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Existence

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Overview

Bestselling, award-winning futurist David Brin returns to globe-spanning, high concept SF with Existence.

Gerald Livingston is an orbital garbage collector. For a hundred years, people have been abandoning things in space, and someone has to clean it up. But there’s something spinning a little bit higher than he expects, something that isn’t on the decades’ old orbital maps. An hour after he grabs it and brings it in, rumors fill Earth’s ...

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Overview

Bestselling, award-winning futurist David Brin returns to globe-spanning, high concept SF with Existence.

Gerald Livingston is an orbital garbage collector. For a hundred years, people have been abandoning things in space, and someone has to clean it up. But there’s something spinning a little bit higher than he expects, something that isn’t on the decades’ old orbital maps. An hour after he grabs it and brings it in, rumors fill Earth’s infomesh about an “alien artifact.”

Thrown into the maelstrom of worldwide shared experience, the Artifact is a game-changer. A message in a bottle; an alien capsule that wants to communicate. The world reacts as humans always do: with fear and hope and selfishness and love and violence. And insatiable curiosity.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Any work by Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell Award winner David Brin deserves our attention, but Existence, his first novel in ten years, possesses particular interest. In our age of instant communication and viral rumors, its dark, plausible tale about alien "eggs" that carry mixed messages will resonate ominously in readers' imaginations. Dr. Brin's firm grasp of hard science and sensitivity about ethical issues elevates this first contact novel far beyond a novelty. Now in mass-market paperback and NOOK Book.

Publishers Weekly
The discovery of alien artifacts pushes an already troubled Earth to the brink of chaos in bestseller Brin’s exciting story of first contact. Gerald Livingston finds an alien “egg” while cleaning space garbage out of valuable satellite orbits. When word leaks to the press, speculation and fears abound. Change has already brought “Awfulday,” when Washington, D.C., was hit by a dirty bomb, and an autism plague has created a generation that neurotypical people can’t understand. As a self-styled antitechnology prophet, Tenskwatawa, calls for slowing down technological progress, the alien artifact is an unwelcome “Disturber,” even as it promises to fix all Earth’s problems—with a catch, of course. Meanwhile, a second artifact recovered by a desperate Chinese fisherman warns against following other artifacts, suggesting these miniature Pandora’s boxes have steered Earth’s culture for some 9,000 years. Are the artifacts truly “worldstones,” full of wonders and ingenious advice, or “demon-stones” that will only ruin the little stability to which humanity clings? Brin’s thoughtful, multilayered story explores a first contact scenario where every twist reveals greater peril. His longtime fans will especially appreciate that this story could be read as a prequel to 1983’s Startide Rising, while those not familiar with his work will find it an impressive introduction to one of SF’s major talents. (June)
Library Journal
Gerald Livingston makes his living by recovering space garbage, collecting a century's worth of defunct satellites, rocket parts, and other detritus. When he brings in a strange orb, rumors spread around the world about the alien nature of the object. Then it begins to speak. The world is thrown into chaos as factions quarrel over the object's meaning, and scientists and the military question its authenticity and motives. Hugo and Nebula award winner Brin (Startide Rising; The Postman) returns to grand-scale sf with a tale that challenges the definition of humanity, the purpose of life, and the mystery of existence. VERDICT Featuring memorable characters and masterly storytelling, Brin's latest novel provides food for thought and entertainment. Fans of Vernor Vinge and Arthur C. Clarke, as well as Brin's own sizable fan base, will enjoy this multidimensional story. [Five-city regional tour.]
Kirkus Reviews
Huge, ambitious concoction from the author of Kiln People (2002, etc.) that tackles the question of why we haven't yet been contacted by aliens. In a future where everybody is connected via a worldwide virtual reality network, astronaut Gerald Livingstone collects and disposes of the vast amount of orbiting junk that has accumulated in a century of space flight. One object he scoops up is a shaped crystal, clearly manufactured. Gerald finds that, as the first to touch the crystal, it communicates preferentially with him. It turns out to be a repository containing dozens of different aliens, all of whom seem to be competing for his attention. But how did the crystal get here, and what do the aliens want? The answers they give are peculiarly evasive. Other plot threads include Hamish Brookeman, a wealthy author of doomsday yarns tied to the anti-technology Renunciation Movement, whose views--explored at tedious length--gradually change. Peng Xiang Bin, a scavenger along China's drowned coast, discovers a second crystal whose denizens insist that Gerald's aliens are liars. Investigative journalist Tor Povlov, her body destroyed in a terrorist incident, survives as a cyborg. Lacey Donaldson-Sander, one of the planet's super-rich de facto rulers, would have been better eliminated altogether. Lacey's thrill-seeking son, Hacker, crashes into the ocean after a sub-orbital joyride and falls in with a company of intelligent dolphins. Various prodigiously talented autistics and Neanderthals weave in and out. The problem with all this, other than the lack of a coherent narrative, is that the dullest threads (Hamish, Lacey) persist inordinately, while the most intriguing (Bin, Hacker) simply cease in mid-story. Most disappointing of all, Brin generates few truly innovative ideas, instead borrowing heavily from his own previous works and from such writers as Gregory Benford and Greg Egan. A verbose, unwieldy, frustrating, nugget-strewn mess.
From the Publisher

