Book Review: Existence, by David Brin

Mama Fisi
Mama Fisi's picture

I am desperately trying to get through reading David Brin's "Existence." I do not think I am going to succeed.

Which is a shame, because the premise of the book is a very good one--what happens when Earthlings find an alien artifact which allows them to communicate with a federation of other species (or are they really demons?)--and Brin interweaves his narrative with a mind-boggling array of cutting-edge technology that will be state of the art tomorrow.

Where I'm falling down, though, is in his writing style. I just don't have sufficient ADD to be able to follow along as he jumps between six or eight interweaving storylines. It's really like trying to read six different books simultaneously, and that's where he's lost me. Just as I get interested in what's happening to a character, Brin shuts off that thread and begins a completely new thread with a completely different character. The next chapter, he does it again, and again, until by the time he gets back around to continuing the story of the original character, I've completely forgotten what his significance was, or how he was supposed to relate to the rest of the characters.

And the characters are wildly different. One is an astronaut-janitor whose job it is to sweep for space debris. Another is a spoiled rich kid who rides illegal rocket cars and crashes into the ocean where he's saved by a bunch of dolphins who take him to a Reggae physicist-philosopher. There's this philosopher, who has electronically-enhanced dredlocks, and the kid's even wealthier astrophysicist mother, and her cadre of extremely wealthy world-shapers. And then there's the impoverished Chinese peasant salvaging a submerged Chin-Mansion (because you can't have a McMansion in China) who also finds an alien artifact and is accosted by a mechanical penguin.

Yeah. You read that right. Robot penguin. There are also telepathic parrots that carry secret messages because the Internet is infested with spies.

Then there's the Net reporter who is herself wired up so that her every vision and thought gets reported instantaneously in her blog, who winds up almost dying in a zeppelin crash and becomes some kind of Cloud-living supra entity. I don't know how that worked out, I didn't get that far.

There's just so-o-o-o much story in here that it becomes like trying to follow a single conversation in a room full of pedantic people all hopped up on caffeine. In the sheer volume of babble you get so overwhelmed that you lose interest and just want to go sit out on the balcony for a while.

Which is a shame, because Brin has clearly done a lot of research and put a lot of thought into this book, but it ends up reading like a hodgepodge collection of every up-to-the-nanosecond concern of Western society, from climate change to cloudsourcing to religion to the One Percenters to alternative energy to the Singularity to...

Wait, where was I?