Science fiction author David Brin, perhaps best known for his novels, Startide Rising, and The Postman, delivers a cornucopia of big ideas in his latest epic, Existence, published by Tor Books. The story begins sometime around 2050, when astronaut Gerald Livingstone, tasked with cleaning up a century’s worth of space junk, snags something that just might be an alien artifact. From there, Brin throws the reader into the deep end as the world reacts to the news. It is a world already haunted by nuclear terrorism, environmental disaster, plague, class conflict, anti-technology religious movements, the balkanization of America, and the creep of artificial intelligence–and all that is just in the first few chapters.
Despite the best efforts of national governments, it soon proves impossible to keep the Livingstone Artifact a secret in a world that has twenty-three Internets and where most people are constantly online through their eyewear–or AIwear. The very existence of the alien artifact threatens to reopen dangerous societal fault lines, which only grow worse when the digitized aliens inside start talking.
Soon, a whole host of characters are swept up in the chaos, from Pen Xiang Bin, a poor Chinese man unwillingly thrust into the spotlight, to Tor Povlov, an ace reporter promoted from social media, to the trillionaire neo-aristocrat, Lacey Donaldson-Sander, and many more. With the danger growing, the world must come together to answer the ultimate question: the future existence of human civilization.
Existence is a slow read, and that’s a good thing. Brin’s multifaceted perspective on the future of life on Earth is filled with so many big ideas that you’ll want to take the time to savor and ponder them in detail. For all this, the novel continues to entertain throughout its 560 pages. The fact that Brin combines the big ideas and good storytelling so well is what makes Existence both a top-notch work of science fiction and an eerily plausible vision of our own future.
My rating: 5 out of 5.