"Take a world soaked in near-future strangeness and complexity... Add a beautiful alien artifact that turns out to be the spearpoint of a very dangerous, very ancient invasion... Hotwire with wisdom and wonder... Existence is as urgent and as relevant as anything by Stross or Doctorow, but with the cosmic vision of Bear or Benford. Brin is back."
—Stephen Baxter, bestselling author of Ark and The Time Ships

"In Existence, David Brin takes on one of the fundamental themes in science fiction—and what is also one of the fundamental questions humanity faces in this century. Since Brin is both a great storyteller and one of the most imaginative writers around, Existence is not to be missed."
—Vernor Vinge, bestselling author of Fire Upon the Deep and The Children of the Sky

"Existence is a book that makes you think deeply about both the future and life's most important issues. I found it fascinating and could not put it down."
--Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures

The Barnes & Noble Review

Recently a very perceptive essay by Maria Konnikova, "The Great American Novel" (Slate, June 29, 2012), set me to thinking: Is there such a thing as "The Great American Science Fiction Novel"? Or, to be less parochial — in deference to SF's cosmic consciousness — "The Great Global Near-Future Science Fiction Novel"?

By my lights, and working along the descriptive lines laid down by Konnikova, such an artifact should be fairly easy to recognize.

The GGNFSFN (I promise never to use that acronym again — let's just call it the Great SF Novel from here on out) would be an ambitious, panoramic, macroscopic, and microscopic portrait concerning a speculative future that was near enough to the date of composition to allow for an assessment of its probability and extrapolative verisimilitude. (It's hard to rule on the naturalistic qualities of a hypothetical galactic empire ten millennia and as many light-years distant from us.) It would feature a large cast of characters scattered across many representative venues and employ a wide range of literary and quasi-journalistic techniques. Its thematic and narrative foci would be multivalent, not narrow. It would not deploy any wild-card factors of major plot significance.

As you can see, to list the stringent requirements for this type of book immediately constrains nominations. And in fact if we journey through the history of science fiction, the very notion of such a text takes a long while to emerge.

We could point to Wells's The War of the Worlds as a rudimentary forerunner — save that its wild-card Martian invasion disqualifies it. Huxley's Brave New World is a good candidate, probably the record holder for a long time — although its focus on a small set of protagonists and limited concerns is off-puttingly restrictive. Robert Heinlein's seminal Beyond This Horizon is another prototypical contender, poking into every corner of its future, but again with a small cast. We might be tempted to nominate Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man, if only for their sophisticated, convincing portraits of complex, fully functioning worlds, were it not for, once more, the wild-card issues of teleportation and telepathy. Dystopias with their ashcan realism and extensive remit often seem to half qualify: George Orwell's 1984, Bernard Wolfe's Limbo, and Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano.

By the time the 1960s arrived, though, writers of speculative fiction had perhaps made enough ranging shots at the target that something like a "Great American Novel with an SF slant" looked within reach — and the tumultuous, polymorphic zeitgeist definitely called for such a heroic response. Again, Heinlein led the way, with Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, imperfect versions of the ideal though they were.

In hindsight, two other period literary phenomena also contributed to the DNA of the GGNFSFN. First came the encyclopedic novel typified by Thomas Pynchon's V. Then came the sprawling technicolor DeMillean novels of such folks as Arthur Hailey, Herman Wouk, and James Michener.

But it was an Englishman who would crystallize this mode and indelibly put his stamp on it.

Released in 1968, John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar met every elusive, half-envisioned hallmark of the mode, as if it had dropped to Earth direct from God's workbench. Its multi-threaded plot enacted by a big troupe with a diffuse set of centers; its omniscient eye and grab bag of narrative tricks; its topicality and assimilative, totalizing affect: here in Platonic form was the Great SF Novel.

