A retro review from April 7, 2001.
Review: Genesis, Poul Anderson, 2000.
In the far future, humans only inhabit the stars as personality simulations, subroutines in vast, powerful artificial intelligencies that form a “galactic brain”. One such uploaded mind is Christian Brannock. As an engineer, he helped build the first great works in space and was one of the first to work in intimate symbiosis with the AIs who, rather than man, colonized the stars. On Earth, the reigning intelligence is Gaia, a computer that rules human affairs and also posseses, in its libraries, presevered human minds it uses to ruin elaborate simulations of real and alternate histories.
Millions of years pass in this novel’s almost Stapledonian sweep, and the galactic brain becomes concerned about the seeming obsession of Gaia with Earth history, her secretiveness, and her unresponsiveness to their proposal on whether the now geologically ancient Earth should be saved from a bloated sun, a test run for greater galactic engineering to come. A version of the Brannock mind is copied and sent on his way to Earth.
There he, and a slightly different copy, attempt to figure out what Gaia’s up to. One version, inhabiting a robot’s body, explores the dying Earth. The other engages in talk and travel with Lucinda Ashcroft, a personality inhabiting Gaia.
This novel puts together, in a surprisingly successful way, just about all the strains of Anderson’s previous works from the epic sweep of Tau Zero to his heroic fantasy to the uploaded minds of some of his most recent science fiction to alternate histories and time travel. The novel’s sense of true tragedy is not new to Anderson, but, as the title hints, there is an unexpected theological flavor that is rare, but not unknown, in his work.
This novel should not only satisfy any fan of Anderson’s but also serve as a good introduction to the rest of his work.