Customer Reviews: Existence
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on November 1, 2013
I have loved many of Brin's novels and Kiln People is one of my favorites but this is an impenetrable hash. Structurally it feels like ideas for two novels and a bunch of technical notes that have been smashed together. Character development is minimal and many characters disappear in a temporal jump halfway through. It contains many great ideas but is not worth the slog.
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on June 12, 2013
I remember reading Sundiver and Startide Rising and being blown away. I don't understand why he bothered publishing this. Glory Season was pretty good,too. This reads like he wrote it in two months; a succession of uninteresting characters and tedious events.
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on September 27, 2013
I kept reading this book, hoping something interesting would happen. I should have stopped after 700 pages when nothing had. I slogged through to the end and still found nothing inspiring about the book. Some interesting story lines were started and allowed to wither on the vine. A brief glimpse into the dolphin uplift was offered and was never seen again. I liked Brin's "Uplift War" series and had high hopes for "Existence", which were sadly not met.
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on December 29, 2013
Here is Mr. Brin's return to greatness! This view of the immediate future is engaging, witty, and troubling. Who knew "ai" could fit into so many facets of technology and create new words!? The alien contact is strange and weird, where they have a real agenda that they are covering. The final act in space exploring the asteroids that the aliens used when they were alive, long before humans arrived, is brilliant and accelerating into the future. One of the best books of 2013. Some criticize characters appearing and then abruptly disappearing, but if you know Brin's Uplift Series, you know why that is so. Read this book, keep it on the shelves, and read it again and again. There is plenty to stimulate our senses here.
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on February 28, 2015
The novel is very interesting as discussion of ideas on the Fermi paradox and as such is definitely worthwhile reading and can be recommended. As a novel it lacks a bit of continuity and the reader feels a bit left hanging with regard to the story of a number of protagonists. David Brin has done better in better in previous works and will hopefully return to better five-star form again in future.
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on September 13, 2014
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Existence was an interesting reading.
If the kindle kindle version correctly matches the hard copy, then the book jumped around to much at the end. What happened to Hacker? What about seeker and the relationship to Tor?
Four stars was given for concepts, intrigue and creativity. Five stars would have been appropriate from me if a few more strings were tied together.
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on November 13, 2012
David Brin's "Existence" is both very interesting and somewhat irritating. The book has eight parts. The first six parts tell an engaging and interesting story which follows the adventures of several protagonists during a time of first contact. At that point I surmise that Brin decided that he just wouldn't be able to finish the book if he continued that way (at least not in a single volume). Anyway, he radically changed the style in parts seven and eight. In those two sections we no longer see the protagonists meeting challenges as events unfold. Instead, the narrative takes great leaps forward in time, pushing to story forward. Some foreshadowed adventures and events that I was anticipating were told only in hindsight. This let Brin finish the story in one (big) book, but at some cost to the storytelling.
"Existence" is chock full of interesting and provocative ideas about what the future may bring. Whether it is technical, scientific, social, economic, or you name it, the book touches on most everything related to, yes, existence. Brin's imagination is rather amazing. The book is worth reading just for that. And, the first contact idea in "Existence" doesn't fit any of the standard SF tropes that I know of. It is quite an unusual and interesting idea.
Conclusion: While "Existence" doesn't tell as good a story as some of Brin's earlier books (for example, "Startide Rising" and "The Uplift War"), it is still a good read, especially for those who like hard SF.
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Has Brin forgotten how to write a taut science fiction story? He burst into prominence in the 80s with his Uplift series that showed an ability to deliver a plotline that moves rapidly with good action descriptions. He followed this with Postman, that may have been his best full length novel.

But Existence is disappointing. Barely more than a collection of essays clothed in the guise of a single novel. There is a strong pedantic streak, where the sidebars are largely those essays. Granted, some of them can be quite insightful. Like the observation that during the 80s there was despondency about the seemingly inevitable drift towards increasing specialisation. How could this be averted? Yet the answer was the rise of the Web in the 90s; seemingly overnight as the essay points out. This broke the first trend, but raised its own problem. Now people tend to graze on the Web. Where is the room for deep original thinking? Those readers who came of age in the 90s and later might be completely unaware of what happened here and the book's essay can be quite instructive.

As an aside, that essay reminds me of the short story "Gadget vs. Trend" by Christopher Anvil. Where that played off a trend towards conformism in society against a countervailing trend to individualism.

So yes if you read this book you can glean those essays as insightful observations. And another strength of the book is the extrapolation of current technology trends, especially the pervasive Web that might or perhaps inevitably will merge with cellphones. Plus Brin shows genius in his knack of making up catchy slang. Like tenners and twenners for those born in the 2010s and 2020s. And how he merges 'ai' [artificial intelligence] into other words, to suggest how effective AI might be incorporated at the cultural level. Just like we now use 'browser' to usually mean software that lets you surf the Web, and not a person rummaging thru a library.

But this was achieved by providing the barest of character development and the deprecation of a plot that makes the reader want to see what happens next. The book is a classic example of the old observation that much science fiction has the idea as hero. While the characters are just a means to that end.
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on April 17, 2013
It's hard to find good, believable SF these days - mostly because technology is making it harder and harder for authors to posit truly exciting, strange futures. Brin is better at doing this than most, and "Existence" is a really good example of "Hard" SF that provides a sense of wonder without resorting to warp drives.

The premise of this book is that we are not alone, but we might as well be. Brin addresses the Fermi Paradox - the argument that if intelligent life is possible in our galaxy, then there should be evidence of it everywhere. There isn't. So what's the deal? Either we're the first, or we are doomed to disappear before we have time to colonize the galaxy, just like everyone else. (On a personal note, I think there is another possibility not raised by Brin, but that's a different matter).

Anyway, Brin finds a bit of a middle ground. It's a logical, believable solution that doesn't end up being simplistic or pat.

Stick with this book. It takes quite a bit to get going, and the entire first half of the book is pretty much a prelude to the second half. By the end, we're well into "wow" territory. At times fragmented, the story is compelling, the characters (particularly what aliens there are) are deep and interesting, and the conclusion is hopeful, if a bit stark. A good melding of Deep Time, Hard SF, Technology, Singularity, and First Contact.
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on November 20, 2013
I believe I'll nominate this book for the Hugo.

While it should be depressing, it isn't. It features a catalog of the ways human civilization can come crashing (or whimpering) to an end, and that's a lot of what the book is about...

...but then again, it's about hope that we will muddle through.

Earth in the late 21st century or so is still recognizably our world, though to be sure changes have come upon it. There are trillionaires flexing their muscle, and people living in the ruins of flooded buildings.

The story begins when an alien artifact is found in Earth orbit. The artifact turns out to have the ability to communicate, and we begin trying to decipher its messages. It appears to be friendly.

But there are other artifacts, and they too communicate...and there are contradictions.

Oh, and: about halfway through, Brin pulls off the most brilliant, awful, natural (to the story) pun since Zelazny's fit hit the shan.
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