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4.3 out of 5 stars21
4.3 out of 5 stars
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 22 April 2000
Set in the mid 21st century, this sci-fi novel, like Egan's later novel Diaspora, ties together many fascinating scientific and metaphysical ideas in a single book (The emphasis is very definitely on the "sci"). However, unlike Diaspora, there is a strong central theme underlying the story, a baffling idea called the "Dust theory". Any attempt to describe that theory here would be pointless, but I can say that it compels the reader to ponder some fundamental questions about the nature of reality. The theory is completely absurd yet not all that easy to refute. It has certainly caused me a few headaches... The dust theory is motivated and explained via another key theme in both this book and Diaspora - the concept of having a human "download" his mind onto a computer. Aside from the suspension of disbelief required in order to accept that such a thing is possible, Egan presents us with a well-thought-out and plausible scenario regarding these downloaded humans or "copies".
There are several other themes, of lesser importance, but fascinating in their own right, notably the "Autoverse": A piece of software that allows you to have complete control over your own virtual mini-universe - a world capable of modelling objects as complex as bacteria, down to the level of individual atoms.
Well that's the sci part. The human story behind all this doesn't have much intrinsic interest - the characters are vehicles for the ideas, and often one gets the impression that it is Egan who is speaking, not the character (they all seem to be uncannily good at making detached, intelligent comments on whatever is happening). This aspect didn't really bother me, as I think the ideas deserved some detached, intelligent commentary anyway.
The biggest flaw, I found, was the contrived ending. I won't go into details here, but needless to say, the dust theory turns out to be correct (in the story, at least). Once this is established, the author needs some kind of crisis with which to sustain the reader's interest, and it is this crisis, and the circumstances that brought it about, that I found to be rather contrived.
All in all though, I would definitely recommend Permutation City to any fan of "hard" sci-fi, or anyone interested in metaphysics or the philosophy of mind.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2001
In the twenty first century it has become possible to noninvasively scan a human brain and implement the resulting data on a computer: Copies of human beings are alive and well in virtual reality.
Few science fiction writers can run as far with the implications as Greg Egan. Copies are just the premise, and before long we are in much deeper waters as one man begins to question the fundamental nature of reality. It's a magnificent exploration of the true implications of computationalism. If you feel the same when you're scanned and run on a supercomputer, would it feel the same to be run on a billion abacus over a billion years? To be accidentally implemented by the random shuffling of atoms across countless universes? Go read it and feel your mind boggle.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 1999
I read this book in 1994. It still crops up daily in my mind. What would you do if your soul was offered immortality? Would you accept the offer? If not, why? And if you do, how would you spend the rest of eternity? There are passages in the book that I find I live my life by. I don't want to give the plot away - but if you are at all interested in the riddle of where the border between external and internal reality lies you will enjoy this book.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 29 April 2000
This book introduces the concept of running 'Copies' of people on computers on the very 1st page. But it is about so much more than Artificial Inteligence. Greg Egan explores concepts of existance and consciousness that I never knew existed.
This is just a SF book, but it has still changed my perspective of the world.
Read it and then think.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2010
This is not just sci-fi. It's a philosophical masterpiece.

If the following terms mean something to you, then you will absolutely love this book. If not, you should Google each of them, then read this book as quickly as possible. You will never think the same way again.

Cellular automata (Conway's Game of Life or "Wolfram NKS")
Turing test
Universal computer
Quantum suicide

"I exist because I exist." (You'll get it, trust me...)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2010
Firstly; watch out for plot spoiler reviews!!
(it's not a mystery tour if you know where your heading)

Egan's work is 'Hard' Sci-Fi of the highest order. I give him the edge over Brian Aldis (my other favorite), as concepts are heavier and plots driven by 'rawer' science at a blistering pace.

His breadth of vision astounds; always extrapolating logically to the n'th degree. A modicum of effort may be required from the reader at times; but one is richly rewarded with a sense of awe, discovery and achievement. Each book is a Grand Odyssey.

Hold tight and don't look down, because he'll take you a long, long way from where you started....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2013
I actually had a tear in my eye reading the final scene in this book... and if you ever get there you'll understand how strangely ironic that is.
Can't recommend this one highly enough. And as someone else here says, it gets better with every read. The tiny details you may skip over the first time play such an important part in the ideas Mr. Egan is trying to convey.
The opening anagram poem is fantastic in itself... almost a perfect description of the concepts in itself, and presented as the work of a 'madman'.
Beautiful work 10/10
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2008
I first read this book in the mid '90s and it has stuck with me ever since. As a vision of the future it is breathtaking; as a depiction of what could happen to someone who has achieved immortality in a world where everything they desire can be theirs in an instant, it is terrifying. Greg Egan paints a world that is both wonderful and horrific at the same time. It is a must read.
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on 25 February 2011
In this book Greg Egan packages together a series of interesting thought experiments with a gripping narrative. This is a hard sci-fi treatment of the themes of personhood and consciousness, set in a world in which "mind-uploading" is commonplace and the creation of "copies" that live on after physical human death creates legal and ethical dilemmas for humanity.

The book actually took me back to the kind of insights that David Deutsch's "The Fabric of Reality" provided, but apart from that I also found myself engaged with the book as a work of fiction, following various characters as they become involved with the protagonist Paul Durham's arcane experiments into the limits of the world that Egan envisions.

The book's only serious flaw is that the female characters are wholly unfeminine and quite unsympathetic too. I don't get the impression that this is a plot point so much as a mere failure by Egan to capture female psychology in his writing.
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on 25 March 2014
Permutation City is a brilliant book I can highly recommend to any scifi fan who has an interest in scientific and philosophical themes.

It's a tragic tale involving interesting characters I couldn't help but relate to, together with a fascinating delve into the the essence of consciousness and identity.

Probably the only work of fiction I've ever come across that has both blown my mind with its ideas and deeply moved me with its story and characters. Every science fiction fan should give this a shot, even if, like myself, the reason you're a science fiction fan is because scifi scenarios can provide a sense of adventure and freedom that isn't possible in reality.
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Diaspora by Greg Egan (Paperback - 7 Feb. 2008)


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