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Permutation City

by Greg Egan

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Subjective Cosmology Cycle (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,640378,160 (3.92)24
The story of a man with a vision - immortality : for those who can afford it is found in cyberspace. Permutation city is the tale of a man with a vision - how to create immortality - and how that vision becomes something way beyond his control. Encompassing the lives and struggles of an artificial life junkie desperate to save her dying mother, a billionaire banker scarred by a terrible crime, the lovers for whom, in their timeless virtual world, love is not enough - and much more - Permutation city is filled with the sense of wonder.… (more)
  1. 30
    Accelerando by Charles Stross (amayzes)
  2. 10
    Axiomatic by Greg Egan (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Heavily features mind uploading.
  3. 00
    Schismatrix Plus by Bruce Sterling (szarka)
  4. 00
    Today We Choose Faces by Roger Zelazny (szarka)
  5. 00
    Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan (jekier)
    jekier: Heavily features mind uploading.
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» See also 24 mentions

English (33)  Hungarian (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
The whole thing strikes me as preposterous—wish I could call a contingent of analytic philosophers to rip apart the "dust theory," which, to my mind, is an evasion of the real problems one might encounter in considering what makes a "system" sentient. Egan seems to be trying to reconcile structure and subjectivity (whatever that is) by suggesting that the former, once specified, will simply pop into existence complete with its own inner states by hijacking some material substratum: a programmer's idea of metempsychosis?

A kind of tiresome self-assuredness runs through the book as well, the confidence of a devotee of the natural sciences who throws a sundry assortment of analogies to cellular automata theory, differential geometry and relativity into a hat and with a wave of the hand claims to have said something interesting about "consciousness."

As a novel: the prose is rather tedious—neither the characters nor the scene really seem to come to life—and the plot strikes me as flimsy. ( )
  slplst | Sep 7, 2021 |
This novel is great for fans of Greg Egan (deep science hook around which a story is constructed), serving both to explain the science and ask moral/future questions. I don't think the characters make it as compelling from a personality development basis, but since the science in this is likely to be a lot more understandable to a lot of people, it still might be one of the better introductions for new readers of Egan. ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
My reaction to Permutation City is that it is the weakest in the Subjective Cosmology trilogy. In a way, it is about a posthuman, intelligence-upload singularity that carries Moore's Law beyond the wildest fantasies of most people, building on the kind of audacious and imaginative speculative science thinking that really sets Egan's writing apart from other authors. His ability to pursue high concepts of science fiction beyond the furthest reaches of other singularity-trending authors' notions (such as those of Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow) -- extreme by the standards of old-school space opera, but drab and mundane by comparison with what Egan handles deftly -- is mined for dramatic potential in this novel. This is what I liked most about Permutation City.

I'm not sure what follows constitutes any actual spoilers, other than potentially spoiling the hope (before reaching the end) that the book will turn out better than it does, but I'll play it safe.

Unfortunately, it kinda peters out after that. The plot builds toward a shuddering stop, Egan just drops the ending on the floor rather than do anything particularly interesting (I think he may have been going for some kind of "but life goes on for the rest of us" moral to the story, with perhaps some satisfying -- if likely accidental -- "fuck you" to people who take a much shallower approach to intelligence-upload "immortality"), and the prospect of infinitely self-enhancing computing power over an infinite subjective timespan is neatly rendered somewhat dull by the fact nobody really does anything interesting with it other than to accidentally create the seeds of their own destruction in the manufacture of an unintentionally inimical alien race.

I can't help but wonder how much of this is meant to point out that the thoughtless approach of many subscribers to the most facile dreams of posthuman immortality are, frankly, stupid. I don't disagree with that assessment. On the other hand, I'm not sure the people most in need of convincing would even get it, and the result for someone who did not need convincing (e.g. me) is a dreary tale with little point to the plot and character development aspects in themselves.


If the impressive, insightful ideas were all I rated, this would qualify for five stars, but unfortunately it lags into the realm of only three because of the weakness of the actual story. ( )
  apotheon | Dec 14, 2020 |
This is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever read. One of the knockdown Christian arguments for the existence of god is that of the first mover; as it goes "effect requires cause / since the universe is in motion, it must have had a cause / therefore god." Of course, this argument merely passes the buck --- if the universe can't be started in motion, why can god? What was his mover? Permutation City is what happens when you bite the bullet and take that question _seriously._

This book follows a computer-simulated psychonaut in his quest to understand the nature of consciousness and reality. Egan really takes his time exploring the consequences of being able to make simulated copies of humans --- for example, what happens if you run their subjective experience backwards? Or if you remove a haunting memory? Are two indistinguishable copies the same person? Amazingly, every result here is both coherent and interesting, and I found myself pausing every few pages to think deeply about the consequences of some aspect of Permutation City's reality. Egan is a mathematician, and it shows.

Go read this book. If you appreciate hard science fiction and remarkably good world-building, you will love it. ( )
  isovector | Dec 13, 2020 |
Really really fun concepts all over, specifically more in the beginning half of the book. As always, Egan's concepts outpace his characters, who ended up falling fairly flat. What was mildly disappointing in this book as well was that Egan himself didn't believe his concept for the self perpetuating universe was possible, and deliberately hand-waved over the main reason why it was not. Still very fun.

If you want the basic ideas, theres a good essay by Moravec called Consciousness, Existence, and Something Else which I can't Remember. That essay is truly a mindbender. ( )
  4dahalibut | Dec 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Greg Eganprimary authorall editionscalculated
Kotrle, PetrTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kulyk, MehauCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Into a mute crypt, I

Can't pity our time

Turn amity poetic

Ciao, tiny trumpet!

Manic piety tutor

Tame purity tonic

Up, meiotic tyrant!

I taint my top cure

To it, my true panic

Put at my nice riot

To trace impunity

I tempt an outcry, I

Pin my taut erotic

Art to epic mutiny

Can't you permit it

To cite my apt ruin?

My true icon: tap it

Copy time, turn it; a

Rite to cut my pain

Atomic putty? Rien!

Found in the memory of a discarded notepad in the Common Room of the Psychiatric Ward, Blacktown Hospital, June 6, 2045.
Dedication
"Thanks to Deborah Beale, Charon Wood, Peter Robinson, David Pringle, Lee Montgomerie, Gardner Dozois and Sheila Williams"
First words
Paul Durham opened his eyes, blinking at the room's unexpected brightness, then lazily reached out to place one hand in a patch of sunlight at the edge of the bed.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The story of a man with a vision - immortality : for those who can afford it is found in cyberspace. Permutation city is the tale of a man with a vision - how to create immortality - and how that vision becomes something way beyond his control. Encompassing the lives and struggles of an artificial life junkie desperate to save her dying mother, a billionaire banker scarred by a terrible crime, the lovers for whom, in their timeless virtual world, love is not enough - and much more - Permutation city is filled with the sense of wonder.

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