In any case, after the minds of readers were blown and awards were given came the recognition by Brunner's authorial peers of the heavy lifting involved. How daunting! Producing such a work seemed to require polymath genius and jackdaw research talents. Even Brunner himself, in three subsequent allied books, never hit those heights again. And as for others — well, the Great SF Novel remained an elusive beast, with some doubts even as to its desirability. Something like Oath of Fealty by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle came close, as did Greg Bear's Queen of Angels. Bruce Sterling and John Barnes and Howard Hendrix have worked along and slightly over the borders of this mode, and Neal Stephenson's explicitly SF works Snow Crash and The Diamond Age exhibit its hallmarks. I have mentioned Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 in the same breath as Zanzibar, but Robinson's novel exists tentatively on the very edges of testability for its predictions.

But admirers of this type of novel — and I'm one — can take renewed hope with the appearance of David Brin's Existence. It's an overt claimant to the Zanzibar throne, and a worthy one, Version 2.0 of his similar performance in 1990's Earth.

Brin deliberately fudges the exact date of his novel's action, as if to preserve it from becoming outdated. Let's just call it mid-twenty-first-century. But that's the only nebulous part of this immaculately conceived and rendered book, massive and dense but somehow light-footed as well.

Whatever the exact year of the action, our poor old planet has seen a lot. A past milestone dubbed "Awfulday" (so famous and cataclysmic that its specific horrors are never uttered) left behind lots of damage, including a significantly irradiated Washington, D.C. — a misfortune that does not discourage desperate immigrants from squatting in abandoned Georgetown mansions. The Southeast is rapidly depopulating, thanks to assaults by kudzu and climate, filling handily empty Detroit with government-sponsored displaced persons.

Additional terrorist threats are ongoing, mainly from a Luddite group that worships "the Great Ted [Kaczynski]." Humanity has retreated from space exploration, contenting itself with cleaning up orbital debris. NASA as junkman: it's the ultimate SF insult and dreaded comeuppance for our shortsighted hubris.

But of course, this being a balanced depiction of a future with irregularly distributed benefits and pitfalls, some spectacular advancements have been made as well. Augmented Reality — know here as the Mesh — is fully installed, a thousand times more useful (and distracting) than the Web of today, with hundreds of layers of information and disinformation, opinions and facts, available to the average specs-wearing citizen everywhere they gaze. Medical technology can work wonders, preserving those who would have formerly died of their injuries in prosthetic gel-immersion units. Smart mobs of citizens act as an instant counterforce to corporations and governments. Rich folks race suborbital cruisers against each other. And still regnant are the myriad quintessentially human loves and hatreds, ambitions and fears of our species, mutatis mutandis.

Some of our main characters: Gerald Livingstone, an astronaut. Hamish Brookeman, a scare-mongering "sci-fi" author on the lines of Michael Crichton. Hacker Sander, rich scion, and rocket jockey. Tor Povlov, a female ace reporter whose persona and abilities suggest Lois Lane crossed with Rachel Maddow and the whole staff of Boing-Boing. And Peng Xiang Bin, impoverished Shanghai scavenger. And there are scores of subsidiary characters.

Not neglecting many lesser threads of interest, Brin promptly offers us the main MacGuffin that sends all our characters scurrying, in the form of that classic SF trope, "First Contact with ET." Gerald finds an artifact in orbit that proves to be of alien origin, and all the neat if unstable equations of life on an overburdened Earth swiftly begin to fall apart. To reveal too much about the artifact and its impact would be to spoil some neat twists and turns Brin lovingly lays down. But I think it's fair to say that Brin — who previously imagined alien-human relations in some detail in his Uplift series of far-future novels — has put his unique stamp on the notion.

Brin's text is dense with speculative elements on nearly every page, from postmodern zeppelins to underwater survival suits. Like Brunner's, his story often reads as if he had journeyed to the future and filmed it. We get a sense not only of a broad spectrum of people who have adapted themselves to new habits of information usage, of earning a living, of recreational pursuits, but who have also internalized new baseline assumptions and expectations about how the world works. These are not merely people from 2012 transplanted to different circumstances, but true denizens of the future. For additional angles, recurring "nonfiction" chapters from various imaginary sources add documentary sidebars to the tale.

