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Blindsight Paperback – March 4, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Canadian author Watts (Starfish) explores the nature of consciousness in this stimulating hard SF novel, which combines riveting action with a fascinating alien environment. In the late 21st century, when something alien is discovered beyond the edge of the solar system, the spaceship Theseus sets out to make contact. Led by an enigmatic AI and a genetically engineered vampire, the crew includes a biologist who's more machine than human, a linguist with surgically induced multiple personality disorder, a professional soldier who's a pacifist, and Siri Keeton, a man with only half a brain. Keeton is virtually incapable of empathy, but he has a savant's ability to model and predict the actions of others without understanding them. Once the Theseus arrives at the gigantic and hideously dangerous alien artifact (which has tellingly self-named itself Rorschach), the crew must deal with beings who speak English fluently but who may, paradoxically, not even be sentient, at least as we understand the term. Watts puts a terrifying and original spin on the familiar alien contact story. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Sf's best visionaries have played out the ever-popular theme of alien first contact in so many different ways that fresh variations are now in short supply. Yet Watts manages an entirely unique approach in this mind-bending novel. In 2082, with utopia waiting just down the electronic pipeline in a virtual domain called Heaven, Earth experiences the sudden shock of a baffling extraterrestrial visitation in the form of bright probes that surround the globe. Within days, the lights vanish, leaving only a faint signal of outbound communication near the Kuiper belt. Possessing few clues about the aliens' culture or intentions, scientists dispatch an unlikely exploration team that includes a linguist with multiple-personality syndrome, a cyborg biologist, and a spectral captain whose genetic code incorporates vampirism. Watts packs in enough tantalizing ideas for a score of novels while spinning new twists on every cutting-edge genre motif from virtual reality to extraterrestrial biology. Watts' fifth, finest, most-fascinating book. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (March 4, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765319640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765319647
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (284 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Blindsight is great hard science fiction.
In Blindsight Watts shows how truly alien aliens could be, and makes us think about what 'intelligence' really is.
Events seem to transpire a bit slowly, with too much introspection by the characters.
S. M. Baker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

300 of 306 people found the following review helpful By Erin Kissane on October 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Let's start with the cool factor, because that's what made me buy this the moment it came out. There's a protagonist with half his brain (the half that enabled empathy, apparently) removed, who makes his living reading other peoples' thoughts and intentions through close observation. Imagine a younger, colder, more focused Sherlock Holmes and then take away the drama queen tendencies, the social skills, and the cozy Victoriana; the part that's left might feel a bit like Siri. There are the intricately damaged altered-brain characters you might expect from Watts if you've read the rifters books. There's the space vampire who out-baddasses every other vampire I've ever encountered in a novel, and I know from vampire books. No gothy romantic hero here -- just a creature who has out-evolved you so thoroughly you can't even get your head around it.

Now let's talk about the ideas. Blindsight takes on the evolutionary benefits of sociopathic behavior, and the ethics of torture, the puzzle of sentience, and what it means to intentionally develop a simulacrum of empathy and conscience (and whether it's worthwhile to do so). These ideas have been explored elsewhere, but I've never seen it done so well. Blindsight isn't *about* aliens or vampires or the future of technology. It's about us: our moral choices, our short cultural attention spans, the mental shortcuts we use so we can function, and what happens when our reach exceeds our evolutionary grasp.

But I must digress, because it probably sounds like I'd describing something dry and obvious and preachy. Didactic fiction drives me up the wall. Heavy-handed exposition and self-important authorial philosophizing will make me drop a book faster than anything but bad dialogue. This book is none of that.
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81 of 88 people found the following review helpful By QuicksilverHg on November 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
First of all, you've got to love a novel with footnotes and a bibliography. I just wish I had the resources, not to mention enough gray matter, to ferret them all out, and see if they all exist. Or understand the joke, for those that don't.

Anyway, I digress. Watt's books make you think, and usually not happy thoughts. But it's not a far leap to see the world(s) his characters live in.

I don't think I would have liked knowing any of the characters. But life is like that. I mean seriously, would you live in a building wehere you had neighbors like Seinfeld's? But reading about them (and Lennie and her compatriots) is a toally different kettle of fish.

I learned a lot of biology reading his books. And now, I am willing to add Blindsight to the list of books that I keep in the back of my mind for those times when someone asks, "why do you read that stuff"? Its not just what you learn, and what you think, but also how you feel. Its complicated.

Trust me.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Richard R. Horton on January 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Blindsight tells of an expedition to investigate the apparent arrival of aliens in the Solar System. A ship, crewed by four strangely enhanced humans and commanded by a genetically recreated vampire, arrives in the far Oort cloud, and discovers an unusual and environmentally hostile object. Attempts to communicate are ambiguous -- it seems to contain intelligent actors, but it offers no real information, and warns them off. Naturally, the humans refuse to leave, and we are treated to attempts to land on the alien "ship" or "device" or whatever -- again met with ambiguous but mostly hostile responses.

All this is interesting, but it hides the real interest of the book. The story is told by Siri Keeton, who is essentially autistic, and who "translates" the observations of the oddly altered specialists on the mission to terms that "normal" humans back on Earth can understand. So we learn something of the nature of these enhanced people: one is a vampire, one is a military genius of sorts, one has a cybernetic sensorium, and one, a linguist, has (on purpose) multiple personalities. In addition we learn of Siri Keeton's personal life: a mother who has retreated to a simulation, an often absent "spook" father, a love affair with a woman who specializes in tailored brain chemistry alterations.

The eventual point of all this, and of the eventually realized true nature of the aliens, is speculation on the nature of concsiousness. Is consciousness real? Is it really useful? Is it necessary for intelligence? How much of the world around us do we really perceive and how much do our brains "simulate" for us? What our our brains capable of? How would predators think differently? Is real communication with aliens possible?

Fascinating stuff throughout, wonderful "big idea" SF.
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116 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Loftus on July 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you enjoy intellectual riffing on hard science, esp. neuroscience, anthropology, and/or exobiology, this book will have deep appeal. (And despite the review commenting that the vampire concept was far-fetched, as a physical anthropology major I actually found Watts' concept intriguing and fun. Heck, human travel to the Oort cloud is far-fetched, too, but many authors describe such concepts plausibly. I've never seen anyone pose a compelling "what if vampires had actually really existed" scenario in this way and I found it original. And it's really just one ingredient of the melange of concepts explored in this story.)

If you are a "reader's reader" who loves juicy characters you can care about--nah, you're not gonna find it here. The book does have some *interesting* characters ("freaks" per one negative review, and yes, they are). It has a very good use of suspense to drive the story, but emotionally it doesn't stick to your ribs. It lacks a certain degree of self-deprecating, self-conscious humor. This is a chilled consomme, or an elegant sushi, but not a hearty stew or chocolate cake. It is the first Alien movie (except with Ripley having Asperger's); it is not The Fifth Element or Star Wars.

So, if you're looking for stew, it'll leave you a little hungry. If you're up for some intellectual bedazzlement, you will probably enjoy it.
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