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.
©2012 David Brin (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Lover of sci-fi and the occasional horror story. Philosophical inclinations. English is my second language.
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.
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.
The story starts out slow and I was tempted to stop listening several time in the first few chapters. I recommend you keep going, a lot of interesting things will eventually happen. Unfortunately a lot of very uninteresting things also happen. It is almost like Brin had a goal of writing over 500 pages and was not going to let the fact that he only had 300 pages of material stop him.
On the plus side, the book has lots of great science fiction material, ancient aliens, machine intelligence's, high tech gadgets, and exploration of the solar system. It even has some very good characters (Human and alien). I also found his plan for how other intelligent races would contact and interact with whatever life exists in the our galaxy to be novel and well reasoned. It explains very nicely why we don't see any evidence of life when look out into the Milky Way.
Of course there are also some problems, for some reason Brin is not able to simply tell what should have been a great story. Instead he is constantly interrupting the story with whole chapters that have no relevance to the story or even any real purpose. To make it worse when reading one of the chapters that does tell the story he will invariable end the chapter as if it was the last show of the season for an action adventure series on TV. Ever one of these chapters will end with the narrator saying something like "and then she saw something that will forever change the way we think of the universe" or "then something unimaginable came around the corner" . The chapter then ends and we get 40 pages about something completely different (different characters, different plot line). By the time Brin gets back to the main plot I have almost forgot where the story left off. I can forgive an author for leaving the reader hanging once or twice, it helps to build suspense. But by the tenth or fifteenth time Brin does this is just annoying. It happens so often and with such ham-fisted prose, it becomes laughable which totally breaks the mood of the story.
Brin also goes to extraordinary ends to include elements of his Uplift books in the story. Even though they add nothing and actually impede the story. It is almost as if he had a bet with his publisher that he could include 5 chapters about Uplift without making it seem like an unrelated story. I assume he lost the bet.
Even with all the problems I am still going to recommend the book, just because I liked the big ideas the book presents.
Insightful Intriguing Inspiring
Tor. She is the type of person we should all aspire to emulate.
The ending. This is one of those rare tales that has a very satisfying conclusion. I obviously can't describe what I liked about it without spoiling it.
Absolutely. When I absolutely had to put it down to sleep, I had the headphones back on before I even got out of bed when I woke up.
I'm beginning to find that my tastes no longer align with the majority of reviewers, so I didn't let the mixed reviews put me off. SciFi is my favorite genre when done right and my least favorite when done poorly (unfortunately, most of today's SciFi falls into the latter category). This is one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read.
In the Afterward for his book Earth, David Brin laments how hard it is to write a Science Fiction story set 50 years in the future, and how historically nobody has ever gotten it right. Here brin takes another pass at a near now. A future world neither Utopian or Dystopian. Just "Topian"....
Existence jumps around between its various characters in a scattered way, many are never fully fleshed out, and some simply fall off camera when they cease being interesting to Brin. Existence is a novel that either needed to be longer or shorter, cutting out the minor characters or giving them better resolution.
Still that issue aside the story is interesting and well narrated, the aliens and the threat/opportunity they represent are refreshingly original. This is however very much a book about ideas not people. The book is intended to be thought provoking, not to lead you down the familiar path of interpersonal drama.
Also noteworthy is the fact that Brin writes what I consider to be a solid ending to the story, Brin's biggest failing as an author has always been his Deus Ex Machanica endings, While there is a tiny touch of that here, it is a much better ending than seen in his other novels.
The inexorable logic and analysis, as well as sheer human courage, that leads to thwarting a terrorist threat.
My favorite scene was the one where Tor Pavlov defeats and intelligent laser with the assistance of her AI "son", then tells him she's proud to have him as her partner. This scene sums up the book's intertwining of large concepts with human minutia.
What if at first contact, the others say "have I got a deal for you ..."?
The narration by the three voices was awesome - it really helped keep the intricate story lines and personalities straight. Great job, all!
The book had excellent insights into what might happen in the near and not so near future.
My favorite characters were the crystals.
It was too long for that.
A most enjoyable future history!
I really need to start proof reading my Reviews before I post them.
The story is about how people learn from the mistakes from the generations before, and how they go about making their own.
Every time there was a huge leap forward in the society, you could feel the hope and wonder the population was emanating... that moment of "what if". Then that wonderful hope was deflated by the nay-sayers, who didn't want society to change, to keep everyone in the status quo for their own selfish desires.
