Bestselling, award-winning futurist David Brin returns to globe-spanning, high concept SF with EXISTENCE. Gerald Livingston is an orbital garbage collector. ...A powerful new book trailer with artwork by Patrick Farley
Science fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future. This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that engages with the world we're building and tries to show us a way to become a mature civilisation rather than a raggle-taggle band of individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build the tools that construct a civil society. In Existence Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one of the biggest questions: what is it all for?
What we're left with in Existence is one of those rare SF novels that needs to be on every technologist's desk, alongside John Brunner's Shockwave Rider, Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End, Charles Stross's Rule 34, and Brin's own Earth. We may not be able to see our future, but in Existence we get a picture of a possible — even a plausible — tomorrow.
"Washington was like a geezer—overweight and sagging, but with attitude. Most of its gutty heft lay below the beltway, in waistlands that had been downwind on Awfulday.
Downwind, but not out.
When droves of upperclass child-bearers fled the invisible plumes enveloping Fairfax and Alexandria, those briefly-empty ghost towns quickly refilled with immigrants—the latest mass of teemers, yearning to be free and willing to endure a little radiation in exchange for a pleasant five-bedroom that could be subdivided into nearly as many apartments. Spacious living rooms began a second life as store fronts. Workshops took over four-car garages and lawns turned into produce gardens. Swimming pools made excellent refuse bins—until government recovered enough to start cracking down."
Questions to get you thinking: about issues of First Contact, Uplift, and how technology will alter our perceptions of privacy and freedom. Existence is set in the year 2050. How does Existence compare to other movies or books set in this near-future timeframe? Is it more optimistic or pessimistic about humanity's future?
How do you think people would respond to the confirmed discovery of an alien artifact – with fear, hope, or exhilaration? How would such responses vary across the globe? Would the discovery of alien races shift our perception of God, of religion, of hope, or salvation?
Xin Pu Shi, the reclamation merchant, waved both hands in front of his face, glancing sourly at Wer's haul of salvage—corroded copper pipes, some salt-crusted window blinds, two small filing cabinets and a mesh bag bulging with various metal odds and ends.
Wer tried to winch the sack lower, but the old man used a pole to fend it away from his boat. "I don't want any of that garbage! Save it for the scrap barge. Or dump it back into the sea."
"You know I can't do that," Wer complained, squeezing the calloused soles of both feet against one of the rusty poles that propped his home above the sloshing sea. One hand gripped the rope, tugging at pulleys, causing the mesh-bag to sway toward Xin. "There are cam-eyes on that buoy over there. They know I raised ninety kilos. If I dump, I'll be fined! I could lose my stake."
"Cry to the north wind," the merchant scolded, using his pole to push away from the ruined building. His flat-bottom vessel shifted, sluggishly, while eels grazed along its mossy hull. "Call me if you salvage something good. Or sell that trash to someone who can use it!"
David Brin discusses the challenges of writing a near future scenario, probing at the effects that change has on our society. Science fiction uses the 'gedankenexperiment' -- the thought experiment -- that often presents a cautionary tale of the dangers that lie ahead. He touches upon the challenges facing an author when attempting to construct a world, with all of the texture to make it believable to the reader, even while maintaining the pace of action, with interesting characters.
Existence by David Brin My rating: 5 of 5 stars A highly stimulating, addictive, fascinating food for thought book. Loads of great ideas and quotable quotes; Best of all, the ending message of embracing diversity is lovely; allistics, auties, neo-Neanderthals, and AIs all working together in harmony. Beautiful!
Do you have any additional tips for up-and-coming writers who have not yet made it to your level of success? DAVID: Write. Love writing. Love stories. Love a civilization that gives you plenty to read and the food and comfort to accompany it all. Be competitive. Seek and relish criticism. Have patience but never stop burning. Burn like a flame. An inferno..
Virtual avatars to offer prayers on one’s behalf in cyberspace? James McGrath explores the religious aspects in Existence: "The story has a strong and explicit element of the apocalyptic and millenarian, and the story not only touches on Biblical texts related to that subject, but also envisages several more end-times movements to have occurred between our time and that not-too-distant future in which the story unfolds."
“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"? 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…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.” Writes Paul De Filippo.
War. Environmental collapse.Natural disasters: Writing from the near future, a sci-fi master imagines our Doomsday: "Using World Model 2035 as a shared starting condition, we’ve seed-slotted a thousand general doom scenarios. Groups are already forming to team-reify them. So join one, bringing your biases and special skills. Or else, start your own doomsday scenario, no matter how crackpot! Is Earth running out of phlogiston? Will mole people rise out of the ground, bent on revenge? Later, we’ll let quantum comparators rank every story according to probabilities..."
Existence revisits the Fermi Paradox, that familiar problem of how, given the sheer size and age of our galaxy, it is implausible that intelligent life has not arisen elsewhere and left visible traces of its presence. Brin's solution to the paradox is both intelligent and, initially, deeply depressing: that the minefield of threats that each race must survive to reach the starts is so extensive that very, very few make it. The novel's opening sections dwell deeply on the threats to mankind's own existence, from climate change and the threat of nuclear war to the possible 'threat' of super-advanced AI. The discovery of the alien 'guidestones' then provides a possible answer, but one which is not to our liking.
