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Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology Cycle #2)

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  2,889 ratings  ·  175 reviews
In the not-too-distant future, technology has given birth to a form of immortality. The human mind can be scanned and uploaded into a virtual reality program to become a perfect electronic "Copy", aware of itself. A new Copy finds himself forced to cooperate in scientific experiments with the flesh-and-blood man he was copied from. (From the author of Quarantine.)
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 1st 1995 by HarperPrism (first published 1994)
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Ender's Game by Orson Scott CardDune by Frank Herbert1984 by George OrwellFahrenheit 451 by Ray BradburyBrave New World by Aldous Huxley
Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
421st out of 4,330 books — 15,741 voters
Accelerando by Charles StrossA Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor VingePermutation City by Greg EganDiaspora by Greg EganChildhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
Transhumanist Books
3rd out of 81 books — 70 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Peter Gerdes
May 18, 2007 Peter Gerdes rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Geeks and Philosophers
This was my first introduction to Greg Egan and it blew my mind. Permutation City was the first book I ever read that made me say, 'Wow, that's a really interesting argument.' Other books made me think, 'huh, maybe we will have jet blaster space rays in the future.' but this one presents a serious and troubling philosophical argument. Permutation City isn't as fast paced or as idea dense as some of his other works but the ideas are much bigger and more provocative.

Egan is often criticized for l...more
Permutation City by Greg Egan

I don't read a lot of hard sf because my understanding of science is rudimentary at best, but I do tend to enjoy it when I read one that do not go too far over my head. I feel I only need to understand the basic plot and the characters' motivation, the whys if not the hows of it. If those conditions are met then my patchy understanding of the scientific details is not too much of an impediment and the bits that get through to me tend to be quite fascinating.

So it is...more
This book has a lot of problems. Namely, the characters and the plot. It's filled with ideopolitical mouthpieces who are essentially trying to create an imaginary universe. And the science never really supports that beyond a hand-waving "if anything is possible, then this should be possible."

Despite this, PERMUTATION CITY is full of provocative, intelligent ideas about identity and self, real vs. digital, an economy based around computing cycles, and so on.

The novel revolves around the notion of...more
Abstraccionismo de Egan pero esta vez sin desbocarse.

Imagina que antes de morirte te escanean todo el cuerpo a nivel molecular copiando hasta la última neurona y luego esa copia la vuelcan en un programa informático de realidad virtual en el que cobras vida de forma inteligente, dándole un continuo a tu "yo" pero sin ser de carne y hueso. Imagina que una vez que esas copias viven en su mundo virtual deciden dejar de depender de hardware físico y terraqueo para proporcionarse una vida infinita.....more
Tudor Ciocarlie
Fantastic book, very well written, with great characters and full of fabulous ideas. But what's really incredible is that this is an almost 20 years old near future hard SF novel that doesn't feel outdated at all.
Cosa sono io? I dati? Il processo che li genera? Il rapporto tra i numeri?
Tutto questo messo insieme?

Esattamente dieci anni dopo Neuromante e cinque anni prima di Matrix, si impone questo ricco e visionario romanzo, con una rilettura della realtà virtuale forse troppo complessa, ma che davvero è capace di aprire la mente.
Scenari cyber degni di Gibson e soci, scenografie e paesaggi mastodontici che ricordano un po' Ian M. Banks (Criptosfera è il più simile, ed è proprio dello stesso anno - le mig...more
Rereading this book 15 years later reminds me why I still bother reading Egan's books, despite very lukewarm experiences like his more recent Zendegi. Why hasn't this been reprinted? (update: super cheap Kindle edition available, you lucky reader you!)

This book crackles and hums with ideas that are not just brilliant within their own context, but ask deep questions about our existence. The extrapolation of these ideas is solid and well meshed with the unique and intriguing plot.

