Nasim is a young computer scientist, hoping to work on the Human Connectome Project: a plan to map every neural connection in the human brain. But funding for the project is cancelled, and Nasim ends up devoting her career to Zendegi, a computerised virtual world used by millions of people.
Fifteen years later, a revived Connectome Project has published a map of the brain. Zendegi is facing fierce competition from its rivals, and Nasim decides to exploit the map to fill the virtual world with better Proxies: the bit-players that bring its crowd scenes to life. As controversy rages over the nature and rights of the Proxies, a friend with terminal cancer begs Nasim to make a Proxy of him, so some part of him will survive to help raise his orphaned son. But Zendegi is about to become a battlefield ...
In this provocative near-future tale, humans mingle with artificial intelligences called proxies in the virtual world of Zendegi. Shortly after Iranian scientist Nasim Golestani develops a way to make proxies so lifelike that some people believe they should have the same rights as humans, journalist Martin Seymour, an Australian living in Iran, finds out that he might not live to raise his young son, Javeed. He becomes obsessed with finding a way to guide Javeed even after his death and decides that if he could make a proxy of himself, then he could die in peace. Nasim agrees to help him even as proxy rights activists attack her for creating and enslaving conscious entities. Egan (Crystal Nights and Other Stories) creates a thought-provoking, intensely personal story about conflicting instincts and desires as technology recapitulates humanity.