The tale of a man with a vision - how to create immortality - and how that vision becomes something way beyond his control.
This is the book I would have written, if I had time (and ability!) to write a novel about recursion and artificial life.
The best thing about this book is that I read it soon after I had read "The Minds I", a collection of essays about AI and human consciousnes. I suspect that Egan has read the same book, since many of the concepts of Permutation City are based on the thought experiements in The Minds I. This is not to say that Egan's book is not original, as the title suggests, the book is a riff or fugue on a number of concepts related to identity and consciousness.
Most of his wild extrapolations follow perfect logic if you accept the basic premise that a conscious software entity can be created. The idea that, if such an entity exists, maintaining the software state while shutting down the program, then restarting it later from the same state would be experienced by the entity as instantaneous, then following that a succession of these saved states in any chronological order should be perceived as the same experience is mind bending.
Amazon should bundle Permutation City and The Mind's I (and maybe Goedel, Escher, Bach) -- they make a great matched set.
Egan takes these themes and combines them artifical reality.
A play on Descartian themes and the question of "what really is reality?"
The end result of Permutation City is a internal world outside of our reality. A world that exists purely in digital form. How does this world exist in regard to ours? Can a world like that have another world inside it? Without its own concept of "our" reality, could it therefore understand/ comprehend our reality? Can we in the same vein comprehend another reality outside our own?
It raises further questions on the nature of artifical electronic intelligence- Whilst people may exist in this electronic form, would shutting down their world be murder? Do they really exist? Do they really have free will? Is their future predetermined?
At points this novel has a little to much detail, however it is an excellant story.
A book that, if read deeply, has a surprising trail of deep dualistic and philosophical issues and questions.
Permutation City is a notable cyberpunk novel by Greg Egan, which is worth giving a try if you fancy this genre of literature. Here we have a story about a young man, Paul Durham, who uploads the contents of his brain to a computer. In doing so, he seemingly acquires the gift of immortality, which is granted so long as he carries on the rest of his life in this virtual world created for him. That's not such a bad deal to begin with, but it doesn't take long for him to experience the tremendous sense of isolation and uselessness. In the VR, Paul is simply a spectator of the world around him and every glitch in the construct serves as a violent reminder that he is no longer flesh and blood.
I must warn you that Egan goes to great extent to provide the reader with plenty of meticulous details that add to the realism and plausibility of the storyline. Early in the story, I think it's fantastic because it does so much to paint a vivid picture for the reader. However, there are plenty of times when it does weigh down the story. For example, Egan beat Maria's experiment with mutose to death by explaining the actual chemistry involved, which I found unnecessary. It seemed to me like Egan was more or less showing off how learned he is in different subjects. This is definitely a novel you must read slowly if you plan on getting the most from it. Yet, I still found myself tempted to put it down at times because I was overwhelmed with too much detail.
On the other hand, I did love the underlying human issues presented in the story. The entire plot toys with the philosophical quandary of personal identity. If everything in the VR is not truly real, then can the copy of Paul be considered human? Or is he just another jumble of computer code simulating a human?Read more ›
Greg Egan's Permutation City is a novel centered around computer "copies" of human beings. Egan takes these characters on quite an interesting journey. Read more