Egan is at the to...more
I have this awesome string of random bits that I'm hiding in my pocket. It is a magical fairy land with dragons and wizards and lots of attractive princesses that need saving. What do you mean that's just pocket lint? It's all information! I can interpret it however I want. There's so much pocket lint in the world surely some of it is actually Narnia. In my pocket lint universe I am an immortal god! My name is only spoken in awed pocket lint whispers. What do you mean pocket lint immortal god Me...more
Egan writes sci-fi, heavy on the sci. It’s what sci-fi was meant to be: a tale that takes a scientific idea and leads the imagination, wide-eyed, past the event horizon. The protagonists of Permutation City are software humans, scanned from fleshly originals, virtually immortal, and fated to craft a purpose for themselves in a world of infinite flexibility. Those who revel in the vertigo of Egan’s world may want to move on to Diaspora next.
B. Rule
This is a tough book to evaluate. The characters are two dimensional exposition machines, the prose is largely utilitarian, and even the plot is pretty flimsy. Further, the conceit at the heart of the novel and the fulcrum for all of the action is a theory (the so-called "dust theory") that is ridiculous balderdash (and, if taken seriously, basically an excuse for moral heinousness).

However, the book is also an amazingly thoughtful rumination on the philosophical and psychological issues that w...more
Alex Chaffee
This book has all the stuff I was thinking about in the early 1990s -- artificial life, genetic algorithms, cellular automata, philosophy of consciousness, virtual reality, neurochemistry, brain simulation -- all woven together into a premise that is absurd but with enough actual computer science (and inside jokes) to make it mind-blowingly plausible. Not a lot of action, but fun -- if you can follow the details.
This book takes some time to absorb, and I'm probably doing it a great injustice by reviewing it so quickly after finishing it (and with such a rushed reading by such an uneducated reader). Greg Egan clearly knows what he's talking about when it comes to theoretical physics, and I certainly don’t, so the main bits of Permutation City intimidated me to a point that I may have taken the book too seriously. Some of the reviews I've read now that I've finished have lead me to believe some irony and...more
Jul 07, 2010 Richard rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Richard by: John from SFGames, HardSF Group
What a strange book. The author takes a very strange idea (sorry, no spoilers) to a logical conclusion — but that concept requires some long and abstruse discussions that verge on analytic philosophy.

As one of my fellow readers points out, the underlying story would probably barely flesh out a novella. A huge portion of the content here is in the defense of an existentially suspect creation.

This won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel, but I think it maybe should h...more
Nick Fagerlund
This one came up when Schwern and I were poking around the Wikipedia articles about Conway's Game of Life, and I was like, "You know what, it's been way too long since I just said 'fuck everything' and downed a whole book of potentially dubious quality in a single slurp. _Let's do this._"

I can't really say I'd recommend this one: the dialogue is plain embarrassing in that classically hard-SF-speechifying way, and the characters were forgettable ciphers. The plot didn't lock together very well,...more
This is the second Greg Egan novel I've read, after Distress. Both books follow the same rough template: a (relative) everyman protagonist encounters a person or group of people with bizarre metaphysical beliefs about science, and is initially skeptical until some startling event vindicates those beliefs. Both of these books are very pure instances of conceptual science fiction; the philosophical and scientific ideas are the meat of the book, not just convenient setup for the plot.

Permutation Ci...more
Another deeply existential tale from Egan. Permutation City gives us an intriguing tour of the concepts of "self" and "consciousness" and the implications to both, and to society, as humans transcend their biological bodies. The characters and plot itself and fascinating, and at times beautifully disturbed.

Sadly, one of the central concepts (I think I can say "Dust Theory" without spoiling anything) failed to totally convince me. I realise this shouldn't really be a problem in sci-fi, but when p...more
Nov 08, 2009 Dan rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: signal
Exasperating. The author presents some interesting ideas and then offers solutions which are entirely nonsensical. In particular, once you have played the "in an infinite universe, anything can and will happen" card, I no longer feel obliged to care about your plot, because you are just randomly reporting events.

Occasionally I see people talking about "splitting" or "cloning" consciousness, and I guess I now understand better where they are coming from. However I still feel that this is basicall...more
I'm very, very stingy with my five-star ratings, but had no qualms about giving one to Permutation City. Egan managed to write a story about cellular automata, of all things, which sent chills down my spine. Mind-blowingly wonderful.

Oh, any by the way: the publisher blurb (which makes it sound like a scifi mystery) and the "ten million people on a chip" tagline for this book are not just misleading, but false. (You don't have to read very far to understand why the blurb, at least, is bullshit.)
Tom Duff
Permutation City
Permutation City

I wanted to like Permutation City far more than I did. I liked the premise of body scanning to create AIs to continue living online after you die. In the first half of the book, I felt that is what I got and I was following things just fine. But in the second half of the book, things got more esoteric, the plot seemed to get a bit more random and confused, and by the end I really didn't care much what happened to any of them.

