Customer Reviews


245 Reviews
5 star:
 (98)
4 star:
 (52)
3 star:
 (42)
2 star:
 (33)
1 star:
 (20)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


153 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting entropy
Could there be a more ambitious title than Existence? David Brin earns forgiveness for his hubris by pulling off a dazzling exploration of humanity's response to the inevitable end of everything -- a redefinition of human existence. No small story, Existence strives for epic status. It is far-reaching, thought-provoking, and above all, entertaining. Existence is an...
Published on June 19, 2012 by TChris

versus
45 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is a glut of these books, now, and this one is OK/Fun.
There is now a glut of futuristic, mildly dystopian books about humanity in the coming post-modern, near-singularity world. Vinge, Stross, Brin, and a dozen others have mined this field to the point where story telling has suffered, and ten-cent thinking has gloomed over the genre.

In this book, Brin makes two huge mistakes. He recounts a lecture delivered by...
Published on July 2, 2012 by Patrick McCormack


‹ Previous | 1 225 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

153 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fighting entropy, June 19, 2012
By 
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
Could there be a more ambitious title than Existence? David Brin earns forgiveness for his hubris by pulling off a dazzling exploration of humanity's response to the inevitable end of everything -- a redefinition of human existence. No small story, Existence strives for epic status. It is far-reaching, thought-provoking, and above all, entertaining. Existence is an idea-driven novel that doesn't skimp on plot or interesting characters. The story -- structured as a tapestry of interwoven plot threads -- changes directions more often than a miniature golf course. Since no summary could do it justice, a quick identification of the threads will have to suffice.

Operating a long bola tethered to a space station, Gerald Livingstone grabs orbiting space debris before it can do any damage. After snatching a puzzling object from orbit, Gerald eventually realizes that it is a communication device, an alien emissary. Understanding what its many voices are trying to communicate becomes a daunting task that captivates the world's imagination. Peng Xiang Bin, collector of salvage in flooded Shanghai, finds a submerged object that closely resembles the orbiting artifact. Intriguingly, the "worldstone" is communicating a different message than its orbiting rival.

Hacker, the playboy heir to a fortune whose hobbies include amateur rocketry, befriends some unusual dolphins after his reentry vehicle crashes. Hacker's mother, Lacey, is a member of the powerful clade that exerts influence over nearly everything. Tech-bashing apocalyptic novelist Hamish Brookeman is a proponent of the Renunciation Movement, which wants to slow the development of technology until wisdom catches up. A reporter named Tor Povlov is on the verge of becoming a media star when a life-altering experience forces her to change the way she investigates and reports. More than the others, her storyline showcases the Information Age on steroids.

Eventually all of these plotlines (and others that are late-blooming) come together, although sometimes only loosely. Most of the story takes place on Earth but space junkies will be happy with the final 150 pages. Scattered chapter breaks provide information that adds texture to the narrative. The most salient of these are excerpts from Pandora's Cornucopia, which examines and catalogs threats to human existence. Add to this mix a sort of freeform autistic poetry that makes copious use of +/- symbols and you get a sense of the diverse and varied ideas and writing styles that Brin incorporates into the novel.

Although much of Brin's future is familiar -- eyewear that reveals or blocks a wide array of virtual inputs, evolving AIs, a Balkanized America -- he treats the reader to fresh ideas: a worldwide autism plague, homesteaders rebuilding cities that are buried underwater, public urination as a way to recycle phosphorus, self-righteous indignation (the enemy of reason) as a brain-altering addiction ... and more. Fans of knowledge will enjoy the discussions of ancient history, political theory, gene-splicing, brain chemistry, and the Fermi paradox, while science fiction fans will appreciate Brin's references to classic works in the genre.

Thankfully, Brin doesn't feel the need to describe every aspect of his imagined future in painstaking detail. Brin has the self-discipline to integrate information into the story, avoiding the pace-deadening exposition that mars the work of some writers. Brin skillfully blends his wealth of ideas with the necessities of good storytelling: an entertaining, carefully constructed plot and believable (if not always multidimensional) characters.

