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Zendegi Hardcover – September 15, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this provocative near-future tale, humans mingle with artificial intelligences called proxies in the virtual world of Zendegi. Shortly after Iranian scientist Nasim Golestani develops a way to make proxies so lifelike that some people believe they should have the same rights as humans, journalist Martin Seymour, an Australian living in Iran, finds out that he might not live to raise his young son, Javeed. He becomes obsessed with finding a way to guide Javeed even after his death and decides that if he could make a proxy of himself, then he could die in peace. Nasim agrees to help him even as proxy rights activists attack her for creating and enslaving conscious entities. Egan (Crystal Nights and Other Stories) creates a thought-provoking, intensely personal story about conflicting instincts and desires as technology recapitulates humanity.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Martin Seymour is in Iran to cover parliamentary elections in 2012. They are, as expected, a nonevent, but when a government official is caught in a particularly compromising position, a cascade of world-changing events follows. Nasim Golestani, an Iranian expat living in the U.S. and working on the Human Connectome Project, watches from her distant vantage point, hoping to return as soon as an opportunity presents itself. Martin and Nasim are thrown together 15 years later, when Martin's family is shattered by tragedy. By now Nasim is working on a virtual gaming world called Zendegi. She's developing increasingly complex virtual characters by drawing on her prior research on the brain. Then Martin asks her to try for something that seems impossible, just as conservative politicians are catching wind of the ethical implications of Zendegi. It might look, at first glance, like a plot we've already seen hashed out ad nauseam, but have faith in Egan's ability to create stunning, complex futures, with grand themes given a human dimension: he delivers something extraordinary, with no easy answers. Despite its tragedies, the story is remarkably hopeful and certainly one of the best of its kind. --Regina Schroeder
Top customer reviews
Leaving the sci-fi aspects, Egan's portrayal of Iran's culture is noteworthy. While it may not be a true representation of the Iranian society and believes, it is based on many rather factual assumptions.
I personally enjoyed reading the book but I should say that I'm from Iran. I wonder how others deal with many Persian phrases which have been abundantly used in the book but left without any English translation. What stopped me from giving the book five stars was that the story dragged a little long towards the end and that I had somewhat higher expectations from a Greg Egan's sci-fi.
I found the description of a more democratic, enlightened future Iran very inspiring, albeit I'm afraid reality doesn't seem to go in that sense right now. However, it is refreshing to see a book that has protagonists from a country with bad PR in the West, and have those protagonists making a difference in their scientific or technological fields.
Also, the description of mind uploading given in the book looks much more realistic than what appears in the older Permutation City, where a person could be scanned non invasively in a mater of minutes, like getting a haircut. Here the process is much more convoluted, long and imperfect, but more accurate and closer to what's envisageable today.
Finally, I feel this book ended too abruptly (kind of a Neal Stephenson's novel), without at least an epilogue or something that ties the narrative threads into a more or less satisfying conclusion. I feel Greg Egan didn't know where to take the book later, once the point he wanted to bring occurred, or he felt it wasn't worthy to tell anything else after that.
Or maybe I just wanted to know more about that future world, with scanned human minds and a democratic, more egalitarian Iran at the center of a technological revolution. Anyway, I still liked it.
The second part of the novel concentrates on the same reporter trying to create a "proxy" avatar to guide his son after he dies so that his best friend who will raise the child after his death will not overload him with his (Arabic) prejudices. This was hard work to read in the extreme - the VR world is simplistic and the endless rehash of Arabic stories to be used as parables was painful. The ending was....well... as expected. If the whole novel had been like part 1 I would have enjoyed it much more.
This was good value for $0 - at the end of the day it was better than most of the free books out there. I certainly don't feel shafted on the price, but as a literary work it is Jeckel and Hyde... and ultimately a bit repetitive...I hate that the main character becomes such a whiner...he deserved better.