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I think I was given this quite long paperback book by a friend in 2006. The author might have been Greg Bear.

Humans have colonised other planets. Not all people have bodies. Many seem to exist quite happily as software, all sharing a huge virtual environment.

Most children are created by mixing together the personalities (maybe called mysteries) of their parents as software. They often choose to inhabit a body later in life. Living in a child's body is not in fashion.

If these people need to do something that would be deadly, they create a copy of themselves and send them off to do their duty then die. The copy shares all the memories the original had up to the time they were created. They might be a clone or a robot body, I do not recall.

Part of the story is told from the point of view of one such copy. He has performed the task he was created for and is waiting for death. He is sad, but it helps somewhat knowing his original will continue to live. He has memories from his original of creating other copies to send to their deaths. He of course has no memory or dying and his original will still not have such a memory.

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    Has quite a few resonances with the short story collective novel Accelerando.
    – JohnP
    Commented Mar 22 at 18:45
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    Is it Permutation City by Greg Ean (not Greg Bear)? This is a long shot, suggested by... ChatGPT (oof), and a quick look at Wikipedia confirms people make virtual clones of themselves. I don't feel confident about writing this as an answer, since mine was really a low effort chat-gpt'ing ;)
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 22 at 18:49
  • I'll look up a summary of this novel. Thanks for your efforts. Commented Mar 22 at 19:02
  • It does not seem to be Permutation City, but the ideas are similar enough that I will check out other work by Greg Egan. Thank you very much. Commented Mar 22 at 19:12
  • Also similar to "Farthest Star". There must be a trope for this.
    – user108131
    Commented Mar 24 at 13:59

1 Answer 1

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I think this probably is Bear, in his "The Way" series. In those books, humans from our time encounter humans from the far future who, as you say, can download themselves into virtual environments and create partial clones to go off and do tasks.

The specific passage you remember is near the end of the first book, Eon, where a partial of Olmy helps Patricia Luisa Vasquez open a portal in the path of onrushing plasma from a star's heart.

They were surrounded by an intense brightness that went beyond light or heat. Olmy grimaced and grinned at once, relishing the sensation. He had sent partials to die before and had never known what their sensations were like. Now, he would experience it directly—

And the original Olmy would still never know.

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    Yes, this is it. Thanks very much. Commented Mar 23 at 0:03

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