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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews


Copyright 1998 by Greg Egan

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this in March 2000.

In the world of the thirtieth century, the vast majority of humanity has long left Earth. There are those who live only in virtual worlds, no longer needing physical bodies. They inhabit of the polises, virtual worlds whose physical hardware is scattered throughout the solar system. Then there are the Gleisners, those who transferred to robotic bodies to avoid giving up all physical existence.

Meanwhile back on old Earth, the few original humans who remained here live primitive lives, having determinedly rejected the artificial evolution in order to remain true to their human origins.

For hundreds of years, the first two groups have been permitted no contact with these die-hard humans.

But now a planet-wide disaster threatens the lives of the remaining humans on Earth. Inoshiro and Yatima, virtual citizens of the Carter-Zimmerman polis, will break this long-standing tradition and venture to Earth to warn the humans of their impending deaths. They'll offer them escape into the worlds of the polises, an option that the humans may not lightly take.

Meanwhile, the Carter-Zimmerman polis, anxious to explore the Universe, but FTL travel having proved a failure, decides to clone itself and its populace a thousand times and to send the clones off in myriad directions out into the unknown.

We follow the clones of Carter-Zimmerman polis on their centuries-long voyages out into the depths of space.

This is a unusual book. Most of the narrative takes place within the virtual world of the Carter-Zimmmerman polis and in a virtual world almost anything is possible. With this and with the personalities of the protagonists are varying, with conscious control of their memories and motivations, it is rather hard for the writer to maintain dramatic tension or to allow us to empathise with the life of these strange people. Still Greg Egan does it surprisingly well, though not entirely successfully.

I did enjoy this novel - some of it was truly exciting - but feel little desire to read it again. Of course, I do have my prejudice against novels that trace humanity's path through the distant future, and trace the lives of immensely long-lived characters through into the future. This is probably because, if this were to be the future of mankind, it's unlikely to happen for some time, and I suspect it may not include me. That's not, of course, a certainty, just a small but worrying possibility. Still with New Scientist's Prize To Die for competition there's clearly some hope.

What's it got? Wonderful ideas, mind-boggling science and excellent IT concepts, with massive range of scale from nanotechnology, even femtotechnology, up to macrouniverses of which our own universe is but a minor particle.

Loaded on the 24th September 2002.
Cover of Diaspora
Cover art by Peter Gudynas

Reviews of other works by Greg Egan:
Schild's Ladder