungle of Earth - some devolved into dream-apes; others cavorting in the seas or the air; while the statics and bridges try to shape out a roughly human destiny.
But the complacency of the citizens is shattered when an unforeseen disaster ravages the fleshers, and reveals the possibility that the polises themselves might be at risk from bizarre astrophysical processes that seem to violate fundamental laws of nature. The Orphan joins a group of citizens and flesher refugees in a search for the knowledge that will guarantee their safety - a search that puts them on the trail of the ancient and elusive Transmuters, who have the power to reshape subatomic particles, and to cross into the macrocosmos, where the universe we know is nothing but a speck in the higher-dimensional vacuum.
©2013 Greg Egan (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
I would recommend the story to a friend if they were up to the conceptual challenges the plot contains. Egan's intricacy of detail is extremely worth persevering with, but it's dense and some passages require close scrutiny. I would not, however, recommend this recording to a friend (see later answers).
This is hard Sci-Fi. It's characters are not its strong feature. As such it's heavily concept driven, and you read it for those, not for character-development. In the constraints of the genre however, I thought they were all suited to their roles, but I don't have a favourite.
I originally read this as an e-book. I was fascinated to know how a professional narrator would move through this story, dealing with its esoterica: from the subject-specific jargon to the neutral personal pronouns. This would be a challenging read for any narrator; we are immersed in a world and assume the viewpoints of its inhabitants, who don't think it's strange at all. Egan creates this effect beautifully. So far I've skipped through the audiobook only, but so far I've been appalled. The pace is slow and is sufficiently lacking in phrasing as to make it an uncomfortable listening experience, to the point where it is difficult to know what words belong with what. It also makes what was quite a surreal read positively dreary and painful. The books own conventions were clearly poorly understood, leading to uneven emphasis, and a general plodding relentlessness to the delivery. A book with Diaspora's object and Diaspora's target audience, requires much more pre reading, linguistic and typographical care, and general attention to detail than has been demonstrated by this performance.
I think that this book would be totally ruined by a movie adaptation. It's so in-the-mind that to have the details dished up for you would completely miss the point.
One of the best Hard Science Fiction stories I've read in years. One of the most mediocre audio-performances as well. Had I known I would have saved my credit for another title. May it be a lesson to me to preview things before checking out.
Very "hard" sci-fi, Diaspora's main characters are AIs, the protagonist being "born" early on. They can run points of view that allow them to enjoy a work of art as if it were someone else perceiving it for instance. There's no faster than light travel and this isn't a space opera, it's an introspective tale of exploration.
If you're frustrated with science fiction that let action get in the way of rigorous explanations of the science behind what's going on, this book is for you!
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