While Brin leavens the plot with humor and action scenes, the novel raises profound questions about the nature of existence -- how long humanity will endure, how it will end, how it will change, and what the human race is prepared to do to make its collective life last. Perhaps Brin's point lies in a quotation from Jamais Cascio that appears in the text: "in bad times, pessimism is a self-fulfilling and fatal prophecy." Or perhaps the point lies in a quotation from Darwin about the impossibility of understanding the "complex contingencies" on which existence depends.

Much like the world of the present, Brin's future is filled with sincere people who are frantic to save the planet while arguing about the nature of threats and proposed solutions, thus exacerbating the problems they seek to correct. Yet I was impressed by the sense of balance and optimism that pervades Existence. Brin pokes fun at prophets of doom while recognizing the need for cautionary voices. He is respectful of scientific achievement while acknowledging the reality that technological advancements often outstrip mankind's ability to use them wisely.

The true nature and purpose of the communication devices makes Existence one of the most imaginative first contact stories I've encountered. Existence is a little messy, as you would expect a novel of this length to be, and it drags in spots, although not often. If it doesn't quite succeed in its ambition, if the various plot threads don't perfectly cohere, if parts of the story get lost as the novel lurches forward in time, if some of the characters are a bit underdeveloped, Brin nonetheless deserves credit for accomplishing so much in this intriguing and captivating novel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


45 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There is a glut of these books, now, and this one is OK/Fun., July 2, 2012
By 
Patrick McCormack (New Brighton, MN USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
There is now a glut of futuristic, mildly dystopian books about humanity in the coming post-modern, near-singularity world. Vinge, Stross, Brin, and a dozen others have mined this field to the point where story telling has suffered, and ten-cent thinking has gloomed over the genre.

In this book, Brin makes two huge mistakes. He recounts a lecture delivered by one of his characters (and has another bored by it!). And he interlards a series of entries from made up guides, encyclopedias, and futuristic authors. Heck, he also from time to time has one character explain the world to another. These devices let Brin slip into his story telling a great amount of gloomy, the world is going to face challenges lecturing, and this is boring. Face it, we want to be shown these points of view through story telling, with wit and humor, not through lecturing.

When Brin does tell his story, he is pretty good. Interstellar civilizations using pellets, crystal stones that communicate. This first contact is both a puzzle and a threat. Pretty good tale, and interesting to read.

My quibble is that nobody in this book has any joy of life, any verve. Even when faced with extinction, I would hope that somebody, somewhere, has a joke to tell, or can spit in the face of death. Why write a book about gloomsters, facing gloomy situations with gloomy miens?

I liked this book at about a 3.5 stars level. I wish an editor would tell Brin to dump all lectures, all encyclopedia references, and all gloomy intonations from his next book. Tell us a story, do not lecture us like a group of sophomores trapped in a lecture hall.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uplift It Isn't, July 21, 2012
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
I love science fiction and first contact stories. I love sci-fi that explores the meaning of existence in light of other worlds. And I loved David Brin's Uplift series (well the first set anyway). It's been a long time since Mr. Brin wrote a book, and I was delighted at the sweeping grandeur of his concept. That is, until I started reading the book.

Yes, there's finally first contact, and a set of characters sent out to the edges of our solar system in relation to it, in some kind of virtual form. You really have to work at the book to get to this point, and you may not like what you find.

But the rest of the book is "gee-whizz, look at the cool things we'll have by 2040" (or whatever the date is), based on an extrapolation of our current forms of social media and internet use. There are a plethora of characters that it's almost impossible to care about, who mostly seem to be showcasing the cool gadgets in the book. There's the reporter, the producer, the super rich playboy space jockey, the impoverished Asian scavenger, and all the rest. The guy I liked best was the 'garbage collector', the astronaut who collects space debris (ours) orbiting the earth, and who finds the artifact that sets this tale in motion. But then, I was trying hard to be interested in just one of these characters.

