Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 21, 2000

Diaspora by Greg Egan

Eight people attended this discussion, and one submitted comments by e-mail. Diaspora is set in the far future when humanity has changed greatly. Few people have traditional human bodies. Most of the rest have downloaded their minds either into giant robots or into computers. The people in the computers have a complex society filled with downloaded personalities, their “offspring,” and artificial intelligences. Early in the story, a cosmological event threatens all life on Earth. The computer societies send explorers throughout the galaxy in search of more information about this event and a way to survive it. Along the way Egan fills the story with a lot of advanced material about mathematics, physics, and artificial intelligence.

This book turned out to be too much of a “hard SF” novel for most of our group. Half of the group didn’t even try to read it, and just showed up to socialize. A couple of people read about 50% of the book. Only three people finished the book, including the one who participated by e-mail.

Those of us did finish the book (including me) generally liked it. We appreciated Egan’s many Big Ideas. We were impressed with a book where none of the main characters were traditional humans, yet we still managed to care about them. The societal clashes between the downloaded personalities and the traditional humans were interesting and believable. We liked the technical material and found it augmented the story, and as far as we could tell it was accurate. Some of us visited Egan’s web site to see diagrams and animations illustrating some of the mathematical and cosmological principles in Diaspora.

Those who didn’t finish the book (and even some who did) found some problems with it. Most of us found that the novel started slowly. Many felt that the amount of technical material was too much to maintain the narrative. One person felt the book read like a collection of articles from Scientific American rather than a novel. Some found the non-gender-specific pronouns used for the computerized characters (ver, ve, etc.) to be distracting.

Overall we found Diaspora to be a challenging reading experience. A couple of us liked the book a lot, but it is obviously not for all readers. We all admire Egan’s daring in writing such an ambitious novel.

— A. T. Campbell, III