by David Brin
Cover Artist: Studio MacBeth
Review by Jon Guenther
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765303615
Date: 19 June 2012 List Price $27.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
A tale of scientific ideas as vastly ambitious in scale as the future world in which it's set! As a scientist and futurist, David Brin is known for the originality and freshness of his fiction. In Existence he's delivered the goods once more through his unique ideas. Existence is set in a richly-drawn future Earth, where global access to information has eliminated privacy and clothed social interaction via an artificial intelligence with near boundless limits.
One aspect I felt made the novel interesting was not just the richness of the central characters, but the interplay with all of the secondary characterizations woven into the storyline. The text also includes small vignettes, both imaginative and real, of literature, media, and scientific journals that brought me closer to understanding the society Brin has created. These interludes, although distracting, motivated me to think about just how possible this future might be. Existence is also rich in scientific ideas such as underwater harvesting, the removal of hazardous orbital debris from space, and action sports that involve launching manned rockets like a sort of intrastellar Indy 500.
Unfortunately, the excitement in the discovery of an alien artifact was often distilled by the world-building through about the first half of the novel. I also had some trouble with the narrative technique and constructs. I was surprised with how much Existence jumped about here and there without leaving me any real sense of the logic behind Brin's stylistic choices. The choppy structure and addition of the vignettes I already mentioned made the book somewhat difficult and frustrating to read. The frequent shifts in point-of-view may turn off some readers. Hence, I think readers should approach the novel as a collection of serialized shorts rather than something they can read hours at a sitting.
To summarize: David Brin's Existence had many good points in its SF ideas and a rich, complex future, but on another level the storytelling suffered due to the swift changes in person and plot direction. I enjoyed the content but the somewhat poor execution didn't satisfy as much as I'd hoped, which leaves me able to recommend the book more on its high-concept ideas than the story itself.