To further make itself hip and relevant, the book refers to some event in the not so distant past called 'Awfulday' where there seemed to be a nucelar attack, at least on the States. I guess both this author and Dan Simmons (in Flashpoint) are taking a page out of recent history's 9/11 appellation (Flashpoint's 'Awfulday' was 'the day the shit hit the fan').

Writing near-future sci-fi is very tricky because it's so hard not get carried away with projections of current events and science. But in any science fiction, or any novel, it's essential that readers care about what happens to the characters in the story. Otherwise why read it? Science fiction where the science becomes the protagonist does not tend to do well, often not even with the uber science geeks.

And this is Existence's failure. Yes, the concept is grand. But I don't care about the people. There are so many of them, each chapter has a different POV, and I often don't see the point of either the chapters or the characters. So, after a while I just put the book down with a shrug. I might take it up again to finish it, but I don't know.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


88 of 117 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh. Cool tech, but a long shaggy dog story., June 25, 2012
By 
Andrew Pollack (Cumberland, Maine USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
Brin uses people to showcase his technology ideas when it should be the other way around.

I give this one a solid "meh".

Admittedly, I've never been a big fan of David Brin. I think he takes a basically interesting idea and stretches it too long with a lot filler. He's got some good characters - in fact he has so many of them that I don't end up caring much about any of them. He's got some clever science fiction ideas -- and that's what saves the book. What he doesn't seem to get, is that like all good fiction, science fiction is still ultimately about the people in the story, not the technology in the story.

There were four of five very interesting characters, but none were really the focus of the story. I didn't really get to know them terribly well, and in the end I didn't care much about them. There were other characters -- some of them with real potential -- that just sort of disappeared as their sub plots didn't merge into the developing story. I spent the last 1/3 of the book wondering what ever happened to a couple of them.

Meanwhile, the long shaggy dog story took several very clever turns, but only hours of reading after they were fairly obvious. Since the only reason the characters by this point seemed to exist was to expose the developing technology and the overall tech story, I wanted to slap them across the face and scream at them to get on with it instead of just blaring out more stilted expository dialog.

On the other hand, if you've a fan of David Brin's former work I guess you'll probably like this one too. He's such a respected writer, that I was looking forward to this one. I thought since it wasn't in his famous "uplift" series, it would give me a chance to get to know the author from a neutral position. I guess it did that, but I was disappointed by what I found.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poorly Conceived, Poorly Executed, July 23, 2012
By 
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
I feel like the publisher was duped into taking this one to get another David Brin novel on their hands. As was everyone who carries it. What a mistake. It's an unreadable mess equivalent to being served inedible food in a restaurant. The exotic garbage collector is all he's got before it runs out of steam. I gave it two stars rather than one because I'm certain that if I could slog past the first horrible sections it would have to get better because Brin should be able to do better in his sleep. Maybe everyone else here said it more eloquently than I did, but in essence the prose and its lack of organization seems purposefully incoherent as if the author is going for some esoteric award in experimental fiction. At the same time he manages to be boring when he frequently stops and lectures us with the same review of the future we've gotten from every other writer. Now I understand what Vernor Vinge meant when he said, David Brin takes on one of the fundamental issues in science fiction..." Translation: Re-hash.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