Much of Brin's exciting and scary new technology is reflected in neologisms of greater or lesser likelihood, including the tricky move of inserting "ai" for "artificial intelligence" into the middle of common words. I'm a big fan of invented or repurposed vocabulary, since I believe that's how language actually evolves. Imagine telling someone in the year 1980, "I had to quit posting because a troll was starting a flame war on Facebook." The delightful sense of cognitive estrangement that altered language brings about is a prime pleasure of SF, and Brin mostly does it well. But we do encounter a few clunky inventions in Existence. Ever since Robert Heinlein coined TANSTAAFL ("There ain't no such thing as a free lunch"), we've had authors laboring over similar awkward acronyms. Niven's "Tanj!" as a cussword was a prior low point. ("There ain't no justice!") In Brin's case, it's WAIST: "Wow, ain't it strange that?" Here's my response: NGH, or "Never gonna happen."

Additionally, Brin at age sixty-one is not, oh, forty-year-old Paolo Bacigalupi or Ernest Cline. Some of his Boomer reflexes trigger a few rare moments where you might feel you're dealing with one of "yesterday's tomorrows." I doubt anyone under the age of fifty is going to get the somewhat pointless allusions embedded in "Autie Murphy" and "Gene Autie," when referencing two autistic persons.

But these tiny tics disappear in the oceanic onrush of action, philosophy and world-building, especially in Parts 7 and 8, which blossom out laterally in quantum leaps of arena-widening wonder.

"Cicada Lifebloggers had already given [Gerald] free biograph-storage — geneticodes, petscans, q-slices, and all that?. Now they wanted him to put on their omni-crown, a hot-hat guaranteed to see what he saw, hear what he heard, and store his surface neuroflashes down to petabytes per second!"

Reading Existence is like downloading the datastream from David Brin's hot-hat as he insatiably surveys the marvelous destinations awaiting us just around the bend.

Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.

Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780765303615
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 560
  • Sales rank: 1,430,133
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVID BRIN is a scientist, speaker, technical consultant and world-known author. His novels have been New York Times bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula, and other awards. Brin lives near San Diego, California, with his wife and their three children.

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Read an Excerpt

Existence


By David Brin

Tor Books

Copyright © 2012 David Brin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780765303615

1.
 
