Permutation City is an extension into novel form of an earlier short story "Dust". As such, I prefer the short story. I just don't think Egan's strengths lie with the novel format. He is at his best when exploring the ramifications of a specific concept, scientific breakthrough or mathematical wizardry, less so when it comes to sustaining the plotting and characterisation a novel requires.
In this case, I'm also troubled by the central concept of the novel, which explores the ramifications of actually living in cyberspace. Egan argues how the reality of anybody living in cyberspace is not dependent on the underlying reality of software, hardware and such. He starts by exploring the nature of time in cyberspace, by showing that it doesn't matter how many nonconscious time there is between moments of conscious time for somebody living in cyberspace. I feel however that there's a large portion of "dazzling by bullshit" in the story and especially in the big breakthrough concept which is at the centre of the novel.
In any case, the story revolves around Paul Durham, who's busy doing research into the nature of existence in cyberspace and Maria Deluca, an artificial life enthusiast who has just engineered a major breakthrough in the Autoverse a-life universe. Their paths cross when Paul enlist her expertise in building an entire world of a-life, using the autoverse rules, as part of his big project. It seems he has been contacting rich cyberpeople with the promise to create for them a system which can never be shutdown or interfered with from outside, unlike the expensive computer services they run on now. The realisation of this project is the first part of the book, the second part tells of the crisis reached when this system conflicts with the a-live universe Maria had created....
My conclusion? A reasonable novel, but if you've never read anything of Egan before, skip this for his short story collections.
Webpage created 02-09-2001, last updated 10-12-2001