90 of 121 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Tale of First Contact Deserves No Contact, June 30, 2012
By 
Steven (Aloha, OR, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Existence (Kindle Edition)
First of all, Brin is among the foremost respected science-fiction authors on the market today. His stories have the power of an Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 series. Yet, like Clarke, Brin seems to have jumped the metaphorical shark (or dolphin, as the case may be). Put simply, this book is not much more than a re-hash of previously published stories (he follows their publication dates in the afterword to magazines to the early 80s) and stale characterization. Moreover, it's boring. I cannot think of a harsher critique for a storyteller, but that's the simple truth. Since I read it on my kindle, I know exactly at what point it became interesting. 75% of the way into the book, my interest was piqued and I began to really wonder how Brin was going to write himself out of his holes. Then, to my everlasting horror and dismay, he completely side-stepped those holes by either writing the character out of the book entirely (ask yourself what happens to Hacker, Tor, or Peng Xiang Bin), or worse, answered them in exposition in another subplot, or worst of all, seems to have let them drop entirely. The difficulty of connecting emotionally to Brin's characters seems to lie in the fact that they are simply vehicles for expositing in the most hackneyed fashion whatever philosophy Brin puts in their mouth. Interspersed throughout, moreover, are asides, interviews, chapters or quotes from books, all to add the sense of milieu that this work demands. Indeed, the milieu is the star of this story--from an inventive near-future reality that blends multiple interactive real-time layers, to the advancement of a complex inter-relationship between human beings and AIs, even the cloning of a neanteral child (I thought to preface that statement with a spoiler warning, but even though it occupies much of the narrative, it does little to advance the plot). All told, the best part of this book was the world that Brin evokes, but setting is never a story and ultimately, this story about First Contact deserves no contact.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Brin's best, August 10, 2012
By 
Brian A. Schar (Menlo Park, CA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
David Brin has written a number of great books and rightly won a number of awards. Unfortunately, "Existence" is not one of those books.

I won't go into details about the plot, such as it is, and will leave that to others. However, the plot, or lack thereof, is one of the biggest problems with "Existence." It's a snoozer. I actually forgot I was in the middle of reading this book on two separate occasions, putting it down for a week and forgetting I'd ever picked it up. That's not a good sign.

In "Existence," like the TV show "Lost," it's as if the author got bored writing the story in the middle and just started telling a new one. In "Existence," it happens twice. Characters and subplots simply vanish, never to be even mentioned by other characters again. The most egregious example has to do with a character and a situation that we spend literally dozens of pages with at the beginning of the book; that plot thread is snipped away and woven into nothing. Further, the novel doesn't finish as much as it just stops. As a personal pet peeve, every other sentence ends with an exclamation!

That's not to say there aren't some interesting characters and ideas in this book, because there are. Fans of Brin will buy this regardless of any reviews, and will enjoy it on some level. Nevertheless, this book is best checked out from the library. Newcomers to Brin are advised to start with "Sundiver" or "Startide Rising" instead.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, July 8, 2012
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
This book is way too long, convoluted, frustrating, and when it comes right down to it, boring. It reads like a bunch a short stories that the author tried to stitch together to make a book. I hate to be so negative, but Brin is capable of so much more that I was very disappointed
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hopeless Shaggy Dog Story, August 21, 2012
By 
James D. DeWitt "Alaska Fan" (Fairbanks, AK United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
The quintesessential "shaggy dog story" is in Mark Twain's Roughing It (Chapter 53), where he is told by his buddies to go and listen to the great story Jim Blaine tells about his grandfather's ram. Twain does, and listens to increasingly incoherent and tenuously linked yarns, until Blaine passes out from the corn likker.

"I learned then that Jim Blaine's peculiarity was that whenever he reached a certain stage of intoxication, no human power could keep him from setting out, with impressive unction, to tell about a wonderful adventure which he had once had with his grandfather's old ram--and the mention of the ram in the first sentence was as far as any man had ever heard him get, concerning it. He always maundered off, interminably, from one thing to another, till his whisky got the best of him and he fell asleep. What the thing was that happened to him and his grandfather's old ram is a dark mystery to this day, for nobody has ever yet found out."

David Brin's new novel is a Shaggy Dog story. It's Jim Blaine drunken mandering. It's chock full of tenuously linked threads of stories that never reach a conclusion.

The planet is wearing out. It's a disaster novel. Overcrowding, terrorism, resource depletion, catastrophic class struggles, secret cabals. There are even mini-chapters between chapters categorizing all the ways humanity can come to a disastrous end. And then the plot thread is abandoned.

