Permutation City by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What starts and ends as a basic search for immortality as data, as in uploading perfect copies of yourself to cheat death indefinitely, makes this 1994 novel a rather focused utopian novel. Not that things are all rosy, of course, but that it's the search for utopia, or heaven on earth, that drives the characters here.
Distinctions get very hazy between real and real. When the universe is math and math is the universe, a perfect copy as data will have no real difference with everything we have. Change some basic laws, add new elements, ramp up your perceptions or slow them way down. It doesn't really matter. Create a universe that is self-evolving, have it compete with itself and all the parts within it, run a simulation of Life, and turn Darwinism and Game Theory upon data elements.
It's smart. It's evolution in data. And when you can live thousands of years working out all the kinks in your programming in a few eyeblinks in that boring other reality, why not go all the way and live forever for real, speeding up and slowing down within the actual universe, give yourself robot waldos, meet new neighbors... or aliens... and generally play god?
We're already the running software platform in our own universe, after all. Matter doesn't really exist anyway. We're running on an encoded holographic universe. This novel just flips the concept in a mirror and spells out what we might need to do to survive.
Sure, we've seen this concept done many times now, but look at the date here. It's ALSO been done before, but few have gone as far or all out as Greg Egan. The denizens of Permutation City seem to be doing it right.
Yes, there's a good story and good characters, too, but in its heart, this is definitely a utopian novel. :)
I really miss those.
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