Diaspora

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Behold the Orphan. Born into a world that is not a world. A digital being grown from a mind seed, a genderless cybernetic citizen in a vast network of probes, satellites, and servers knotting the Solar System into one scape, from the outer planets to the fiery surface of the Sun. Since the Introdus in the 21st century, humanity has reconfigured itself drastically. Most chose immortality, joining the polises to become conscious software. Others opted for gleisners: disposable, renewable robotic bodies that remain ...
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Overview

Behold the Orphan. Born into a world that is not a world. A digital being grown from a mind seed, a genderless cybernetic citizen in a vast network of probes, satellites, and servers knotting the Solar System into one scape, from the outer planets to the fiery surface of the Sun. Since the Introdus in the 21st century, humanity has reconfigured itself drastically. Most chose immortality, joining the polises to become conscious software. Others opted for gleisners: disposable, renewable robotic bodies that remain in contact with the physical world of force and friction. Many of these have left the Solar System forever in fusion drive starships. And there are the holdouts. The fleshers left behind in the muck and jungle of Earth - some devolved into dream-apes; others cavorting in the seas or the air; while the statics and bridgers try to shape out a roughly human destiny. But the complacency of the citizens is shattered when an unforeseen disaster ravages the fleshers, and reveals the possibility that the polises themselves might be at risk from bizarre astrophysical processes that seem to violate fundamental laws of nature. The Orphan joins a group of citizens and flesher refugees in a search for the knowledge that will guarantee their safety...
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Editorial Reviews

Locus
One of the very best.
New York Times Book Review
Science fiction with an emphasis on science.
Science Fiction Weekly
Immensely ambitious, intellectually exhilarating....Greg Egan is perhaps the most important SF writer in the world.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
By the year 2975, humanity has wandered down several widely divergent evolutionary paths. "Flesher" life is that which resides in a basically human body, though genetically engineered mutations have created communication problems throughout the species. In the "polises," meanwhile, disembodied but self-aware artificial intelligences procreate, interact, make art and attempt to solve life's mathematical mysteries. Then there are the "gleisners," which are conscious, flesher-shaped robots run by self-aware software that is linked directly to the physical world through hardware. Throughout, Egan (Distress) follows the progress of Yatima, an orphan spontaneously generated by the non-sentient software of the Konishi polis. Yatima gains self-awareness, meets with Earthly fleshers and, when tragedy strikes, becomes personally involved in the greatest search for species survival ever undertaken. Though the novel often reads like a series of tenuously connected graduate theses and lacks the robust drama and characterizations of good fiction, fans of hard SF that incorporates higher mathematics and provocative hypotheses about future evolution are sure to be fascinated by Egan's speculations. (Feb.)
Library Journal
By the end of the second millennium, the human race has evolved into three distinct groups: conscious software programs known as citizens, sentient robots called gleisners, and unaltered humans or fleshers. When a cosmic accident forces the evacuation of Earth, these three groups form a tentative alliance to explore the known universe in search of unknownand perhaps unknowablepossibilities. Egan's (Distress, LJ 6/15/97) remarkable gift for infusing theoretical physics with vibrant immediacy, creating sympathetic characters that stretch the definition of humanity, results in an exhilarating galactic adventure that echoes the best efforts of Greg Bear, Larry Niven, and other masters of hard sf.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061057984
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/1/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 416

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Orphanogenesis

Konishi polis, Earth
23 387 025 000 000 CST
15 May 2975,11:03:17.154 UT

The conceptory was non-sentient software, as ancient as Konishi polis itself. Its main purpose was to enable the citizens of the polis to create offspring: a child of one parent, or two, or twenty — formed partly in their own image, partly according to their wishes, and partly by chance. Sporadically, though, every teratau or so, the conceptory created a citizen with no parents at all.

