NESFA Members' Reviews


by Greg Egan

Millennium, ISBN 1-85798-218-5, 1995, 310pp, L4.99

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1995 Evelyn C. Leeper

When you start this, you may be tempted to compare it to Charles Platt's SILICON MAN. But wait, because what you think the book is about is not what the book is about at all.

PERMUTATION CITY starts out with the idea of being able to download one's personality into a computer (the "Autoverse"). (And a friend of mine who works on projects dealing with virtual reality sorts of things says it's the best representation he's seen in science fiction of what it would be like.) But it goes beyond that, into further levels of remove from "reality"--which ironically may actually be their own reality. It reminded me of the philosopher who dreamt he was a butterfly, but then awoke, only to try to decide if he was a philosopher who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a philosopher. There's also a variation of an idea that my husband Mark had suggested independently: an alternate history which hasn't *diverged* from ours into a different present, but *converged* into ours from a different past. The whole book reminds me of that set of mirrors from CITIZEN KANE, reflecting back and forth, stretching to infinity--and when you think you're looking at reality, it turns out to be just another mirror.

In the middle of all these ideas, it would be easy for the characters and characterization to be given some short-shift, and in fact that is one problem I had (not to mention the fact that the "same" character can be different characters, depending on which level of remove he's at). This in turn made following some of the convolutions difficult, as I wasn't always sure of who the characters were. Still, there are enough ideas in the book to compensate for this, particularly if ideas are what you are looking for.

[This is also available in a United States edition, HarperPrism, US$4.99, ISBN 0-06-105481-X.]

%T      Permutation City
%A      Greg Egan
%C      London
%D      1995
%I      Millennium
%O      paperback, L4.99 [1994]
%G      ISBN 1-85798-218-5
%P      310pp

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