But one ultra-wealthy character is rescued from his own criminal stupidity by a pod of uplifted dolphins. Shades of Brin's Startide Rising (The Uplift Saga, Book 2)! But the the dolphins, the rich brat and plot thread are all abandoned.

The wife of one man who (re)discovered one of the mysterious digital glass bottles is chased through a Chinese city by hordes of mysterious men. She and her baby are rescued and hide in a Shanghai Disneyland. And then the plot thread is abandoned.

Ostensibly, it's a story for First Contact between man and an alien species, except it turns out not to be the first, not by a long shot, and it turns out to not involve actual physical contact. Ostensibly, it's an explanation why attempt to detect radio signals from other intelligent life - the Fermi Paradox - have been unsuccessful. It's because the preferred manner of communication is the high-tech equivalent of a message in a bottle, not broadcasts. Except it's more like a virus infection, and the messages, the memes, in high-tech bottles are contagions. Sort of like Brin's plot threads, only one "message bottle" in a million may reach someone and cause an "infection." But it's a doozy.

So it's a Dire Alien Menace story, too. Except that other digital message bottles warn against the D.A.M. The Big Confrontation, with one digital message bottle set against another? That's never described. The plot thread is abandoned. Instead, the story jumps ahead a decade or two, to the Asteroid Belt, where apparently earlier versions of the D.A.M. are still duking it out, with some of our plucky characters caught in the cross-fire.

And then the scene shifts again, this time to a noble venture to "cure" all those unfortunate alien species of the contagion represented by the D.A.M. Except that plot thread, too, gets abandoned, along with the reader, for a gravity-lens-powered telescope.

Oddly, Jim Blaine's grandfather's old ram doesn't actually appear in Existence, but the rest Blaine's sins as a storyteller are fully present. The novel is a shaggy mess of a story. Great ideas - including some recycled concepts from Brin's controversial The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us To Choose Between Privacy And Freedom? - but if you are looking for anything like a plot, expect repeated disappointments. Brin can and has written good novels. Award winning novels. This isn't one of them.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading: Great Story, Important Ideas, Godawful lack of editing, July 26, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Existence (Hardcover)
I recommend reading this book if you are interested in creative explanations of the Fermi paradox and apparent lack of Von Neumann machines as well as realistic ideas about first contact. The story is a good one, with interesting although somewhat over-the-top characters, and it hangs together in a plausible narrative.
The problem is that there's just a huge mass of subplots and characters in the first half or 2/3 of the book that do nothing to move the main story along in a meaningful way - easily 100, maybe 200 pages worth out of 500 total - stuff that just would not be missed if you hadn't known they were there in the first place (kudos to Brin for not solving this problem with a "Neal Stephenson approach" by making that extraneous material more relevant by expanding the book to 700 or 800 pages). And as you get to the midpoint or a bit later in the book where we really learn more about the crystal spheres and what's going on in the "ET scene," suddenly Brin starts moving things along at a rapid clip, abandoning the current timeline and skipping to an entirely different era without much warning or closure. Some of Brin's philosophical and technological speculations are gracefully woven into the story, other places they are forced in and strapped on with duct tape and pliers.

Not that the book is too long per se, it's very readable and could comfortably fill 500 pages or more without waste by just focusing more on the parts relevant to the overall story. And Brin is clearly capable of doing that.

My conclusion is that David Brin is a busy guy with deadlines to meet, and once he had amassed a bunch of big chunks of story, he glued them together without much editing, spent relatively less time finessing an endgame, and boom/voila manuscript delivered on time and on budget. There is considerable evidence for this hypothesis in the fact that many of the subplots in the story are / were available as separate novellas.

The big disappointment is that this could have been an all time classic of SF if David Brin just took the time to edit it down, spend as much time in the latter parts of the book as he did on the individual pieces from the earlier parts, and really write a book. Instead he more or less loaded up a literary flatbed truck to haul his (very cool) speculative insights to market.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 225 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Existence
Existence by David Brin (Hardcover - June 19, 2012)
$27.99 $18.30
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.