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on 15 January 2014
Well, I've struggled on with this for several weeks, hoping the few great concepts would come alive as the denouement neared and justify the dazzling reviews. And then on page 508, I read this. "Ah Gerald, my friend. I see you tease me. Very well. I shall stop demanding haste". So this alien, locked a crystal jar for however many millennia and conversing with a human, starts talking like a character from a Victorian melodrama. Noooo! It's a bridge much too far and I have to consign the tome to file 13.

Discursive exposition is the bane of much SciFi, as is dodgy characterisation, and I'm afraid this book has them in spades. And I'm a lover of the genre. Brin has many, many different ways, all in various typefaces, of putting his dodgy future world opinions across, and, in Prof. Noozone, a character to match Jar Jar Binks in stupidity. The basic concept, of overturning Fermi's paradox as to why we don't see the alien is a brilliant one, but he's overloaded it with so much future history guff (how the elite show their scorn for social norms by allowing their guests to pee in a pot is one that particularly sticks in mind) that it's hard to follow any basic human relationships with the plot and the whole book flops like an over-baked soufflé. I had thought that most modern authors had given up this sort of nonsense, but maybe when you've won as many awards as he has you don't give a damn anymore.

I'd suggest a) a much better editor and b) that the esteemed Mr. Brin reads, I don't know, a bit of Steven King to get the relationship between plot and character a mite closer.

Disappointing is not strong enough a word, but I have to bear in mind the house rules here. Do not buy this travesty of a novel.
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on 5 August 2014
It was not a promising start that proceeded to wander, seemingly without end. This seems like a clumsy and formulaic attempt to create a prequel to the uplift saga that is compounded by having been written by committee (see the credits at the end if you can stand to slog it out that far). Sub plots that tail off after extensive and pointless over-description, 2 dimensional characters and a narrative that seems to bore even brim himself by about 3/4 of the way through. With some decent and quite heavy editing this could be a good read and the overall story arc could easily have made a rather more pleasing trilogy. The overwhelming and lasting impression is of a contractual obligation to the publisher fulfilled; a book that is not half as clever as it thinks it is and fails almost completely at what any decent book should do...entertain the reader.
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on 18 November 2012
This could have been an interesting thoughtful book about the future and first contact with aliens, trouble was it's narrative was buried in a hotch potch of essays on related subjects that contributed very little to the story and made the book both irritating to read and in parts boring. Some of the material seemed to have been dumped into the book, having been written for other projects, and would have been better left out. Written in a more spare style this would have been a much better book. In spite of this I finished it and enjoyed reading some of it.
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on 13 July 2014
efficient and timely service
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 July 2012
David Brin's Existence proved irresistible. It examines some of the biggest, most compelling themes. Is humanity alone in the universe, a mere freak of creation? If, on the other hand, there is intelligent life out there, why has it chosen to remain silent?

Brin's focus is on several characters in the near future, a time when space exploration has stalled but leaps in technology are fast and ambitious. Gerald is one of the few humans in space, gathering debris from the orbit of earth and flicking it into the planet's atmosphere for annihilation - he finds an Artefact, a non-human entity that communicates through him; Peng Xiang Bin lives on the margins of survival in Shanghai, a watery existence in the flooded ruins of devastated seaside mansions - he finds another artefact, which appears to be aware of the other found by Gerald. It doesn't like it; Hacker is a rich man who seeks thrills. He finds them in space, in self-funded rockets that peek into space before falling back to earth; Hamish is a famous film maker and writer, a celebrity, who works for a confederation that seeks to turn from the stars and heal the earth through the abolishment of democracy and the emergence of a more basic society run by a rich elite; Tor is a journalist who speaks for the flashmob. Seeking to report the truth about the Artefact, Tor finds herself in the unique position of seeing humanity from the other side.

This cast, as well as many others who come and go through the pages, slowly begin to circle around the space artefact, its opposing earth artefact, and show us the world that earth has become. Hacker's rocket, for instance, crashes into the sea and the only way he can survive is through the help of intelligence-developed dolphins, while his mother and others debate the merit of technology outstripping the ability of humans. It's not long, though, before the alien voices of the artefact are added to the noise of unease and, above all, fear. The aliens bring a message and how to deal with that message is a theme of this novel. Humans, such as Hacker's mother Lacey, may have spent millions trying to detect the existence of aliens but, once they're noticed, what they have to say may not be what is expected.

Existence shows us how people behave when they learn that they, us, are not alone. Interspersed with the narrative are brief passages which examine, for example, potential methods of extinction - the other side of the coin to existence. We also hear hints of other beings, the reborn Neanderthal child, as well as pleas from one of the characters imploring alien life forms to reveal themselves.

These passages don't particularly disturb the flow of the novel because that is already fragmented by the chopping and changing between characters. This is an issue with Existence. The stories are each so vividly told that the interruption as we move from one to another is felt keenly. The fact that this matters is testament to the quality of the story telling.

Thrown into this are some fascinating ideas - we hear about Awfulday, without being given details, but it is clear that this was some unspecified nuclear cataclysmic event. There has also been a plague that has resulted in Auties - vast numbers of autistic survivors. Artificially intelligent life forms are evolving. The oceans have risen, resulting in slums on the edges of the sea. There are hints throughout of great disasters. We also have glimpses of animal life. Amongst the extinctions, there is the monkey who works with Gerald to destroy space debris as well, of course, as those most marvellous dolphins, and the emptying waters fished by Peng. Then there are the artefacts themselves...

Existence is hard science fiction. There is a great deal of contemplation by characters and the narrator about the world and universe around them. Their self awareness increases and we are a part of the discovery. This is especially true of Tor who is transformed through the novel in almost every way. She is a fascinating character.

