Book Review: “Existence” by David Brin — Reviewed by Andrew Robins
As a longtime David Brin reader, I am very pleased to bring you a review of his latest novel, Existence, from regular “…on Anything, Really” reviewer, Andrew Robins.
Book Review: Existence by David Brin (Orbit, 2012, Paperback edition, 659 pp) — Reviewed by Andrew Robins
Existence is a big book in every sense of the word.
It took David Brin more than ten years to write the 659 pages that deliver this powerful and compelling story. So the book is both physically big, and obviously important to the author.
What makes this book ‘huge’ is the story itself, which is nothing less than (as advertised by the title), the story of existence. And not just the minor sideline that is the story of life on this backwater of a planet. David Brin has delivered a hard science fiction novel that is truly galactic in the scope of its storytelling.
Secondary themes explored by the story include:
- The impact of the enlightenment on human society and “recent history”
- Environmental degradation and our responses to that
- Issues around the nature of intelligence and our relationships with other species
- The transformational effects of information technology
- Changing power bases in human society
- First contact
These secondary plotlines are all interesting and well developed. They kept me engaged with the story for the first two thirds of the book. Right up until the author released a major “Aha!” moment — and I realised that the novel I thought I was reading was just the doorway into a much larger story.
In the early 1980’s David Brin wrote a short story called “Lungfish”. When I read it, the story had a big enough impact on me that thirty years later, when I realised that I was reading a vastly expanded version (that both extends and subtly subverts the central themes), I had no problems remembering both the title of the story and how I felt when I read it. How much I wished there were more.
Existence is very much that more. David Brin has taken the very stark message that sat at the heart of “Lungfish” and delivered a very human, and mostly hopeful, response.
What I Loved About This Story:
The story elements I describe above resonated with me. David Brin also supports these with a cast of very well-developed characters. For me, Tor Povlov is the story’s leading protagonist. She is a main point of view character who shapes events throughout the story. Tor Povlov faces major personal challenges as the story unfolds, but she never loses her agency and is never a victim. She is also not the only strong female character. She shares the stage with Lacey Donaldson-Sander and Mei Ling, who each have their own story to tell. Clearly David Brin does not go in for tokenism, and I really liked that aspect of the story.
The major shift in focus in the last third of the book will lose some readers. (Especially readers that never read “Lungfish” and realised how much they had been wanting the rest of that story). Suddenly events on Earth seem pretty unimportant. (But are they?) I say to those readers – “just go with it”. Once you put aside your annoyance you will be very well rewarded.
Loved it. Right up with previous Brin classics The Postman and Startide Rising for me. Three cheers for David Brin — and thank you, thank you, thank you for not letting go of this story.
Readers who are unfamiliar with David Brin’s earlier work, but who like the works of William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson (particularly the excellent 2312), should like this book – a lot.
This is a great piece of work. Well worth the wait.
About The Reviewer:
Andrew Robins is a long time reader – and sometime reviewer – of science fiction, fantasy and history. People pay him to test stuff, mainly radios, which most of the time is more fun than it has any right to be. Any and all views expressed in this review are entirely his own.
To read more reviews by Andrew, see “Book Reviews for ‘on Anything, Really’” in the right-hand side bar, but the most recent include: