Existence portrays a near-future world, roughly 2050, in which terrible things have happened, but guess what? People reacted by coping, as they always have. Only now you can scroll through all the overlays of augmented reality that lay upon the surface world of the “merely real.” Google’s Project Glass was announced the same day Existence came out, taking us a step in that direction. I take it 40 years into the future.
The book is set against a puzzle of our age, the Fermi paradox—that the universe ought to be filled with all sorts of lifeforms, species that came onto the galactic stage before us. Yet we see no signs of them, not even in the rocks beneath our feet. Earth was prime real estate for 2 billion years, with an oxygen atmosphere and nothing living on land higher than slime molds. Visitors who flushed a toilet or tossed a Coke bottle would have changed everything in ways we’d notice. The great silence—or absence—is mystifying.