Permutation City

By Greg Egan

Speaking as a hobbyist philosopher, Permutation City is incredibly useful. It’s an absolute jungle gym of questions regarding consciousness, humanity, personal identity theory, and the impact of artificial intelligence. I think I understood (generously) half of the philosophical roller coasters the novel jumps on, and I look forward to understanding the rest through the discussions I can now start thanks to the hypotheticals fleshed out in this plot.

As a hobbyist English literature critic, this book is trying its best and noticeably failing. The female characters, what few there are, are equally nagging, un-accepting-of-change copies of one another. Much of the novel is clouded by technical biological and software jargon, which the author allows to be completely inaccessible to anyone without a degree in organic, and computer, sciences. In Part 2, details that deserves books in of themselves, like how a child that could grow to be considered human might be created via artificial intelligence, are passed over without the slightest discussion, which jars the reader out of the reading experience with confusion.

By the end of the novel I was almost more frustrated with the sloppy writing than I was excited by the existential quandaries. Still, the book is worth it for the sparks of curiosity it lights. The holidays are starting soon; I think I’ll use personal identity theory as my conversation starter this year.