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Permutation City

(Subjective Cosmology #2)

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  7,786 ratings  ·  525 reviews
In the not-too-distant future, technology has given birth to immortality. The human mind can be scanned and downloaded into a virtual reality program to become a perfect electronic "Copy", aware of itself. The bad news is, someone has blocked the bail-out option that allows a Copy, by law, to return to flash-and-blood life. From the author of Quarantine.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published 1998 by Millennium (first published April 1994)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  7,786 ratings  ·  525 reviews


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BlackOxford
Fractious Fakes

What happens when your virtual clone hates your guts? Well apparently “Panic. Regret. Analysis. Acceptance” in that order. “People reacted badly to waking up as Copies.” Well, yeah of course. It’s a bit like finding out your girlfriend is really a transgender biker - a mixture of fearful awe and fascinated interest.

From a literary point of view, Egan has done something both awesome and interesting: he’s created a sort of reverse allegory. Instead of language taking on an alternat
...more
Apatt
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 with Permutation City which h
...more
Manuel Antão
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.


"I was six years old when my parents told me that there was a small, dark jewel inside my skull, learning to be me"...

With this starts off one of the most astonishing short stories I've ever read. If you haven't read it, I urge you to do so. Egan questions what it really means to be human in a way that it's quite unsurpassed in my mind.
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Manny
The Book of Greg

1. And the LORD said, lo, for now seest thou through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now knowest thou in part; but then shalt thou know even as also I am known.

2. And Greg said, come on God. Stop tantalising me with all this mystical bullshit and givest Thou me the straight dope. Please?

(view spoiler)
...more
Peter Gerdes
May 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Claudia
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, z-to-a-egan
THIS is why I read SF. THIS is the sense of wonder I’m looking for in a SF story.

Forget everything you read about virtual reality, artificial life & consciousness - nothing compares to the concepts and the worldbuilding in this book. This is ultimate postcyberpunk ever.

Written 26 years ago and it’s still ahead of times; the most stunning mélange between VR, chemistry, biology, philosophy, and math.

I’m still in awe.
...more
Tim
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dystopia, sci-fi
I should probably have read Egan's bio before buying this: "Greg Egan specialises in hard science fiction stories with mathematical and quantum ontology."

I rarely read SF and soon realised I might be out of my depth with this novel. It’s incredibly cerebral, consisting of more science than story as if Egan was more concerned in establishing the credibility of his vision of a world where humans clone themselves electronically and live in virtual worlds to computer programmers and quantum theory
...more
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
Stuart
Permutation City: Bursting with ideas about artificial life, virtual realities, digital consciousness, etc
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Permutation City (1994) won the John W. Campbell Award and is probably Greg Egan’s best-known book. It is a very dense, in-depth examination of digital vs.physical consciousness, computer simulations of complex biological systems, virtual reality constructs, and multi-dimensional quantum universes. Yeah, pretty intimidating stuff. In fact, it was so ov
...more
Erik
How do you define 'science fiction'?

From a quote from an interview with sci-fi author Ted Chiang:

“Sometimes, people who read my work tell me, ‘I like it, but it’s not really science fiction, is it?’” he says. “And I always feel like, no, actually, my work is exactly science fiction.” After Star Wars forever made the genre synonymous with what Chiang calls “adventure stories dressed up with lasers,” people forgot that science fiction includes the word “science” for a reason: It is supposed to be
...more
WarpDrive
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Is reality computable, and the Church-Turing-Thesis applicable only to formal models of computation, or to physical reality too ?
As the human mind is a sophisticated information processing piece of biological machinery, what would happen if we managed to create a "software" copy of our minds (bearing in mind the limitations imposed by the no-cloning theorem): would it still be "us" ? Would it suffice for the generation of subjective experiences that the computational processes of a human brain
...more
Bradley
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What starts and ends as a basic search for immortality as data, as in uploading perfect copies of yourself to cheat death indefinitely, makes this 1994 novel a rather focused utopian novel. Not that things are all rosy, of course, but that it's the search for utopia, or heaven on earth, that drives the characters here.