If you're more philosophical or want t...more
John Reeves
This was the easiest 5 stars. I'm considering bumping my other ratings all down a notch just to give this one more weight.
The book talks about really big ideas of mind uploading, the nature of consciousness and existence. It does this starting in a very plausible near future (especially impressive considering it was written before ideas like the cloud were entirely obvious). It actually begins by describing a person awakening as a simulated copy of a living person. When he comes to realize he is...more
It's a little inaccurate to say I "liked" this book. I appreciated it, which is a different thing. And sad to say, I didn't even understand it, at least not to my own satisfaction. The problem, I think, is that Egan likes to delve into multiple levels of abstraction. Whether the flaw is Egan's or mine, I have trouble following his explanations. In this case what starts with self-aware human simulations running on computers turns into human simulations running on computers which are simulated on...more
Michele Settanni
Egan fa una specie di divulgazione scientifico-filosofica, e decisamente non di quella facile. La storia fondamentalmente segue i diversi personaggi, siamo nel 2050) nel loro confrontarsi con una copia digitale di se stessi. O meglio, per buoona parte del libro la prospettiva è proprio quella delle copie digitali, che vivono in un mondo programmato per accoglierli al meglio. C'è l'onnipotenza, insieme all'immortalità e a una pletora di dilemmi etici ed esistenziali che questa realtà paradossale...more
Rodrick Macdonald
Amazing book from the late 90s. This is for anyone with at least a rudimentary knowledge of how computers work, plus an interest in virtual reality or trans-humanism. I think it's also pretty much essential that you've played with Conway's game of life at some point in your life since cellular automata plays a big part in this book.

I found the "dust" idea unsatisfying, but every other element in this book is completely mind blowing. I first read this when it was first published in paperback and...more
First of all, I have to say this might be the worst commercial reading I've listened to in the modern era of audiobooks (the post-cassette age). I know nothing about Adam Epstein or why he was chosen to read this, but I can tell you that he's a terrible reader and if I ever see the name again on any audio edition I'll give the book a pass. He is exactly what you don't want in a narrator, making frequent mispronunciations, forcing in terrible voice acting, and generally being a nuisance. I finish...more
Ľudo Malinovský
Hard sci-fi about computational modelling, cellular automatons, artificial life, and the essence of consciousness and existence.

Interesting, intriguing, and provocative ideas, sometimes quite complex to follow. Basically an ontological math fiction: (warning, idea spoiler) What makes things objectively exist? If something is mathematically and logically consistent, does it exist (maybe in some other universe)? Can it exist without us? If we can make up a working formal model of something and use...more
I finished the book last week, and only the first half of the book stays within the bounds of "hard" science fiction, outlining a plausible technology and describing its effects on a few well thought-out characters. The correct use of technical jargon here is gratifying; for example, the author knows what "oncogene," "spectral density," and "wave equation" mean in a specialized, scientific context. The second half throws out all attempt at plausibility and is perhaps best read as allegory. Howev...more
Humanity has gained immortality, by placing perfect
simulations of humans onto a computer chip after they die.
The humans on the chip learn how to create artificial
life. And so on, in an ever-ascending chain of machines.
Prepare to have your mind blown.
Ever spent any time wondering what this thing called "consciousness" is that you are probably experiencing as you read this? It was one of my favorite topics to think about while bored in school and I thought I had probably considered it from most possible scifi angles. That's why this book was so good: it managed to show me new ways that my schoolboy self could have managed to think about that topic.

You won't learn anything about how your brain works from this book, but it will tickle it while...more
Maksim Sipos
Terrific and realistic premise, captivating story line. Incredible ideas about the fundamental nature of Universe, Life, .... Epic! Greg Egan is one of my favorite authors now!
Jason ("jcreed")
Starts off by being laughable mid-90s fractalpunk, finishes with unconscionably absurd Hofstadter-nightmare metaphysics, but I JUST LIKE IT SO MUCH.
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Greg Egan specialises in hard science fiction stories with mathematical and quantum ontology themes, including the nature of consciousness. Other themes include genetics, simulated reality, posthumanism, mind transfer, sexuality, artificial intelligence, and the superiority of rational naturalism over religion.

He is a Hugo Award winner (and has been shortlisted for the Hugos three other times), an...more
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