I, AMPHORUM

The universe had two great halves.
A hemisphere of glittering stars surrounded Gerald on the right.
Blue-brown Earth took up the other side. Home, after this job was done. Cleaning the mess left by another generation.
Like a fetus in its sac, Gerald floated in a crystal shell, perched at the end of a long boom, some distance from the space station Endurance. Buffered from its throbbing pulse, this bubble was more space than station.
Here, he could focus on signals coming from a satellite hundreds of kilometers away. A long, narrow ribbon of whirling fiber, far overhead.
The bola. His lariat. His tool in an ongoing chore.
The bola is my arm.
The grabber is my hand.
Magnetic is the lever that I turn.
A planet is my fulcrum.
Most days, the little chant helped Gerald to focus on his job—that of a glorified garbageman. There are still people who envy me. Millions, down in that film of sea and cloud and shore.
Some would be looking up right now, as nightfall rushed faster than sound across teeming Sumatra. Twilight was the best time to glimpse this big old station. It made him feel connected with humanity every time Endurance crossed the terminator—whether dawn or dusk—knowing a few people still looked up.
Focus, Gerald. On the job.
Reaching out, extending his right arm fully along the line of his body, he tried again to adjust tension in that far-off, whirling cable, two thousand kilometers overhead, as if it were a languid extension of his own self.
And the cable replied. Feedback signals pulsed along Gerald’s neuro-sens suit … but they felt wrong.
My fault, Gerald realized. The orders he sent to the slender satellite were too rapid, too impatient. Nearby, little Hachi complained with a screech. The other occupant of this inflated chamber wasn’t happy.
“All right.” Gerald grimaced at the little figure, wearing its own neuro-sens outfit. “Don’t get your tail in a knot. I’ll fix it.”
Sometimes a monkey has more sense than a man.
Especially a man who looks so raggedy, Gerald thought. A chance glimpse of his reflection revealed how stained his elastic garment had become—from spilled drinks and maintenance fluids. His grizzled cheeks looked gaunt. Infested, even haunted, by bushy, unkempt eyebrows.
If I go home to Houston like this, the family won’t even let me in our house. Though, with all my accumulated flight pay …
Come on, focus!
Grimly, Gerald clicked down twice on his lower left premolar and three times on the right. His suit responded with another jolt of Slow Juice through a vein in his thigh. Coolness, a lassitude that should help clear thinking, spread through his body—
—and time seemed to crawl.
Feedback signals from the distant bola now had time to catch up. He felt more a part of the thirty kilometer strand, as it whirled ponderously in a higher orbit. Pulsing electric currents that throbbed up there were translated as a faint tingle down here, running from Gerald’s wrist, along his arm and shoulder, slanting across his back and then down to his left big toe, where they seemed to dig for leverage. When he pushed, the faraway cable-satellite responded, applying force against the planet’s magnetic field.
Tele-operation. In an era of ever more sophisticated artificial intelligence, some tasks still needed an old-fashioned human pilot. Even one who floated in a bubble, far below the real action.
Let’s increase the current a bit. To notch down our rate of turn. A tingle in his toe represented several hundred amps of electricity, spewing from one end of the whirling tether, increasing magnetic drag. The great cable rotated across the stars a bit slower.
Hachi—linked-in nearby—hooted querulously from his own web of support fibers. This was better, though the capuchin still needed convincing.
“Cut me some slack,” Gerald grumbled. “I know what I’m doing.”
The computer’s dynamical model agreed with Hachi, though. It still forecast no easy grab when the tether’s tip reached its brief rendezvous with … whatever piece of space junk lay in Gerald’s sights.
Another tooth-tap command, and night closed in around him more completely, simulating what he would see if he were up there, hundreds of klicks higher, at the tether’s speeding tip, where stars glittered more clearly. From that greater altitude, Earth seemed a much smaller disc, filling just a quarter of the sky.
Now, everything he heard, felt or saw came from the robotic cable. His lasso. A vine to swing upon, suspended from some distant constellation.
Once an ape … always an ape.
The tether became Gerald’s body. An electric tingle along his spine—a sleeting breeze—was the Van Allen radiation wind, caught in magnetic belts that made a lethal sizzle of the middle-orbit heights, from nine hundred kilometers all the way out to thirty thousand or so.
The Bermuda Triangle of outer space. No mere human could survive in that realm for more than an hour. The Apollo astronauts accumulated half of all their allotted radiation dosage during a few minutes sprinting across the belt, toward the relative calm and safety of the Moon. Expensive communications satellites suffered more damage just passing through those middle altitudes than they would in a decade, higher up in placid geosynchronous orbit.
Ever since that brief time of bold lunar missions—and the even-briefer Zheng He era—no astronaut had ventured beyond the radiation belt. Instead, they hunkered in safety, just above the atmosphere, while robots explored the solar system. This made Gerald the Far-Out Guy! With his bola for an arm, and the grabber for a hand, he reached beyond. Just a bit, into the maelstrom. No one else got as high.
Trawling for garbage.
“All right…,” he murmured. “Where are you…?”
Radar had the target pinpointed, about as well as machines could manage amid a crackling fog of charged particles. Position and trajectory kept jittering, evading a fix with slipperiness that seemed almost alive. Worse—though no one believed him—Gerald swore that orbits tended to shift in this creepy zone, by up to a few thousandths of a percent, translating into tens of meters. That could make a bola-snatch more artistic guesswork than physics. Computers still had lots to learn, before they took over this job from a couple of primates.
