Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Zendegi by Greg Egan

It's a little hard to believe that I've never, to the best of my knowledge, read anything by Greg Egan before. I saw this little number at the library and thought I should give it a try. It reminds me a lot of some of the early William Gibson cyberpunk novels, in a good way.

Zendegi takes place in the very near future. In fact, it begins in the early years of the Obama administration, apparently, and Egan makes note of the inaccuracies in the world situation that is portrayed here in his afterword, but that doesn't harm the story much. Part of the story takes place in Iran, during something analogous to the Green revolution, where a reporter from Australia, Martin Seymour, witnesses the dramatic events leading up to the liberalization of Iranian society and politics, and the removal from power of the mullah-ocracy. In the course of this, he makes some lifelong friends, and meets his future wife, Mahnoosh.

Halfway around the world, an Iranian ex-pat named Nahim, one of Mahnoosh's cousins, is working for the Human Connectome Project, an attempt to map the brains of humans into computers. When the project threatens to grind to a halt due to a lack of funding, at the same time as the revolution in Iran succeeds, Nahim and her mother decide to return to their home country, where she takes a series of jobs over the next few years, leading eventually to one writing software for a virtual world called Zendegi. Zendegi's biggest competitor is a world created and run by a company in India, and once again Nahim is facing losing her job as venture capital runs dry.

In the meantime, Martin and Mahnoosh have married and had a son, Javeed, a precocious and charming child, but whom Martin fears will be contaminated with many of the racial prejudices and overt sexism displayed by the Iranians around them. When Manoosh is killed in a car accident, and Martin later develops liver cancer, he decides he must find a way to raise Javeed "himself" after he has passed away, rather than leaving him to be raised by his Iranian god-parents.

Martin and Nahim join forces to map Martin's brain and personality so that he can live on after his death in the world of Zendegi. The serious portion of the tale is relieved by the adventures that Martin and Javeed experience together, based on Persian fables, in Zendegi.

One of the things I really liked about this was that many of the "inventions" in the story were so close to modern technology that I found myself asking, every so often, "Hey, do we have that already?" Not much willing suspension of disbelief required for most of this book. I suppose I'm going to have to hunt down some more novels by Mr. Egan.

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