Tentatively, Convenience's Reviews > Transcension

Transcension by Damien Broderick
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really liked it
bookshelves: sf

My friend the God Ghanesh & I interviewed Damien Broderick at his home in Australia in June 2000 less than 2 yrs before this bk was published. The very slightly edited interview is online here:


In it, Broderick talks about nanotechnology & immortality & the Spike of rapid change, & the delusion of thinking that 'reality' is stable, etc.. This SF novel grows out of many of the same ideas.

I was more conscious than usual while I was reading it of how inter-related my reading circumstances were to the content of the bk. I'd just finished reading Pamela Sargent's "Watchstar" in wch a girl protagonist is facing her coming-of-age in an environment in wch a major shift is about to take place. Then I read this "in wch a girl protagonist is facing her coming-of-age in an environment in wch a major shift is about to take place." Simultaneously, I've been very slowly reading Theodore Draper's "The Roots of American Communism"'s discussion of the transition in the US from socialism to communism (another rite of passage).

There's been far more snow than usual in Pittsburgh, where I live, for 5 wks straight. As I started reading this, the snow melted & we've gone straight into Spring - this, in the middle of March - about a mnth earlier than usual. Even the record that I listened to twice while reading, "Africa - Witchcraft & Ritual Music", seemed to fit right in (even though I can't recall WHY right now).

Perhaps Broderick cd be put in a category similar to that of Greg Bear & Greg Egan. Hard science w/ an imagination leading to the grandiose & an eye for human detail. I was engrossed & entertained. It's always interesting for me when humans imagine paradigm shifts as over-the-top as they can & Broderick does a good job of that here in a way that sneaks up on the reader w/ various inter-related threads that all come together to share a common fate. Of course, this type of interweaving is a basic novelistic approach but a part of its writerly challenge, esp in SF, is to make the threads dramatically technically different for diversity. This is accomplished beautifully w/ protaganist Amanda's Mall contrasted w/ the Valley of the God of One's Choice contrasted again w/ the personal history of Magistrate Mohammed Abdel-Malik.

I admit to being rubbed a bit the wrong way when the killing of Abdel-Malik in the beginning is done by punks. It reminded me too much of an early scene in "Terminator" where punks threaten the newly-arrived-from-the-future nude Terminator (w/o knowing what they were getting into). Having been around punk since its inception & having never once witnessed punks acting in this way, it just seems like a perpetuation of prejudicial stereotypes.

Later, on p 43, Abdel-Malik is interviewed as prophesizing "Sooner or later, machines or tailored organisms will provide all our wants. We'll work only at jobs we choose to accept, as artists dream of doing." I'm fairly sure Broderick believes this (or at least hopes for it) but I don't at all. I prophesize that for every labor-saving device there'll be a human job of increasingly dreary tedium of maintaining & making the machines. It makes me think of automated phone answering labyrinths. A person calls to ask a question & gets routed thru a multiple-choice nightmare that takes entirely too long & doesn't answer the question. Then again, I'm open to reading Broderick's more optimistic version.

On p 70, I was amused by a continuation of this Abdel-Malik interview in wch Florida is mentioned:

"Q. Won't a planet of wealthy ageless people be conservative and terminally dreary, Florida forever?
A. Could be. That's a scary thought."

Nice touch - although cdn't he've picked Canberra instead?

P 288: "Does it matter that what I feel, the "I" who feels it, is no more than a rush of bytes in some memory space, some neural network inside an immense computer that, for all I know, might be in orbit around some star light-years distant [..:]" "Transcension" engages issues of what-constitutes-'reality' that're forever dear to my intellect (& forever unanswered questions). As for the quoted question? Yes, it does matter b/c every possibility is different. HOWEVER, it just may well be that after discovering ourselves to be "a rush of bytes in some memory space" to the distress of our possible illusion of ourselves as something else, a paradigm construct that we may feel more comfortable w/, we may then find that new construct to be equally as illusory ad infinitum. So, no worries, eh?

Good onya meatey!

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
March 18, 2010 – Finished Reading
March 19, 2010 – Shelved
March 19, 2010 – Shelved as: sf

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