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Permutation City: A Novel Paperback – September 16, 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Greg Egan is a computer programmer, and the author of the acclaimed SF novels The Arrows of Time, Distress, Diaspora, Quarantine, Permutation City, and Teranesia. He has won the Hugo Award as well as the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His short fiction has been published in a variety of places, including Interzone, Asimov’s, and Nature. He lives in Perth, Australia.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books; Reissue edition (September 16, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597805394
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597805391
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,335 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jack Boyce on April 23, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Greg Egan is one of the only fiction writers who takes the concept of AI seriously. In most science fiction, AI is either not present (Dune), artificially rare (Star Wars, William Gibson), somehow deficient relative to the "real" intelligence of humans (Star Trek), or easily tamed into servitude (Asimov). Egan avoids these easy outs and provides a (I believe) more realistic view of what could happen when our hardware supports human-mind-scale computation.

Some of the extrapolation is fairly straightforward, for example the idea that humans will have themselves "scanned" and instantiated within a computer as Copies to achieve immortality, and the first to do this will be the elderly and the fatally ill. Egan goes several orders beyond the straightforward, and hits on some big questions: If I get moved into a computer, is it still "me"? Should sentient software be considered legally human? If I am a program running in a computer and I edit my memories and my most basic desires, have I become a new person? If I halt a Copy's program and archive their data indefinitely, have I "killed" the Copy? What would it be like to be forced to live forever within a computer, with no ability to commit suicide ("bail out")? If these are interesting philosophical questions today, they will become much more tangible over the coming decades as (or if, depending on your view) AI develops.

Now, a few caveats. A book that seriously considers AI must, I think, include the possibility of super-human AI as well. And Egan, like most authors, doesn't address this possibility. For example, in Permutation City there is an unexplained 17x slowdown of Copies relative to real time.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I don't reccommend reading this if you have trouble grasping abstract computer concepts, you will be completely lost. On the other hand, if you're into transhumanism and virtual reality you will flip your lid over this book. It's very esoteric, specialised, detailed, thick, whatever you want to call it, but that is because Greg Egan has fully realised the technology he is writing about, and wants to convey his vision as clearly as possible. Personaly, I appreciate that. I hate sci-fi books with unexplained technology that just teleports a whole planet or mutates a cat simply because it's convenient to the plot, with little or no explanation. Greg Egan has thought out the technology in this book, and because of that, an incredibly "out there" story becomes feasible. However, if you don't care about technology and it's implications, you might feel gipped by this book. The characters are one dimensional, the writing is nothing special, the locations are foggy, but holy @#$%, my mind has been blown. Definately worth tracking down and reading.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Diamond-hard science fiction has to be the most difficult form of literature in the world. If you had asked me to list three subjects on which it would be impossible to write hard SF, the fundamental nature of reality would have been #2. Forget the Hugo and Nebula; this book deserves a Nobel Prize. "Permutation City" is the only truly perfect hard SF book which I have ever read, and I've been reading Niven and Pournelle since age nine.

Permutation City is the only fiction book I keep in my reference section. As an SF fan since age seven, and a member of the first generation to grow up with computers, it takes an awful lot to give me a sense of future shock. Out of the thousands of SF books I've read, this is one of exactly two books that bowled me completely over. It's like sticking your brain in a high-voltage electrical socket. Read it or else.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is my first exploration of Greg Egan's writing. I have to say, the first half was bad reading. It was Egan playing around with what kind of technology and software the future will have in 50+ years. It is done from a completely computer programmer's point of view, which was interesting enough, but tedious.
Another reviewer of a different Egan book said it was like a detective story where the main character is sneaking into a building to get clues and sees a bit of paper and goes into the history of paper production since its inception and what it will be like in the future. The information is irrelevant to the story and actually detracts rather than enhances.
Despite this however, I was really glad to get past this and into the 2nd half of the book. Egan gives a feeling of what true immortality might be like and what real loneliness is. I don't know if he intended to, but that's what I took away from this book. With a new type of virtual processor tucked away into its own little universe, untouchable by anyone, the virtual people can live forever, not just until the end of our universe, but really and truely forever. I've never seen it explored before, and find it a great idea. Even someone scared of death must be a little hesitant about the offer of true immortality, not just no aging, not just outliving your friends, but outliving everything in the universe. Billions and billions of years. Forever is a long time and I found it a bit daunting.
Another idea that I really liked in the book was concerning loneliness. What's it like to be really alone. Well, some of the characters find this out as they sneak into the artificial universe created for other characters, but they can never interact with it. No one can ever see them or talk to them.
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