Top positive review
3 people found this helpful
on 26 June 2010
The idea of mapping and uploading human consciousness isn't new to science fiction. Indeed, Egan has explored it in a couple of his earlier novels and in his short stories. Other SF writers have done so too. But Zendegi isn't stale or hackneyed; quite the opposite in fact.
Zendegi is the name of a virtual reality role-playing game whose designers manage to create game characters from partially mapped human minds. They do so for commercial reasons, to give their product an edge in an increasingly competitive VR market place. It's ironic that something so complex and amazing should be applied to such mundane purposes - entertainment and money-making. Egan juxtaposes this scenario with another far more worthwhile one - using a virtual version of a dying parent as way of ensuring that the child doesn't grow up totally without parental guidance. But what are the moral implications of doing this? And what other applications, altruistic or otherwise, might such technology lead to, especially given the increasingly commercial nature of scientific research?
Exploring big questions like these is what great SF is all about, and Egan's treatment of this particular topic is fascinating. Equally fascinating is the setting - a near-future Iran which is now democratic but where religious ideology is still a factor.
By contrast with his previous two novels, Egan balances the science and the storytelling really well, creating believable characters and putting them in a setting that, while speculative, is eminently plausible. There's also a touch of humour where, early in the novel, one of the characters is confronted by a science journalist whose previous works include `The Sociobiology of The Simpsons' and `The Metaphysics of Melrose Place'. Ha ha! Shades of the pretentious academics in Teranesia whose careers have been forged in the cutting edge fields of X-Files Theory and Diana Studies.
The characters in the book are not heroic, but they are very human. The story does not have a dramatic climax, but it leaves you thinking about morality, about politics, about business, about humanity's future. It's a provocative speculation on the possibilities of technology and it's Egan's best novel in years.