Monday, July 21, 2014

David Brin: EXISTENCE, an SF novel of the near future

David Brin

This is, as far as I can tell, Brin's latest novel, and it's a hefty one at some five hundred and fifty+ pages.  As he did with an earlier work, Earth, Brin set it on Earth in the near future, the mid 2050's probably and used the multiple narrative structure following a number of people.  This does distance the reader from identifying closely with any one character, but it does allow for a better overall impression of the world at that time.
Existence needs to be a large book for it explores a number of themes, disparate on the surface, yet Brin manages to interweave a fascinating tale with them.  Existence, first of all, is a first contact novel, but not with just one alien, but with a wide variety of species.  It is also a very dangerous crowd that comes visiting, for if nothing is done,  civilization will be destroyed and humanity itself will bring it about.  It's an insidious attack, well-meaning in its intent, yet humanity will be doomed unless it resists the invasion. 

The Information Age is another theme.  Here is a theme that I recognize as being a frequent topic on Brin's blog  Contrary Brin   --specifically the right to privacy and access to information.  In essence, it appears to me that Brin believes that the issue of privacy is dead.  There is too much information out there and generally speaking, today, only the privileged few have access to it, as well as governments, large corporations and powerful special interest groups.

Alvin Toffler wrote Power Shift in 1970 and posited that land, labor, and capital would no longer be the major sources of power in the 21st century: it would be information. In this novel, Toffler's prediction comes true.   Brin argues that the solution to the problem of information control is to make access to information available to everybody.  In Existence we see several people who are "outsiders" become important because they take advantage of the free flow of information.  It isn't perfect yet, but they have better access than we do today, and they know how to use it.

Project Uplift appears at a very early stage.  In fact, the process of "uplifting" dolphins and chimps has halted for lack of funding.  As usual, governments are playing their usual game of getting enthusiastic about a project because a particular party is in power.  When the opposition gains control, the funding stops, regardless of its value.  Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

This is a big, sprawling novel with a variety of major characters ranging from a reporter so badly damaged that she must live in a mobile metal cylinder; a Chinese man who makes his living scavenging homes flooded out by the rising sea level; a rich, young man who rents small shuttle craft to go into near Earth space; and an astronaut who gets into space because he is hired to clean out all the debris and garbage in orbit around earth.  And, of course, there are the aliens who didn't come to destroy or even conquer Earth.  They have come to spread the Good News.

This is not a book that can be read in short ten to fifteen minute segments.  You have to turn off the TV and all the other distractions and settle down with this one.  It's worth it.


  1. I will find a copy and turn off the TV. And, for what it is worth, it seems to me that quality SF ought to be required reading for all who have an appreciation of history and a concern about the future. Just the other day, in a related line of thought, I urged a septuagenarian friend to overcome an empty spot in his reading: George Orwell's 1984. As my friend was ranting and raving about the present state of affairs in the world, and as he was throwing in tidbits from history to underscore his rants and raves, I could not resist "forcing" him to make a commitment to read -- without delay -- Orwell's horrifying vision. Now, without further meandering from me, I will seek out Brin's book. And after the Brave's baseball game on TV this evening, I will spend some time following your advice.

  2. RT,

    You might want to mention Huxley's _Brave New World_ after he finishes _1984_. Interesting discussion: which seems to be coming true today?

    I hope you enjoy Brin's _Existence_.

    Have you read Toffler's _Future Shock_?