After all, what better service can science – and science fiction – perform than to poke sticks into the unknown territory ahead of us, probing for the quicksand and land mines? The mistakes that might bring our Great Experiment to an end?
And who better to poke and prod the territory than Brin whose background includes a PhD in Physics, time as a Visiting Scholar at the Center for Study of Evolution of Life and a lifetime of writing award-winning books that challenge his readers to join in the exercise of imagining and creating the future.
In his latest novel, Existence, Brin takes on the Fermi Paradox – the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence of extraterrestrial civilization and humanity’s lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations. Set in the 2050s, Existence is at once familiar and oh so alien even before the initial contact with an alien artifact occurs.
Reading Existence I was particularly intrigued by this depiction of the near-future. We see not only significant developments in space activity but also of media, climate change and social structures. Introducing us to a full array of characters – from a space “garbage man” to a father trying to homestead in the flooded remains of Shanghai – Brin portrays the many layers of global society in the near future from so many different angles. Interwoven with these character focused tales that make up Existence are also a series of short pieces from “Pandora’s Cornucopia” which wryly examine “our means of self-destruction.” And it’s the very extrapolations Brin devises from our current state to 2050 that serve as signposts to what we must take seriously now if we wish to avoid those means of self-destruction.
Simon Bisson of ZDnet wrote of Brin’s Existence:
Science fiction is as much a literature of the moment as it is of the future. This book, then, is both a warning and an encouragement: a novel that engages with the world we’re building and tries to show us a way to become a mature civilisation rather than a raggle-taggle band of individuals. Technology has libertarian roots, but in the end we build the tools that construct a civil society. In Existence Brin shows us the world our technology is building, and then poses one of the biggest questions: what is it all for?
This is precisely where the writers of “hard SF” gift us so magnificently. We live in a world of speeding evolution with technology shifting the very ground beneath our feet, racing towards destruction but also possible salvation. While our politicians still haggle in terms so outdated and ineffectual, we need guides who can point us out toward the next stages. Existence does just that – and provides us with a good fast paced tale that readers will enjoy.
Or as David Brin has written, “It’s time to free ourselves from the old left-right axis of the 19th and 20th centuries.” As we explore the topics of his novel, it’s clear that he is calling on us to make that leap and begin to help build the next stage.
I hope you will join me in welcoming David Brin to FDL – there is so much for us all to talk about. (more…)