"Permutation City" by Greg Egan (1994)
"And in the meantime? The privileged class of Copies will grow larger, more powerful - and more threatening to the vast majority of people, who still won't be able to join them. The costs will come down, but not drastically - just enough to meet some of the explosion in demand from the executive class, once they throw off their qualms, en masse. Even in secular Europe, there's a deeply ingrained prejudice that says dying is the responsible, the moral thing to do. There's a Death Ethic - and the first substantial segment of the population abandoning it will trigger a huge backlash."
How "hard" do you like your science fiction? Do you prefer sword and sorcery with a dash of laser guns? Or books so conceptually deep that they threaten to split your head open? Ursula K. Le Guin or Stanislaw Lem? Starship Troopers or the V.A.L.I.S. trilogy? Straight-to-film, or unfilmable? If your answer in each instance is the latter, then you'll love Greg Egan.
Egan is a science fiction writer and computer programmer. He also has a degree in Mathematics (and it shows). According to Egan, there are NO pictures of him to be found on the Internet, though you are, of course, welcome to search. Maybe, just maybe, some of those you find will be the real Egan?
Permutation City is one of his earlier novels. He's written a lot of them, many with catchy titles like "Dark Integers," "Mitochondrial Eve," and "The Moral Virologist." Still looking for those laser guns and rocket ships? Abandon all hope, all ye who enter Egan's bibliography.
So what's this book about, you ask? Well, the simple answer is virtual reality. The more complex answer is the nature of virtual reality, and how the virtual might be more "real" than we think.
Or something. I'm not sure. It gets very deep, my friend. It gets very, very deep. Along the way Egan also speculates on the nature of consciousness, the conditions necessary for the creation of life, and the nature of sanity in relation to a ever-shifting, possibly illusory world.
Long story short (not that this book is that long), Permutation City will FUCK YOUR MIND, and I mean that in the most complimentary way. If you like books that ask big questions, if you like authors that talk up to you instead of down, then you'll freaking love this one. It is, I think, the most difficult science fiction novel I've ever read (and I've read a few whoppers), but for those who enjoy thinking (and reflecting) on their science fiction, this one's a winner. Just don't expect Egan to go gentle. He'll be hitting you over the head with existential quandaries before the end of the introduction.
If You Liked This Book, You Might Also Like:
"The Eden Cycle" by Raymond Z. Gallun
"The Information" by James Gleick
...and You'll Probably Despise:
"Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline
P.S. Egan gets a lot of flack for the "Dust Theory" of consciousness presented in this book. Some people on the Internet like to think they're VERY clever, and in their oversimplified mode of thinking this theory is easy to tear apart. There are, however, certain allowances in quantum mechanics for this theory - it's just that Egan doesn't include these allowances in the book. Given our current understanding of both quantum indeterminacy and entanglement, the Dust Theory does make a certain kind of sense.
Many critics also fail to take into account he sheer volume of information available within the observable universe (In the book, a character mentions that "dark matter" has been fully accounted for, and that the approximate date of a "Big Crunch" can be predicted.)
P.P.S. There is a criticism that runs "Egan only writes for his main audience, which is Egan." I see some validity to this argument. While I think Permutation City is fairly accessible (especially if you already have an interest in scientific topics), some of his other stuff is so obscure that one wonders why he bothered to write it in the first place.