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5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Boggling
I'd have to rate this book as one of my all-time favorite SF books. I still freak out a bit if I think too hard about his dust hypothesis.
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...
Published on Jan. 25 2002 by Christopher Palmer

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3.0 out of 5 stars issues to think about
Greg Egan's Permutation City is a novel centered around computer "copies" of human beings. Egan takes these characters on quite an interesting journey. The characters in this book are brought face-to-face with their own possible immortality. When a person is scanned, their very being becomes a type of computer program, which can simply run multiple copies of the same...
Published on Dec 4 2000 by Angela Hemme


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5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Boggling, Jan. 25 2002
By 
Christopher Palmer "CMPalmer" (Huntsville, AL USA) - See all my reviews
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I'd have to rate this book as one of my all-time favorite SF books. I still freak out a bit if I think too hard about his dust hypothesis.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Highly thought provoking solid philosophical themes, Jan. 16 2001
The concept of mind uploading has been a common theme in fiction and science fiction for years. The concept of personality transferal and immortality has captivated mankind for centuries.
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Seemingly endless details, but still good..., Dec 4 2000
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? I found this fascinating and with that in mind I would have to say this story does have something to offer. My best advice would be to wade through all the fussy details and focus on the big picture - the underlying questions and themes that arise.
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3.0 out of 5 stars issues to think about, Dec 4 2000
Greg Egan's Permutation City is a novel centered around computer "copies" of human beings. Egan takes these characters on quite an interesting journey. The characters in this book are brought face-to-face with their own possible immortality. When a person is scanned, their very being becomes a type of computer program, which can simply run multiple copies of the same person on the computer. I was honestly frightened to read about the sad potential one has in living forever. While life extension is something our society is constantly striving for, I am bothered to read about these characters, who repeatedly "wake up" into a new round of the same old life. Each time another copy is created, the copy wakes up to the same life as that of the original and all of the copies combined. Even though each copy is a "new creation", there is no new life - it is like a recycled life. This process can be used over and over again. One of the main characters (Paul Durham) lives for over 7,000 years! It seems to me that it would be more like a never-ending nightmare than a dream come true!
In the actual storyline of the book, the main character (Paul Durham) makes a copy of himself, but removes the emergency "bail-out" option, which is required by law to provide the copy with the choice of becoming a flesh-and-blood person. The copy (Paul) works against his original in attempt to free himself from his "trapped" computer existence.
Unfortunately, for readers who are new to or not very familiar with the fast paced cyberpunk style, this book is rather confusing. The line between virtual reality and flesh-and-blood is quite thin. However, if you are able to keep up with what is real and what isn't, you may be able to enjoy and appreciate Greg Egan's Permutation City. I cannot say that I enjoyed the book as a whole, but I do believe that a shorter, simplified version would be slightly more appealing to readers like me, who are not "hard" cyberpunk fans.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Permutation City, Dec 4 2000
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Greg Egan must have an incredible amount of intelligence when it comes to technology. Either that, or he has a masterful imagination. A combination of both, I am sure, were used in the writing of Permutation City. Egan uses technological advances in his novel that are above and beyond what is possible in today¡¯s society. Egan was also able to define the society, and be very precise in doing so. Egan was also able to develop a well-written story line that mixes in with all of the technology. By doing so, this book can keep you reading, even if you are not really into a lot of science fiction.
Permutation City is a good novel to read if you are a hardcore fan of cyberpunk novels. This book is an example of science fiction at its best. If you are not a fan of science fiction, this book is probably not for you. The main character Paul Durham is a human that has been copied onto a code, and loaded onto a computer. Paul was then just a copy of a file, and no longer a physical human. Paul still has his human body on the outside, in the ¡°real world,¡± but his physical self has blocked Paul¡¯s option to ¡°bail out¡± of the computer and regain his real self again. The rest of the novel goes through Paul¡¯s (the copy) thoughts and actions, as he attempts to regain his physical body, and the entrance back to the real world.