Hachi chirped excitedly.
“Yeah, I see it.” Gerald squinted, and optics at the tether-tip automatically magnified a glitter, just ahead. The target—probably some piece of space junk, left here by an earlier, wastrel generation. Part of an exploding Russian second stage, perhaps. Or a connector ring from an Apollo flight. Maybe one of those capsules filled with human ashes that used to get fired out here, willy-nilly, during the burial-in-space fad. Or else the remnants of some foolish weapon experiment. Space Command claimed to have all the garbage radar charted and imaged down to a dozen centimeters.
Gerald knew better.
Whatever this thing was, the time had come to bring it home before collision with other debris caused a cascade of secondary impacts—a runaway process that already forced weather and research satellites to be replaced or expensively armored.
Garbage collecting wasn’t exactly romantic. Then again, neither was Gerald. Far from the square-jawed, heroic image of a spaceman, he saw only a middle-aged disappointment, on the rare occasions that he looked in a mirror at all, a face lined from squinting in the sharp light of orbit, where sunrise came at you like a wall, every ninety minutes.
At least he was good at achieving a feat of imagination—that he really existed far above. That his true body spun out there, thousands of kilometers away.
The illusion felt perfect, at last. Gerald was the bola. Thirty kilometers of slender, conducting filament, whirling a slow turn every thirty minutes, or five times during each elongated orbit. At both ends of the pivoting tether were compact clusters of sensors (my eyes), cathode emitters (my muscles), and grabbers (my clutching hands), that felt more part of him, right now, than anything made of flesh. More real than the meaty parts he had been born with, now drifting in a cocoon far below, near the bulky, pitted space station. That distant human body seemed almost imaginary.
Like a hunter with his faithful dog, man and monkey grew silent during final approach, as if sound might spook the prey, glittering in their sights.
It’s got an odd shine, he thought, as telemetry showed the distance rapidly narrowing. Only a few kilometers now, till the complex dance of two orbits and the tether’s own, gyrating spin converged, like a fielder leaping to snatch a hurtling line drive. Like an acrobat, catching his partner in midair. After which …
… the bola’s natural spin would take over, clasping the seized piece of debris into its whirl, absorbing its old momentum and giving that property new values, new direction. Half a spin later, with this tether-tip at closest approach to Earth, the grabber would let go, hurling the debris backward, westward, and down to burn in the atmosphere.
The easy part. By then, Gerald would be sipping coffee in the station’s shielded crew lounge. Only now—
That’s no discarded second stage rocket, he pondered, studying the glimmer. It’s not a cargo faring, or shredded fuel tank, or urine-icicle, dumped by a manned mission. By now, Gerald knew how all kinds of normal junk reflected sunlight—from archaic launch vehicles and satellites to lost gloves and tools—each playing peekaboo tricks of shadow. But this thing …
Even the colors weren’t right. Too blue. Too many kinds of blue. And light levels remained so steady! As if the thing had no facets or flat surfaces. Hachi’s questioning hoot was low and worried. How can you make a firm grab, without knowing where the edges are?
As relative velocity ebbed toward zero, Gerald made adjustments by spewing electrons from cathode emitters at either cable end, creating torque against the planetary field, a trick for maneuvering without rockets or fuel. Ideal for a slow, patient job that had to be done on the cheap.
Now Hachi earned his keep. The little monkey stretched himself like a strand of spaghetti, smoothly taking over final corrections—his instincts honed by a million generations of swinging from jungle branches—while Gerald focused on the grab itself. There would be no second chance.
Slow and patient … except at the last, frenetic moment … when you wish you had something quicker to work with than magnetism. When you wish—
There it was, ahead. The Whatever.
Rushing toward rendezvous, the bola’s camera spied something glittery, vaguely oval in shape, gleaming with a pale blueness that pulsed like something eager.
Gerald’s hand was the grabber, turning a fielder’s mitt of splayed fingers, reaching as the object loomed suddenly.
Don’t flinch, he chided ancient intuitions while preparing to snatch whatever this hurtling thing might be.
Relax. It never hurts.
Only this time—in a strange and puzzling way—it did.
A MYRIAD PATHS OF ENTROPY
Does the universe hate us? How many pitfalls lie ahead, waiting to shred our conceited molecule-clusters back into unthinking dust? Shall we count them?
Men and women always felt besieged. By monsters prowling the darkness. By their oppressive rulers, or violent neighbors, or capricious gods. Yet, didn’t they most often blame themselves? Bad times were viewed as punishment, brought on by wrong behavior. By unwise belief.
Today, our means of self-destruction seem myriad. (Though Pandora’s Cornucopia will try to list them all!) We modern folk snort at the superstitions of our ancestors. We know they could never really wreck the world, but we can! Zeus or Moloch could not match the destructive power of a nuclear missile exchange, or a dusting of plague bacilli, or some ecological travesty, or ruinous mismanagement of the intricate aiconomy.
Oh, we’re mighty. But are we so different from our forebears?
Won’t our calamity (when it comes) also be blamed on some arrogant mistake? A flaw in judgment? Some obstinate belief? Culpa nostra. Won’t it be the same old plaint, echoing across the ruin of our hopes?
“We never deserved it all! Our shining towers and golden fields. Our overflowing libraries and full bellies. Our long lives and overindulged children. Our happiness. Whether by God’s will or our own hand, we always expected it would come to this.
“To dust.”
—Pandora’s Cornucopia


