In a future world dominated by a neural-link web where people can tune into live events and revolutions can be instantly sparked, an active alien communication device is discovered in orbit around the Earth, triggering an international upheaval of fear, hope and violence.
In examining the impact that the arrival of an alien probe has on a world culture that has basically given up space exploration, the biggest problem here is that Brin has tried to shoe-horn all his concerns with current and near-future events into one book. This contributes to a plot that feels overly involved to no real point and is too didactic for its own good. There are no lack of worthwhile ideas but some ruthless editing was in order.
To put it another way, I'm inclined to believe that I got more out of Brin's contributions to the mini-series "Alien Encounters" then I got out of this novel and that's unfortunate.
So far, about a fifth in, and the summary's Gerald has had only one short section. Seems like this will have many many sub stories converging, ala Neil Stephenson. It's definitely taking its time getting to any coherent main plot...
Completed now; this book is high thought, but far too slow to be interesting.
If it had a "warning: fixup novel" in the front matter, I'd give it 2 stars. But it's a stealth fixup, not done well. Be warned.
The cons first: the book is sprinkled with what read to me as indulgent author-insertions in the form of monologues and infodumps. As a regular reader of Brin's blog, which is quite good and thought-provoking, I found that not only his ideas but his blog-voice were creeping in far too often. This would be fine if it were limited to the pseudonymous narrations book-ending each chapter, but I found Brin often speaking in the inner thoughts of his characters as well.
I didn't like heavy-handed authorial intrusion when Dan Simmons did it in Flashback and I don't care for it here. It isn't the views espoused per se, as much as it is being jerked out of the story with the occasional eye-roll because you're suddenly hearing the author rather than his creation.
That out of the way, I thought the story itself was imaginative, thoughtful, and at least some (perhaps of the majority) of the characters were interesting enough for me to follow. There were a handful of sub-plots that felt out of place and never really went anywhere, but the story as a whole was creative and interesting enough for me to follow. There's a jarring transition around the last third to quarter of the book, after which some characters vanish along with their sub-plots, but being that this is ambitious SF I'm used to that and consider it part of the ride. The conceit of this book is...well, I'll say unique and leave it at that (on the most positive possible note).
Brin is, to me, always worth a read and Existence is no exception if you're into speculative fiction with a more optimistic slant.
It took me forever to finish where I am usually a very fast reader- but I'm not sure why.
In the beginning I got lost in all the characters and even had to write them down to remember just who was who. Then just as I am really getting into their individual parts in the story, he moves the time head enough here several of these characters are not around anymore.
Then the ending- rather blah I thought.
Wouldn't recommend it to my reader friends sadly.