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Existence    by David Brin order for
by David Brin
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Renowned SF writer/futurist David Brin populates his thoughtful and thought provoking near future SF epic, Existence, with all kinds of credible interest groups, AIware, technology, and intriguing social trends. And there are many strands of story to follow ...

Gerald Livingston is a 'glorified garbageman' who works in a bubble some distance from the space station, 'Cleaning the mess left by another generation.' But this time he picks up something rather different, an Artifact that's a message in a bottle from the far regions of space - squabbling messengers turn out to be in the bottle too.

Peng Xiang Bin ekes out a living for his young family by salvaging what he can from drowned coastal mansions (one of which his family shoresteads) outside the seawall of New Shanghai. When Peng finds a glossy ovoid stone that glows, he becomes willy-nilly part of something very big - and very dangerous. He learns that 'The stones have fallen since time began. And men are said to have spoken to them for at least nine thousand years.'

Playboy Hacker Sander is one of a group of young superrich 'rocket jockeys' (despised by eco-activists) who seek the thrill of blasting up, up and away before plummeting down into the Gulf of Mexico. But something goes wrong with Hacker's flight and his suborbital space pod crashes into the ocean. When unusual dolphins offer aid, this novel intersects with Brin's wonderful Uplift series in a delightful fashion. His mother Lacey is another key player in what follows.

Tor Povlov is a reporter who has just landed a prize job with MediaCorp. But the zeppelin she travels on is sabotaged. Savvy Tor calls up a smart-mob from the net and draws on all their talents, and her own skills, to become a big part of the story. Her life changes drastically and permanently, but she does not lose her curiosity and continues to follow her passion.

Famed apocalyptic novelist Hamish Brookeman actively supports the Renunciation Movement, which believes in slowing down technological advances in order to avoid an extinction event for humankind. But he questions his allegiance when the movement's leader forms an alliance with trillionaires. Fate eventually sends him on a surprising journey in unexpected company.

It's hard to do justice to the novel in a brief review as David Brin addresses some of the big questions, including genetic engineering and the uplift of other earth species; why in such a big universe we have found no sign yet of aliens; and how do we avoid extinction as a species? There's a lot to take in, so read Existence carefully and savor every subtle detail. Highly recommended!

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