Existence - David Brin Sandi's review nails it when she writes "Existence is a giant mess of a novel."

At its heart, this is another attempt to resolve Fermi's paradox, which asks the question, "Where is everybody?" The basic resolution is reminiscent of [a:Alastair Reynolds|51204|Alastair Reynolds|http://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1369753656p2/51204.jpg]'s in his Revelation Space series. And I liked that aspect of the novel, and, if Brin had contained himself to that story, then I might have been be able to give it that extra star.

But he doesn't. This book is all over the map with multiple story lines and POVs that - as many reviews here point out - go nowhere (i.e., the Hacker Sander/dolphin thread, the Basque Chimera/Neanderthal story or the Autism Plague).

Ultimately, the chief reason I can't recommend this novel is an essential philosophical difference between the author and myself. Like many of the hard SF writers today he leans strongly toward libertarianism and a childlike and absolute faith that technology will answer all the myriad problems we face. True, there are nods toward the unintended, often maleficent consequences of constant "progress" but the only possible answer to them is more, more, more technology. Anyone who might have a different viewpoint is a bad guy (i.e., The Prophet) or is sneeringly referred to as a "do-gooder."

Which leads into my second philosophical objection - A pathological disdain/dislike (bordering on hatred?) of Nature. All things - in this book - are meant to be used or modified to the benefit of the human race. And not only that but humans are meant to bring all the "benefits" of consciousness to other beings (i.e., dolphins). It's the greatest difficulty I had with Brin's "Uplift" series, and Existence often reads like a Christian fundamentalist bringing the Gospel to the Godless savage.

For all his nods toward diversity and the richness of human experience, Brin's universe (for me) is a bleak, soulless, mechanistic nightmare.

And a sexless one as well.

Not in the sense that there's no sex (though, fortunately, Brin avoids any - inevitably - awkward sex scenes) but one in which the only major female character (Tor Povlov) is rendered genderless very early by a terrorist attack that leaves her a cyborg. And all the other women in the book are motivated by maternal instincts.

I wish I were exaggerating but even the token woman scientist - Emily Tang - is motivated to acquire alien technology because she learns that they have artificial-womb technology.

All right - I should point out that Brin is brimming with interesting notions. I've reached the point where that's about the only reason I read hard SF anymore. I'm not a Luddite who would see modern humans reduced to their hunting/gathering ancestors. I retain a belief - perhaps as equally naive as Brin's in technology - that there's a balance to be found in how the world is and how we would like it to be, and that we can find it. But I can't see it in Brin et al.'s visions.