 
Copyright © 2012 by David Brin


Continues...

Excerpted from Existence by David Brin Copyright © 2012 by David Brin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Interviews & Essays

Is there such a thing as human destiny?
By David Brin *

Does the universe have it in for us?

That may seem an odd question for a notorious optimist to ask. But we're descended from fretful apes and the more we learn, the stranger and more daunting existence seems. Obsessed with continuity, we're conceited bags of molecule-clusters, all-too easily shredded back into unthinking dust.

Our ancestors knew this. From the caves and through every generation leading to the present, men and women felt besieged - by monsters prowling the darkness, by oppressive rulers, violent neighbors, or capricious gods. Often, bad times were viewed as punishment, brought on by wrong behavior. By flawed belief.

Apocalyptic thinking goes way back, all the way to dour premonitions on Sumerian tablets. Christian millenarians kept expecting the second coming every year of the first century C.E., a theme that then recurred in steady rhythm, at least once per generation. The most popular book of the 1790s ingeniously tied every line of Revelation to Napoleon and other current figures, a feat of pattern-seeking that repeated when both sides of the U.S. Civil War envisioned their rivals as the Beast. Later mystics ascribed that role to the Soviet Union, then blithely reassigned it to militant Islam. What next, China ascendant? Then (around 2025) the expected wave of intelligent machines?

Other sullen prophecies ranged from Nordic Ragnarok to Hindu cycles of destruction to Mayan era-quakes, and so on. All passionately held.

Modern folk snort at such superstitions! Those ancient folk could never really wreck the world, but we can! Neither Zeus nor Moloch could ever match the destructive power of a nuclear missile exchange, or a dusting of plague bacilli, or some ecological travesty, or ruinous mismanagement of the intricate global economy.

Our own list of potential calamities keeps growing! Especially when we look up at night and ponder the "Fermi Paradox" - the strange absence of any apparent sign, trace or even hint of advanced civilization, out there among the brittle-bright stars. Some deep thinkers have made earnest estimates suggesting that space should be filled by now with busy noise, with conversation and even voyagers. So, why the great silence?

Could it be that innumerable pitfalls await every sapient species - even those that avoid nuclear or biological war? Do you doubt that we'll be able to finish ourselves off, some time or another?

Oh, we are mighty, all right.

Still, are we so different from our forebears, who expected doom to come about because of flaws in human character? Won't our cataclysm (when it comes) also be blamed on some arrogant mistake? A failure in judgment? Some obstinate habit or delusional belief? Culpa nostra. Won't it be the same old plaint, echoing across the ruin of our hopes?

"We never deserved it all! Our shining towers and golden fields. Our overflowing libraries and full bellies. Our long lives and overindulged children. Our happiness. Whether by God's will or our own hand, we always expected it would come to this.

"To dust."


Now admit it. Wasn't that fun? People relish a little doom-n-gloom, now and then! As I found out while filming Life After People, one of the most popular documentary shows ever.

Only... after all of that, will it surprise you to know that I'm still an optimist? That I think (shho-be-doo) we're gonna be all right?

There is something exceptionally promising about a species of smart apes - and especially this rambunctious, ornery, ever-questioning civilization - that never stops worrying and poking at tomorrow, discovering the pitfalls and mine-fields and quicksand pits... some of them just in the nick of time! At least, that's the theme I try to explore in a new novel, appropriately titled Existence.

It's as if we have been in training, all this time. Learning the skills and tools we need. Especially how to look into a mirror and finally see. To know ourselves - the great pre-requisite before facing our challenges ahead.

I don't believe this because of naive hope, or pride, or because the alternative is unbearable to contemplate. I don't even believe it because of all the fantastic progress that we've made recently, truly remarkable, despite all the pessimistic snarls by cynical grouches of both right and left. No. Not for any of those reasons.

I believe it because it's what makes sense. Because our ancestors strove hard to make us ready. And because everything I've seen - across the expanse of both science and the arts - leads to one conclusion.

The universe, harsh as it may be, needs us. — David Brin

David Brin is a scientist, speaker, and best-selling author of novels translated into more than twenty languages. Winner of Hugo and Nebula awards, David also appears frequently on shows such as Nova. The Transparent Society won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association. His new novel from Tor Books - exploring some big, near-future challenges, is Existence.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 30 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(12)

4 Star

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2012

    A Good Read

    I've always been a fan of David Brin, from Sun Diver and The Postman to Heaven's Reach, I've read them all. I even ordered this book months before it was released. I have to give this book a conditional 4 stars because I didn't like this universe as well as the uplift wars universe. This may be because I can see that parts of the future really might become what Brin has written about.

    Existence is formatted like the Uplift Trilogy in that it has several threads - some threads and characters I liked more than others. One of the characters I had a problem with was Prof. Nozone because I had to slow down my reading to understand his dialog.