Distinctions get very hazy between real and real. When the universe is math and math is the universe, a perfect copy as data will have no real difference with everything we have. C
...more
Jason Pettus
There's a running joke throughout Greg Egan's 1994 Permutation City that neatly encapsulates both all the good things and all the bad things about the book in general. Namely, a TV show has recently been created in their day-after-tomorrow world that was specifically designed to sell the just-invented concept of virtual reality to the mouth-breathing masses, a show that's been deliberately dumbed down to make it more palpable to the slack-jawed yokels, in which crazy fantastical things are alway ...more
Bruce
May 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-fantasy
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
Hank
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am sure I am not the first one to think or say this but I am not smart enough for Greg Egan. I got a lot out of the book, some great thoughts about what you would do if you realized (suddenly or otherwise) that you were a virtual person, cloned off of a real person and the only control you had over your life was when to end it. Some other great thoughts about that same virtual environment, expanding it and playing god or not playing god depending on how you want to interpret how the simulation ...more
Tomislav
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I recently read Stephen’s 2019 novel Fall, or Dodge in Hell concerning the economics and politics of the creation of a cybernetic synthetic world, and the lives of characters after they move into it. I wish I had read Greg Egan’s Permutation City instead. It predates Fall by 25 years, and yet is more current, more insightful, and more cerebrally engaging. Don’t be like me; read Permutation City first.

Greg Egan is an Australian hard science fiction writer, whose stories often involve mathematics,
...more
RG
May 20, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Im not the biggest hard scifi fan but thought I'd give this a go. I have loved most of Egans short stories. However this was too much Science for me and not enough plot. Some parts just dragged a little too much for me.
nostalgebraist
Sep 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
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
Leonardo
Aug 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Whoa!

This is one of those books that stayed with me long after I put my kindle down. The ideas Egan shows are so big, so compelling that you cannot help but try and put yourself on the shoes of some of the characters.

Questions like if before dying, I get scanned and turned into a sentient AI with all my memories and experiences, a “copy”, does the copy is really me? If both copy and he original can coexist, the death of the original matters? Were we the same person anyways? Or am I only giving
...more
Josh
PERMUTATION CITY is a complex and at times challenging read that is well worth persevering through.

First published in 1994, it reads as relevant today as any modern day tech-fi, if not perhaps more so, encompassing a deep cogitation of reality and it's endless boundaries elevated by technology and re-rationalizing what it means to simply 'be'. PERMUTATION CITY will make you think and read harder - and that's a good thing.

The story is multifaceted, taking the reader on a journey through the poss
...more
Akiva
Dec 03, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Sci fi story about creation and immortality and computer virtual reality. Don't want to give away too much but gives a plausible vision to the idea of immortality through being uploaded and questions the boundaries between the virtually created and their creators. Very deep story touch on many philosophical themes. Definitely very good sci fi.
Natalie aka Tannat
Dull metaphysical nonsense. Also, 70% could have been axed.
David
Nov 08, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi
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. ...more
Miloș Dumbraci
Yeah, good scientific speculations, some very good philosophical dilemmas, but no story, no tension or action, no characters (just names talking to each other, but with nothing to set them apart as personalities), lame and dry writing... in short, extremely boring. I actually "did not like it", the extra star is for the speculations I thought myself because of it.
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.
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
Alex Chaffee
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Luke Burrage
Second time through after forgetting I'd read it before.

Full review on my podcast, SFBRP episode #272.
Scott Holstad
Jun 16, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, didn-t-finish
I know Permutation City is well thought of. I know it won a major award. I know it's got over 1700 ratings on Goodreads with a 4.07 average (out of 5), which is pretty good. And I tried, I really did. But I couldn't. I just couldn't. I made it through 122 pages and gave up. I found it boring, slow moving, dead, with flat characters, and a plot that's just rubbish. It's *supposed* to be a kind of cyberpunk novel where people create Copies of themselves before they die, so their digitized lives co ...more
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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

Other books in the series

Subjective Cosmology (3 books)
  • Quarantine (Subjective Cosmology #1)
  • Distress (Subjective Cosmology #3)

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