I struggled with my this, my final paragraph, for a little while. Everything I wrote was laden with spoilers, imagined or implied. So I will say, I do hope our world can face the future with the dignity and ingenuity that was portrayed on our behalf.
p.s. this story has aliens, cyborgs, uplifted dolphins, asteroid mining, habitations in space, caste based societies, underwater treasure hunting, and dirigibles.
It took a while for me to get into this novel, but I got hooked and am happy I did so. It is a prequel to the uplift series, something I didn't realize. Brin has some interestingly unusual ideas about AI and its proliferation. Recommended.
I can only give David Brin's latest a 3.5 - It models itself on John Brunner's Stand On Zanzibar as a near future exploration of vital topics but the very long mixed together narratives with no character as a central focus for long ended up often putting me to sleep.
Love the ideas, the near-future forecasts, the characters individually, but it doesn't quite become the epic it should be. Most of the threads are amazing, the ideas are amazing, the whole not so much. Disentangling this book might have helped, I would like to hear "Pandora's Cornucopia" and "Aliens, Choose Why You are Silent" and some of the characters stories all in one block. The last third of the book, once people go out into the belt, could also be a great stand alone.
If you like your SF on the intellectual and hard side and are curious about Fermi's Paradox you should really get this book. Not for casual readers or listeners.
"Shame that the whole book is not on the download."
Don't bother. The end of the book is missing from the download.
Shame that this was not seen by Audible.
As an avid listener of audiobooks and a real sci fi fan I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately I found it disjointed, difficult to follow and not a good listen. I got all the way through hoping it would improve but it never did. It seems to jump around a lot, discuss lots of good ideas and situations, but never gives you enough detail or explanation to real get into the characters and enjoy the story. I really could not see hte point of some of characters and the side stories at all, it just confused. The premise of the book is good, just did not like the way it was actually written. Traded it back in I am afraid.
"Stick with it..."
This book is absolutely fantastic. Actually, its IMPORTANT. But it took me a while to get into, and there are a few things I just had to decide to overlook (some of the language - ie it is set after some world-altering event called 'Awfulday', etc.), and in a way the book is a vehicle for the author to explore the theory and questions around artificial intelligence, alien life, and how humanity would react to first contact (which doesn't happen as you think it would!!). It is imaginative, and the further in you get, the more each thread of the story falls into place, and parts of the story that you thought may be 'filler' had intention from the start. It is my most recommended new read of the year, but you have to persevere - stick with it for rewards!
"Not my thing"
I like a book with alot more action and alot less philosophy i also found it quite annoying in places especially the rasta man !
So not my thing but some people might like it.
"Such a great book"
David Brin is a master, and this book is hugely better in many ways than it's predecessor, "Earth", which is none the less fantastic. Several of my SF reading friends prefer the more psychedelic introspection of authors such as Philip K Dick and find the near-futurism a bit far reaching, technology obsessed and overly optimistic, not to mention telling the wrong story, about the environment of the characters instead of the characters themselves. It's true that Brin's characters are excessively wonderful humans, who's flaws even are advantageous. It would be great to see a real bad character in the next one. But the sheer scale of the imagination he possesses and his grappling with the larger, exo-existential questions is amazing. This is my second reading and I hazard it will not be my last.
"Right up my street"
What a fantastic book! I loved it's structure. Excellently complicated each character could have their own book. The whole thing could of easily been a trilogy of books.
"Good story though gaps are evident."
Yes, it does feel slightly disjointed, with a few gaps but the story is good so don't let that put you off. It kept my interest although it was long and if anything, I would say that this needed to be longer. It leaves you with the feeling that this was supposed to be a trilogy. We have at least four very interesting central characters that are much too underdeveloped. On top of that we have more peripheral characters that could be better developed within their stories.
"Not such a sad existence"
Kept me amused and coming back for more - got a little weary half way through with some of the inevitability of the story line and then picked up at the end with a lesson on life I guess you could say. Overall this was well worth listening to if you enjoy an intelligent tale of a possible future. I see from other reviews that I should try Earth next.
"Best novel since "Earth""
It's a great story, well told
I realised about 10 minutes in that this is his best book since "Earth". While Brin has been reasonably prolific in terms of output, I first discovered him via "Earth" and was then somewhat let down by other books which had a very different feel. If you liked "Earth" you'll absolutely adore this.
Well delivered, good pace.
It's a long book and as it was so good I found myself almost wanting to 'ration' myself to a few hours a day while on holiday!
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