I thought that overall, the book was pretty good, and worth my time to read. I only have a few criticisms of the novel. The ending is not quite what I would have liked; as with many other cyberpunk novels, the author spends a lot of time giving you a story line, only to give you a sub-par ending. Another criticism I have of the book has to do with all of the technology. I found that a few of the things (the ¡°Autoverse,¡± as an example) to be a little bit too confusing. Once I was able to straighten it all out (by rereading certain sections multiple times), I was able to enjoy the novel a lot more. All in all, I would say that I did like the novel, and I would recommend Permutation City as a definite book worth reading!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended look at brain sims and artificial life, Sept. 6 2000
By 
Richard R. Horton (Webster Groves, MO United States) - See all my reviews
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Greg Egan is one of the most inventive and exciting current SF writers. His SF is distinctly "hard", rife with "cutting edge" speculations, and also generally "through-composed", in that he tries to set his stories in fully-furnished futures (complete with brand-names and with Bruce Sterlingish throwaway ideas), and also in that he tries to examine the full consequences of his ideas, and not just the first consequence, or the most convenient one.
Permutation City is very heavily a novel about certain computer science related ideas. The main two ideas, closely linked, are completely virtual environments, in which a simulation (or "Copy") of a human brain can be run (including the memories of the living template for the copy, full sensorium simulation, and interaction with other copies and the "real world"); and Artificial Life, arising from sets of rules operating within a computer program.
The interest in the novel, and the aspects of this novel which make it, IMO, Egan's best, and one of the better SF novels of the past few years, is the constant exploring of the consequences of the central ideas: thus we have the copies controlling their mental states so accurately that they can take up hobbies by conscious decision, be literally perfectly content with the hobbies for years, then switch; and we have the detailed description of Artificial Life within the Autoverse, including a neat life form which communicates in ways analogous to the operation of a computer program; and, most importantly, each of the main characters is exploring (or revealing to us) different ideas about the nature of personal identity: where does identity lie when you are a "simulation" of a real life person? when you can control your moods and interests at the processor level, as it were? when you are rerunning your "program" in an infinite loop? when your program is halted? when the physical components of your "processor" are separated in both time and space? when your entire universe is a computer program running in another universe?
All in all, a highly recommended novel. For one reason or another, Egan's novels seem to get less notice in the US than I think they deserve: partly, perhaps, because they are published first in the UK, and don't get over here until some time later. Hopefully this is beginning to change.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, but let down by the ending, April 22 2000
By 
Neil Fitzgerald "sdhkbsdalhthoclhnjkhowh" (asdhajklwehrjkhijhlks;ahng) - See all my reviews
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Set in the mid 21st century, this sci-fi novel, like Egan's later novel Diaspora, ties together many fascinating scientific and metaphysical ideas in a single book (The emphasis is very definitely on the "sci"). However, unlike Diaspora, there is a strong central theme underlying the story, a baffling idea called the "Dust theory". Any attempt to describe that theory here would be pointless, but I can say that it compels the reader to ponder some fundamental questions about the nature of reality. The theory is completely absurd yet not all that easy to refute. It has certainly caused me a few headaches... The dust theory is motivated and explained via another key theme in both this book and Diaspora - the concept of having a human "download" his mind onto a computer. Aside from the suspension of disbelief required in order to accept that such a thing is possible, Egan presents us with a well-thought-out and plausible scenario regarding these downloaded humans or "copies". There are several other themes, of lesser importance, but fascinating in their own right, notably the "Autoverse": A piece of software that allows you to have complete control over your own virtual mini-universe - a world capable of modelling objects as complex as bacteria, down to the level of individual atoms.
