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Blindsight Hardcover – October 3, 2006
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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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.
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
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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.
For a biologist, he seems to have made some inappropriate biological analogies.
The Vampire Sarasti says at one point:
` "You have a naïve understanding of evolutionary processes. There's no such thing as survival of the fittest. Survival of the most adequate, maybe. It doesn't matter whether a solution's optimal. All that matters is whether it beats the alternatives." '
"Survival of the fittest" is appropriate and commensurate with "Survival of the most adequate", as it never was equated with optimal solutions as Darwin used it (It was co-opted from Herbert Spencer's generalizations). Darwin's greatest achievement was the concept of "descent through modification" not descent through optimization. He recognized that forms continued to change, that the environment seemingly pushes them towards an optimum via Natural Selection, but that they usually end up as a current "best fit". And as far as "beating the alternatives", it doesn't necessarily have to if it avoids competing with them. Subtle differences, I admit, but he is trying to make his point with some rigor.
Another poor analogy:
` "It's true," Sarasti told her, "that your intellect makes up for your self-awareness to some extent. But you're flightless birds on a remote island. You're not so much successful as isolated from any real competition." `
Some birds lose flight on islands not from lack of competition, but lack of predators and in some cases they become the top tier predators. However, they are subject to the same competitive pressures as other similar organisms in their environment.
If you are going to try to razzle-dazzle people with Egghead Mumbo Jumbo, at least try not to reinforce misperceptions. Get your analogies straight, or reread your Darwin and Gould. There are paragraphs that clearly outline applicable ideas and add much to the story, but much of the science and philosophy seems to be inserted randomly - giving the narrative a ramshackle feel, like a first draft written on a caffeine high.
And, of course, there is the Vampire in charge. How can I describe this? The constant reminders of "prey", "predator" and "meat" do not seem like adequate substitutes for personality development or interpersonal relationships. Over all, the characters showed lots of Color and Noise, but little of Art and Music.
Now, when he tries to separate intelligence from self awareness, I don't agree with his resulting species. What you end up with is a reaction machine--how can it initiate action if it is unaware of its own desires? He seems to be implying that the Scramblers are a "hive mind" parasitizing the super-Jupiter for energy and materials, but their objective never becomes clear to me. Obviously, their motives may be alien, yet their later actions and strategies are well planned out and understandable, which seems to be contradictory to their nature. And the initial contact with their machines seems only to be a ploy to get the expedition rolling as it seems to have no bearing on their subsequent actions.
On the theme of Message hostility:
"There are no meaningful translations for these terms. They are needlessly recursive. They contain no usable intelligence, yet they are structured intelligently; there is no chance they could have arisen by chance.
The only explanation is that something has coded nonsense in a way that poses as a useful message; only after wasting time and effort does the deception becomes apparent. The signal functions to consume the resources of a recipient for zero payoff and reduced fitness. The signal is a virus.
Viruses do not arise from kin, symbionts, or other allies.
The signal is an attack."
This explanation of their motivation assumes that although humans can understand alienness (they reach out to investigate it), the aliens themselves cannot? They have no conception of other species? Have they never encountered the equivalent of birds that sing, and frogs that croak, and bees that buzz for no reason other than that is what they do? Are the informationless, but structured and periodic pulsations of the stars interpreted as war cries? Do they rail against the heavens themselves in eternal anguish? How can these dumb bunnies survive? It's a stretch of the imagination that makes absolutely no sense. This reinforces the idea that they are a one-dimensional reaction machine and not intelligent at all. He didn't invent a mysterious alien race, he discovered the Roomba of Outer Space.
Instead, try reading any of the following:
by Samuel R. Delany
Just as many freaks, but Delany can actually write.
First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster
by Murray Leinster
Contains THE classic first contact story, titled oddly enough "First Contact"
by A. E. Van Vogt
A better class of Übermensch than Watt's ridiculous vampires plus Van Vogt is actually fun to read.
The Doors of His Face, The Lamp of His Mouth
by Roger Zelazny
One of the finest writers of the 20th Century.