In Konishi, every home-born citizen was grown from a mind seed, a string of instruction codes like a digital genome. The first mind seeds had been translated from DNA nine centuries before, when the polis founders had invented the Shaper programming language to re-create the essential processes of neuroembryology in software. But any such translation was necessarily imperfect, glossing over the biochemical details in favor of broad, functional equivalence, and the full diversity of the flesher genome could not be brought through intact. Starting from a diminished trait pool, with the old DNA-based maps rendered obsolete, it was crucial for the conceptory to chart the consequences of new variations to the mind seed. To eschew all change would be to risk stagnation; to embrace it recklessly would be to endanger the sanity of every child.

The Konishi mind seed was divided into a billion fields: short segments, six bits long, each containing a simple instruction code. Sequences of a few dozen instructions comprised shapers: the basicsubprograms employed during psychogenesis. The effects of untried mutations on fifteen million interacting shapers could rarely be predicted in advance; in most cases, the only reliable method would have been to perform every computation that the altered seed itself would have performed...which was no different from going ahead and growing the seed, creating the mind, predicting nothing.

The conceptory's accumulated knowledge of its craft took the form of a collection of annotated maps of the Konishi mind seed. The highest-level maps were elaborate, multidimensional structures, dwarfing the seed itself by orders of magnitude. But there was one simple map which the citizens of Konishi had used to gauge the conceptory's progress over the centuries; it showed the billion fields as lines of latitude, and the sixty-four possible instruction codes as meridians. Any individual seed could be thought of as a path which zig-zagged down the map from top to bottom, singling out an instruction code for every field along the way.

Where it was known that only one code could lead to successful psychogenesis, every route on the map converged on a lone island or a narrow isthmus, ocher against ocean blue. These infrastructure fields built the basic mental architecture every citizen had in common, shaping both the mind's overarching design and the fine details of vital subsystems.

Elsewhere, the map recorded a spread of possibilities: a broad landmass, or a scattered archipelago. Trait fields offered a selection of codes, each with a known effect on the mind's detailed structure, with variations ranging from polar extremes of innate temperament or aesthetics down to minute differences in neural architecture less significant than the creases on a flesher's palm. They appeared in shades of green as wildly contrasting or as flatly indistinguishable as the traits themselves.

The remaining fields — where no changes to the seed had yet been tested, and no predictions could be made — were classified as indeterminate. Here, the one tried code, the known landmark, was shown as gray against white: a mountain peak protruding through a band of clouds which concealed everything to the east or west of it. No more detail could be resolved from afar; whatever lay beneath the clouds could only be discovered firsthand.

Whenever the conceptory created an orphan, it set all the benignly mutable trait fields to valid codes chosen at random, since there were no parents to mimic or please. Then it selected a thousand indeterminate fields, and treated them in much the same fashion: throwing a thousand quantum dice to choose a random path through terra incognita. Every orphan was an explorer, sent to map uncharted territory.

And every orphan was the uncharted territory itself. The conceptory placed the new orphan seed in the middle of the womb's memory, a single strand of information suspended in a vacuum of zeroes. The seed meant nothing to itself, alone, it might as well have been the last stream of Morse, fleeing through the void past a distant star. But the womb was a virtual machine designed to execute the seed's instructions, and a dozen more layers of software led down to the polis itself, a lattice of flickering molecular switches. A sequence of bits, a string of passive data, could do nothing, change nothing-but in the womb, the seed's meaning fell into perfect alignment with all the immutable rules of all the levels beneath it. Like a punched card fed into a jacquard loom, it ceased to be an abstract message and became a part of the machine.

A second wave was added — running askew to the first, modulated with a slow steady rise — carving each ridge into a series of ascending mounds. Then a third, and a fourth, each successive wave enriching the pattern, complicating and fracturing its symmetries: defining directions, building up gradients, establishing a hierarchy of scales.

Diaspora. Copyright © by Greg Egan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2000

    my head hurts,

    from trying to think in five spatial dimensions. its really not easy, but i believe egan when he says you'd need at least four legs (not to mention a new brain). this book can mess with your head. egan explores digital consciousness again and takes it to new levels. read all his books.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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