Well that's the sci part. The human story behind all this doesn't have much intrinsic interest - the characters are vehicles for the ideas, and often one gets the impression that it is Egan who is speaking, not the character (they all seem to be uncannily good at making detached, intelligent comments on whatever is happening). This aspect didn't really bother me, as I think the ideas deserved some detached, intelligent commentary anyway.
The biggest flaw, I found, was the contrived ending. I won't go into details here, but needless to say, the dust theory turns out to be correct (in the story, at least). Once this is established, the author needs some kind of crisis with which to sustain the reader's interest, and it is this crisis, and the circumstances that brought it about, that I found to be rather contrived.
All in all though, I would definitely recommend Permutation City to any fan of "hard" sci-fi, or anyone interested in metaphysics or the philosophy of mind.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A glimpse of immortality, Jan. 5 2000
By 
Mark Linroth (Hassi-Messaoud, Algeria) - See all my reviews
What a delight to find this gem in a pile of used paperbacks we inherited! This is one of the best works I've come across exploring the nature of consiousness, reality, and immortality. (What, exactly does it mean for something to be 'REAL' anyway?) This is a futuristic work of fiction is set in a time when people can actually inhabit computers. A virtual reality simulation of consiousness might be more accurate. This book is spellbinding and thought-provoking. If they ever do invent such computers -- I want in! Don't worry about somebody telling you the ending -- you have to read the entire journey for it to have any meaning anyway. And what a journey it is! Throughout the book I was constantly wondering 'what in the world is going to happen next?' in very much the same sense as in WATERSHIP DOWN. The introduction is interesting and the pace picks up from there and never slows down. There is only one short scene which might jostle the squeamish and it doesn't impact the story line at all. As befits a book about immortality I was still hungry for more when I finished it but the book wraps up nicely and leaves one with a lot to ponder. I highly recommend this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best sci-fi book I've ever read!, July 1 1998
By A Customer
Listen to me I've got an english degree... and I've read a lot of science fiction. I wasted my youth reading all the classics... H G Wells, Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, Dick, Burrough, Ballard...and all that cyber-stuff too - I've read practically their entire output... I've watched all the films, read all the comics, played about with computers pointlessly... ...and this...
...this...
...is absolutely the best science fiction book I've ever read. Egan is the supreme science fiction writer living today, if not of the century. Permutation City goes BEYOND itself, beyond the known - it's a trip, man! Egan's other books - Axiomatic, Quarantine, Distress, Diaspora - are also worthy of superfluous praise such as this. In Permutation City he has given back science fiction its philosophical edge - lost in the rest of cyberpunk where we find just second hand images, stylised characters/dialogue/events, and a pretence at intellectual validity. Plus he's a virtuoso stylist, writing in bare, beautiful language...
it's great!
just read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The best ideas man since Philip K Dick!, Sept. 4 1996
By A Customer
Greg Egan has been described as one of the great ideas men of modern fiction. And that he is.

Having followed Greg's progress from the sale of "The Moral Virologist" to a small fan magazine in Australia, to his now international best sellers, it amazes me that Greg's writing just keeps on getting better, more complex, and certainly more full of ideas.

Like the shorts "The Moral Virologist" and "White Chistmas," Permutation City is a very complex story, detailing in hard, realistic terms an all-too-possible future where medical computing blurs the edges of life and death. (Greg specializes in medical and biological computing systems himself, and it shows in much of his work.)

Thankfully, hard-tech edge to Greg's writing does not diminish the narration of the story. He manages to blend in technical issues as smoothly as he does the philosophical and legal ramifications.

At the heart of Permutation City, Greg is exploring the nature of existence itself. Does the fact that a mathematical model, encapsulating a universal concept, make such a universe a reality? If the nature of our universe based purely upon computable laws, why not others? This is an old theme in literature, but Greg breaths new life into it, partly by showing just how soon this issue will become a real concern for society.

I eagerly await new stories by Greg Egen and have put him on my list of authors to watch. Once you read Permutation City (or better still, grab a copy of his short stories) you will also be hooked
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Permutation City
Permutation City by Greg Egan (Paperback - 1998)
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