Sat, 24 Oct 2015

By Peter Watts

I read Peter Watts' Blindsight a few months ago (a free e-book download from his website) and recently bought and read his sequel Echopraxia. I re-read Blindsight as a refresher before starting the followup. The book Firefall contains both stories.

Blindsight is one of those books that's good to read on an e-reader because you can easily look up words you don't understand. This is a very useful feature I miss when I read dead-tree books now, and a well used feature for both Blindsight and Echopraxia. I have a science background and enjoy the extrapolation of books like these, but Echopraxia was a bit mystifying to me on some occasions.

Blindsight is a novel about first contact, and the odd crew of people sent to find out what might be lurking in the Oort cloud. So, aliens and spaceships. But this is far from a normal "alien" and "spaceship" novel, and the book is as much about us (humans) as them (the aliens). We can be quite "alien" ourselves and getting stranger all the time. Well written, good (if sometimes odd) characters and interesting discussion of evolution and consciousness: particularly about whether consciousness is actually required to function (and exhibit intelligence) and what advantages it may (or may not) have. This is not the sort of thing that comes up often. Neither do spare-faring vampires, a species brought back to life my modern homo-sapiens because they're much better than baseline people like us at a lot of things. The captain of the team on the spaceship Theseus in Blindsight is a vampire.

Echopraxia is the sequel and takes place on the Earth Blindsight's crew have left. An Earth in the late 21st Century and starting to fall apart. There are many very interesting ideas here but the big problem for me was that I just couldn't understand some of it, especially towards the end. I think I understand it a bit better now but I cheated and read Watts' "explanation" on his web site.

Maybe I need to read it again, but that's going to have to wait a while. Watts gets an A+ for a thought-provoking and interesting near-future adventure though.

Peter Watts has an interesting web site where you can read a lot of background to his stories. He's a writer that does a lot of research and includes and discusses it in the book's appendices. These are definitely worth a look, and I found them a fascinating overview of where some of the current scientific thinking is.