    Prof. Brin has always been good at space opera and he hasn't disappointed here.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The good: a sense of atmosphere in a complex and engaging story,

    The good: a sense of atmosphere in a complex and engaging story, with a different & original take on first contact, as well as a fleshed out, plausible future, raising and addressing intriguing questions about technological immersion. The uncertainty of where the book was going was even better, and Mr. Brin does a great job of keeping the reader's attention. Occasionally, the immersion in different character perspectives worked marvelously.
    Why not five stars? While the reader gets to know several characters in detail, only two main characters (Tor Pavlov and Gerald Livingstone) get both full development and full resolution (with two more getting a somewhat more perfunctory wrap-up). The jump forward in time in Part 7 is jarring, disrupting the previously excellent pacing in a way that the book does not recover from. The last part feels rushed and episodic. Many of the previous stories and characters are either left dangling awkwardly, not to be resolved here (except as indirect throwaway references), or end up as pointless dead ends.
    Despite the quibbles, however, it was still one of my favorite reads of the year.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 1, 2012

    Excellent near future fiction

    Brin takes several modern trends and carries them to a logical extention in the near future. Weaving the stories of several main characters, he portrays the myriad factions within society as well as the political factions and agendas. He does all of this within the framework of the backstory to his Uplift Series.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 31, 2012

    An exceptional read with multiple angles exploring the myriad of

    An exceptional read with multiple angles exploring the myriad of possibilities being thrown at us in our increasingly technologically driven society. Dr. Brin explores many of the points of views we see developing around us from the youth of our nation, really most of the world, connected electronically like we older generations never conceived to those in society doing their best to slow or stop science and go back to that mythical golden age, "before". True there are many personalities to follow, not always easy for many, and some of the section jumps are great and take a while to adjust to, but on the whole the book is filled with thought provoking insights into so many of the facets of our society, from the seeming increase in autism to the dramatic and seemingly irreconcilable political disconnect between groups in our own country. Well worth the read. Thought provoking. In general optimistic but also scary.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2012

    Most thought provoking sci-fi I've read in 2 years

    Almost didn't read this due to other reviews and that would have been a shame. Story weaves in the best social arguments and observations other authors have made and develops them a little further. Really shocked by the other reviews. What's not to love about summoning a smart-mob!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    A long and difficult read

    The author seems to have decided that he would write a very long novel with many, many threads of varying relevance running throughout. The main premise, of finding an alien egg, is a little suspect from the beginning. The bulk of the novel is trying to establish some sort of atmosphere around the main plot. Unfortunately the main plot tends to get buried by all the other narratives. This is typical of many novels where the reader wants to speed read through material in search of the main story line. For much better writing see the Gibraltar trilogy.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2012

    recommend for sci-fi fans

    good story , very well written and will hold your attention the whole 900 pages.
    the story is about our search for OTHERS in our immense galaxy.We are so scared of being alone and yet afraid of finding smarter more aggressive races. when we do find evidence of OTHERS and they can still talk to us, because of their amazing new tecnology. we almost become trapped in their mistake and we learn to call them virus instead of savior. we grow up as humans and take control of our own destiny.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2013

    A great read

    I've been a sci-fi and David Brin fan for a long time and I have to say this is his best effort and the best all around sci-fi novel ever, IMHO, with memorable characters and a believable story as part of the mix.

    Spanning decades starting in the not too distant future and connecting with several of Mr Brin's other novels, Existence should be a very rewarding read for fans and newcomers alike.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012

    Can't read it-gibberish

    There is nothing to hold on to that is solid. Searched up to page 200 and all the same. I want my money back.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2012

    Existence with obstacles

    Appreciated the focus on the many risks to species survival beyond earth. The emphasis on sublight travel created a number of opportunities for a good story. But I felt that the author failed to capitalize on character development. I also disliked the story's jumping ahead many years and answering the questions / past conflicts in passing. It is a creative work but lacking in key elements to make a great novel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Absolutely a Masterpiece.

    I love theoretically possible tech. We need much more Science Fiction like this to inspire and take us where need to be going, for the reasons explored within these pages. I love how Brin visits many of the big questions of existence.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2012

    Hard to follow

    Not one of his best efforts.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2012

    i just couldnt get past a couple of chapters. It changed so muc

    i just couldnt get past a couple of chapters. It changed so much from one person to the next to the next..etc. trying to follow the story or just get into the story was impossible. Well not impossible if you have MULTIPLE personality disorder and let each personality read the chapter of whatever character it is following...lol

    I have read other david brin books and liked them. Just dont know what happened here.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2012

    garbage

    This is the worst book I have ever read. It sickens me to think I paid $14 for this. I tried to read it but after 600 pages I realised it was not going to get any batter. Pure crap.

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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