ABSTRACT

Written several years after Permutation City (1994b), Greg Egan’s second novel dealing with Artificial Life and digital existence is Diaspora (1997). It takes place in a different science fictional time and space, set roughly a millennium in the future. While issues of artificiality, embodiment, and the authenticity of digital life are still central, they are addressed from the inside of a coherent digital culture, not from the outside as in the majority of the narrative of Permutation City. In Diaspora, the population of the Solar System is divided into three groups: fleshers, biologically embodied human beings, most of whom have undergone some form of genetic manipulation (although there are still some completely unmodified human beings derogatorily referred to as ‘statics’); gleisners, robots that are basically amalgams of sentient software and semi-permanent human-shaped hardware bodies; and citizens, completely artificial digital lifeforms, some of which originated in biological form but the majority of which have been ‘born’ and bred entirely within a digital system. The citizens live inside separate ‘polises’, independent and self-sustaining networked computer hardware systems, but each polis is in contact with every other. The citizens’ digital world is collectively known as the Coalition of Polises. Moreover, it is the citizens’ perspectives, narrated from within the polises, which dominate the novel.