RE: Egan dismisses Singularity, maybe

From: mike99 (
Date: Mon Apr 29 2002 - 13:38:41 MDT

-----Original Message-----
Evan Reese wrote:

Unfortunately, Egan seems unwilling - or unable? - to make a real break with
the known. ...
This isn't just a problem for Egan. Benford's _Sailing Bright Eternity_ is
the most disappointing book I have ever read. ...

Mike LaTorra: Egan does seems to be unusually cautious when it comes to the
question of greater-than-human intelligence and the Singularity. His only
statement on this (so far as I know) is what he has put into the mouths of
his fictional characters.

Not so with Benford, however, who wrote an essay on this point a few years
ago (published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, if I recall correctly). Benford
criticized science fiction novels that end with what he termed a
"transcendental blowout." He mentioned specific works, including Clarke's

Then, not long after writing those words (perhaps even coincident with
them), he got Clarke's permission to re-write and extend the storyline in
Clarke's THE CITY AND THE STARS. I had read the original many years ago and
absolutely loved it. I read Benford's version and was revolted.


In Clarke's THE CITY AND THE STARS original, the main character/hero Alvin
leaves earth's high-tech city, Diaspar, in which he had been born, and the
bucolic community, Lys, which he had discovered (the cities having broken
communication with one another ages earlier). He learns that the story he
had been told about mankind nearly being exterminated by aliens was a myth
designed to keep people from following the majority of humans into deep
space. Alvin finds a spaceship and flies off in pursuit of the majority of
humanity who had gone off toward some mysterious cosmic goal.

In his version, Benford turns back from Clarke's cosmic conclusion (which
hinted at some kind of transcension for the majority of mankind). Clarke's
nearly mystical conclusion was, one might say from Benford's perspective, a
"god too big." In place of that, Benford literally creates a small,
intelligent, four-legged creature who is, in my opinion, a "god too small."
And I mean "god" literally here because that is what this little fur ball
claims to be at the end of Benford's version. Very UNinspiring. Very
UNtranscendent. Ecology and its balancing were the purview of this little
godling. Although that ecology had been developed to include a kind of space
elevator and some interplanetary craft, it was still somehow too cozy, too
conservative, too small and too bland. No one had become transhuman,
post-human or superintelligent. Everyone had become stultified and boring.

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