Book Review: Existence

Book Review: Existence

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I haven’t read much by David Brin in the past decade or so, which is weird. In my 20s, I loved the Uplift books and pretty much everything else of his I could get my hands on, at least until Earth which I needed two attempts to get through, but did enjoy the second.

Existence is a different kind of book than the Uplift novels, or really anything else I’ve read of his. The idea of Uplift was mentioned in the book, so maybe it could be counted as an alternate future history to his previous work, but the notion of Uplift wasn’t pursued in this reality beyond initial stages. Still, the results of those initial stages helped things work out pretty well for one of the characters.

Fundamentally, this is a theoretical answer to the Fermi Paradox seen through a particular science fictional lens. It’s a minor spoiler to use the phrase “interstellar chain letter”, but how we arrive at that and where the story takes us from there are both fun in the reading.

The inclusion of spectrum characters was cool, though felt a little incomplete to me. Granted that these were mostly extreme examples to draw attention to differences, I think Mr. Brin was effective in showing that the neurotypical way of looking at objective reality is not always the only way.

On the subject of inclusion, it was also nice to see that not just western characters and countries affected by the events in the story. How well those other nationalities were drawn is a question that’s hard to answer, but every character came across as distinct and believable to me. Your mileage may vary, particularly based on personal experience.

Still on the subject of inclusion, I don’t think there were as many female characters as I might have liked, but still more than I may be used to in similar higher concept SF.

And there are other themes present than just the Fermi Paradox, notably a taste of one flavor of what transhumanism might look like, at least in this version of the future, and the idea that technology conquers all.

For the first of these, it’s always interesting to me to see what other people thing the future of human evolution might hold. For the second, the answer to the problems created by misusing one set of technologies isn’t always be answered by another set, though it can be. Sometimes, learning how to use (or not misuse) what you’ve got might be a better initial solution.

Overall rating: 3.5 stars. I’d like to go four, because I really enjoyed big parts of the book, but I also feel like there are big chunks of story missing, huge jumps in time where interesting stuff must have happened but got glossed over or written off in a sentence or two.

And there are older stories and essays used as building blocks here, which may explain certain things not being followed up on as much as I’d have liked and characters whose stories ended without quite giving me the satisfaction of a completed story with them.

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