Tomorrow Welcomes the Bold! An excerpt-chapter from Existence. It is set at a transhumanist convention in the year 2040. And the point-of-view character, Tor, is using a LOT of augmented reality (AR) gear as she strolls the aisles, sampling hot new tech trends.. From “cyborg” prosthetics to remote controlled nanoflits. From fully-implanted brainlink shunts to servant robots. “Every year, they solve some problem or obstacle, in machine-walking, talking, vision, navigation, or common sense,” she subvocalized for her report, letting the specs absorb it all...
David Brin's bold new novel explores the ultimate question: Billions of planets may be ripe for life, even intelligence. So where is Everybody? Do civilizations make the same fatal mistakes, over and over? Might we be the first to cross the mine-field, evading every trap to learn the secret of Existence?
Astronaut Gerald Livingstone grabs a crystal lump of floating space debris. Little does he suspect it's an alien artifact, sent across the vast, interstellar gulf, bearing a message. "Join us!" -- it proclaims. What does the enticing invitation mean? To enroll in a great federation of free races?
Only then, what of rumors that this starry messenger may not be the first? Have other crystals fallen from the sky, across 9,000 years? Some have offered welcome. Others... a warning!
This masterwork of science fiction combines hard-science speculation and fast-paced action with the deeply thoughtful ideas and haunting imagery that David Brin (best-selling author of Earth and The Postman) is known for in more than twenty languages.
‘Existence’ is a novel that attempts to span and explore some of the biggest questions, such as where humanity fits into the grand epic of life in the universe. Billions of planets may be ripe for life, even intelligence. So where is Everybody? Do civilizations make the same fatal mistakes, over and over? Might we be the first to cross the mine-field, evading every trap to learn the secret of Existence?
Astronaut Gerald Livingstone grabs a crystal lump of floating space debris. Is it an alien artifact, sent across the vast, interstellar gulf, bearing a message from far civilizations? “Join us!” What does the enticing invitation mean? To enroll in a great federation of free races? Only, what of rumors that this starry messenger may not be the first? Have other crystals fallen, across 9,000 years? Some offering welcome… and others… a warning?
The Future of Journalism as portrayed in Existence: Smart Mobs, Augmented Reality and Credibility Scores… Existence offers a compelling vision of leveraging the “wisdom of the crowd.” as the journalist Tor draws upon her personal smart mob to investigate a catastrophe in real time. She can take the pulse of the smart mob, asking for advice on what path to take next. She receives aggregate results from what everyone in the mob is answering, but with higher-credibility participants’ responses weighted heavily, and the mass of words and data interpreted and visualized by her AI assistant. -
I would consider Existence to be a triumphant, epic Science Fiction novel on many levels. It stayed with me after I set it aside for the day, continues to simmer in my mind now that I’ve finished reading it, and has opened up a gateway to Brin’s novels I’d wanted to enter for a while. Brin achieved an excellent gestalt of character, big ideas, and narrative energy. Existence is my top SF novel of 2012 and I recommend it without hesitation. -- Rob H. Belford
Your book is, in some ways, a re-telling of the Pandora’s box cautionary tale about the perils of knowledge and technology. You also suggest (though not without much hedging) that advanced civilizations can’t last very long. Certainly the history of civilizations on our planet supports this view, but isn’t there a good possibility, if we survive the next few decades, that our probes and some (possibly a great many) individuals will escape this beautiful planet we call home, on a permanent basis, and before too long spread far and wide in our solar system and eventually to nearby stars?
As we’ve had increasing reason to speculate, travel to the stars may not involve biological life fors but robotics and artificial intelligence.
The big Fermi question looms over everything as we’re forced to consider how it might be answered, with first one and then many solutions being discarded as extraterrestrials are finally contacted, their presence evidently constant through much of the history of the Solar System. Brin’s between-chapter discussions will remind Centauri Dreams readers of many of the conversations we’ve had here on SETI and the repercussions of contact.
David Brin reads the first chapter of Existence, his ground-breaking new novel about our near and distant future.
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.
Too many authors and film-makers buy into the playground notion that cynicism is somehow chic and knowing. So many 50- or 80-year-old clichés are rampant (e.g. “hey look, I invented suspicion of authority!”) while nostalgia pushes aside what used to be our genre’s golden notion: that we in this civilization might find ways to improve, to solve problems, to become better than we were. A difficult task, fraught with many pitfalls. But too many portray it now as hopeless.
When, the first message arrives from another world—from the aliens we all secretly hope/fear are out there—will we 1) prepare to do battle or 2) embrace an extended tentacle? In his epic new science fiction novel, Existence (Tor Books), David Brin delves into the multiple consequences of the first alien encounter.
David Brin's "Existence" is poised between sci-fi's high-tech hopes and its post-space-shuttle disappointments. It opens with a man floating in a space-pod above the Earth, deploying a long cable with sensors linked to his own perceptions, like a fishing line that feels. Routine space operations, novel technology: This is serious progress! But the job he is doing is the menial work of fishing for space junk: the thrusters, shredded fuel tanks and urine-icicles dumped in orbit by an earlier, more careless age.
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