Existence is about 550 pages. However, don't let that mislead you. The size of the font means that you may as well double the size. It's not a fast read but it is an absorbing one. I found it extremely compelling and I didn't want to be away from it too long. This was because of the characters - particularly Tor, Hamish and Gerald - but also because of some of the other themes we come across, some human and some alien. I didn't miss a word, I didn't skim a page.

There were issues for me - especially, as mentioned, the leaping between characters and, as the novel goes on, the leaping between years. The latter led to characters disappearing and loose ends loosened further. I think the novel could have been made tighter. Nevertheless, I was mesmerised by the read. This is Brin's first novel for ten years. After Existence I can only hope that we have to wait a mere fraction of this for the next.
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on 19 December 2014
I am not a discerning reader. I disliked dissecting books at school and scraped an 'O'-level in Eng.Lit. I failed to recognise the ending of Heinlein's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls as a classic cat in a Schrodinger box and didn't realise that James T Kirk's 5 year mission was related by name with James Cook's exploration of the Pacific. Nevertheless, I have a grading on books, from multiple bonfires for a book I threw across the room unfinished up through several levels of shelves on the bookshelf. This book goes on the top shelf because I am certain I will want to read it again.

This book has two main themes, the Fermi paradox and the birth of new sentiences.

It fizzes with ideas, such as the reporter acting as the nucleation point for an online investigation group that makes major discoveries, and the idea of interstellar chain-letter as a viral plague. I said that I don't like dissecting books after I have read them but this book must have been good because I wanted to discuss it with someone afterwards. As an example, I don't believe that gravitational braking can be used to reduce 3% light-speed to a captured orbit but maybe I am missing something; someone famously proved that spaceflight was impossible because there weren't any fuels powerful enough to lift themselves into orbit but they were wrong because they hadn't thought of multistage rockets. I also believe that an attempt to genetically resurrect Neanderthal humans is as abhorrent as the production of epsilons in Brave New World.

I said fizzes and I chose the word deliberately because this could also be seen as a weakness of the book. I don't know if there is a name for this structure, but many books start with chapters introducing different characters in different situations and the characters converge and interact during the course of the story. Sadly, I once read five chapters of a book before I realised that it was a book of unrelated short stories and not a single novel. This book is structured differently; it diverges instead. One hero starts out married with a child but parts from them near the start and they never meet again even though we follow the adventures of both. Not that child, but another of his wife, makes a superfluous cameo performance near the end. Both parents are kidnapped or kidnap attempts are made but we never discover by whom, they are just shadowy presences that are never made explicit. In many other chapters we follow the adventure of another character who never interacts with anyone else that we are following and his story could be excised without harm to the book. Towards the end we follow the actions and thoughts of an alien AI without ever discovering its motivations and intentions.

When I went to the author's website I found out what is going on. He has taken several good novellas and tacked them loosely together to make a composite novel but the threads of the sub-stories are still hanging loose. Personally, I found the way that the story briefly focuses on some players and events but leaves other players nebulous, vague or only hinted at all rather tantalising and attractive but I can understand if some readers have given a low rating because of this.
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on 3 April 2016
3.5 stars:this is a huge book but I don't understand many of the negative reviews. Its hard to really please me after almost 40 years of reading sci fi and certainly this could have done with some hefty editing. Distracting self indulgent essays between chapters really breakup the otherwise good pace . nonetheless the bulk of the book is well told, exciting, with good characterization and some great ideas.pity it fizzles out at the end.
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on 8 October 2012
I was left struggling to finish the book just to find out where it was going. Numerous characters are brought into the storyline only to disappear without adding anything. If you are looking for a gripping read then I'm sorry but this is not it.
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on 4 September 2012
this book was very slow to get going. when it did get going it was very disjointed and the end was poor.
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on 11 August 2013
This novel has lots of interesting things to say about why aliens have not revealed themselves, and what the challenges are if a civilisation is to survive. But this is also the novel's big failing, because it tends to 'say' these things, rather than express them through the story. The characters generally all talk in the exact same scientific voice and are not so much characters as mouth pieces for Brin's points. It's what you would get if you took a series of essays and tried to convert them into dialogue. And every chapter is actually followed by an almost direct essay, supposedly from a future encyclopedia or expert.

Also Brin does't seem to understand how to use narrative within a novel. Some characters, who we've been following over hundreds of pages just disappear without any real conclusion. (SPOILERS!) What happened to Mae Ling, or to Hacker and his Dolphins - why did I read all about his story for it then to just vanish? Also, what about the glowing artifact that the dolphins discovered underwater? It just got completely forgotten about.

Having built up some tension at times, Brin just threw it away by not bothering to tell us the most exciting moment, completely ignoring the climaxes of several sections, and then telling us little bits in the following chapter in typical essay style. For example, the majority of the novel is about the two stones, one in the U.S and one in China. And just when the stones are about to be brought together to face each other - the point that the whole book has been moving towards - Brin stops his story and jumps forward twenty years. I mean... what was he thinking?! He's supposed to be a novelist. It happens again a chapter or two later: Tor (who never showed a hint of sadness, turmoil, or regret about her disabilities just continuous, relentless scientific essay talk) has almost found the lurking robot in the asteroid belt; the robot is about to act in a potentially devastating or wonderful way (we've been waiting to find out which) and then... story over, jump to another time and place... Again, what...? What kind of story telling is this?

So, there's some big flaws in the writing, and it's far too long. However, it was far more interesting than most other novels I've read lately, and although I disagreed with many of the ideas (I'm fed up of reading of human minds encoded as data; there's far more too us than that) it kept me reading and wanting to know what happened. So I'll give it three stars, which says as much about how rubbish most novelists are as it does about the qualities of this book. But there we go, three stars. Many problems, but still interesting.
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