Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Zendegi Zendegi
by Greg Egan

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Simopn Litten

Zendegi is the latest novel by Greg Egan and continues his themes of consciousness in a digital world and translating the human mind to that digital world. So far so usual for Mr Egan, however, Zendegi is not Mr Egan’s usual take on these subjects.

Zendegi tells two interconnected stories: that of an Australian ex-patriot journalist Martin Seymour, now living in Iran, and Iranian researcher Nasim Golestani, who returns to Iran after living an émigré existence in the United States of America for fifteen or so years.

Zendegi is an online massive multi-player, multi-scenario gaming environment that Nasim works for and Martin and his son Javeed adventure in. Nasim has developed a technique, side loading skill sets (as this is less computer resource intensive) as distinct from uploading the same, for making the non-player characters, proxies, more interesting. Martin is dying and desperately wishes to create an in-game proxy personality to dispense fatherly advice to his son after his [Martin’s] death. The novel centres round the tribulations of Nasim and Martin as they attempt to refine the creation and use of proxies.

In the main Zendegi worked well as a story especially where it focussed on Martin’s life and his desperation to create an ersatz personality to guide his son after Martin’s death. Where the novel worked less well was in its exploration of the ethical issues Mr Egan proposed around the development and use of proxies – as in novels past Mr Egan has been a strong proponent of the translation of human consciousness to a digital environment – with the in novel arguments feeling superficial and simplistic. Fortunately for the reader this novel strand is only a small plot point coming in near the end of the book and does not impinge on Martin’s story.

This reader was expecting Zendegi to be another of Greg Egan’s stories about living a full on digital life, with the central character making the transition from corporeal to incorporeal existence. I was pleasantly surprised that Mr Egan had adopted a different storyline and was even prepared to give arguments against such a concept. A better than average effort from a better than average author, this is a book to while away the evenings in lieu of reality [sic] TV and broadcast talent quests.

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