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Blindsight Paperback – March 4, 2008
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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Blindsight is in my top 5 of hard science fiction genre. Watts' view of the future is rather bleak; joy is removed from life's equation and replaced with an almost duty-bound search for knowledge. The mood he creates is a little bit like the Blade Runner films, particularly the recent adaptation. Echopraxia is the follow up; actually, there is a short story The Colonel in between that should be read as well. If you prefer novels like Alistair Reynolds' where characters have their own private worm holes, and the characters seem like they are waiting for the movie-version of the novel, this might not be for you. I highly recommend Blindsight, along with the Starfish series as well.
Blindsight brought with it a host of interesting ideas, such as the relationship between sentience and intelligence. Herein resides the novel’s biggest strenght: these ideas were deftly twined with the plot and characters. Due to this excellent weave-work, I will surely find myself awoke at night tormented by a mind that refuses to slow.
Tension… it’s so thick I can’t come up with a good enough metaphor to describe it. As I read this book I felt as if my heart would suddenly stop beating. There was this pervasive dread that something horrible would blindside me, would kick me in the solar plexus and leave me gasping.
The plot? This was great. There were plenty of turns and interesting reveals, such as in the beginning when the linguist made a certain discovery about the aliens’ communication. I was left crawling to the next page, desperate to see how things would progress. However, this is Blindsight’s weakest strenght. Towards the end I felt as if the plot started to drop off, and I wish there had been some more bumps in the road, but all in all the plot was enjoyable and engaging.
It would be a lie to say this book doesn’t have its problems, though.
1: Peter Watts has a tendency to be confusing. It’s not the heavy science that’s the problem—I quite enjoyed learning a thing or two as I read—no, this has to do with the way the story is written. The author’s wording is needlessly ambiguous at times and he often fails to provide enough explanation.
He also gives the reader glimpses into the past (of which are interesting) but they aren’t weaved into the narrative very well. For instance, there is one snapshot that gives the reader insight into Amanda Bates’s past, the pacifist warrior mentioned in the blurb. It wasn’t meshed very well into the narrative, and the information itself was told in a needlessly confusing manner.
2: Watts doesn’t do a good job with the imagery side of things. His descriptions are scarce, and those that do exist are AWFULLY written. I found myself unable to see anything that was happening in this book, not even simple still shots. Action sequences were the absolute worse because of his poor imagery prowess. They came off as being a mess that found I myself speeding through to get to the more interesting bits.
And yet somehow - unbelievably - it works.
Watts has created a story where it's quite reasonable that both creatures exist, and neither one is toned down or dismissed. They are both terrifying in their own ways and present their own horrific implications. While the aliens are an external threat, the vampires are an internal one, representing humanity's apathetic indifference to each other and the most basic, selfish drive to survive.
The main character, Siri, is essentially a professional observer hired to tag along on a mission to intercept an alien spacecraft on the edges of our solar system. He and the entire crew all suffer some sort of neurological condition, with very different ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Working together, they attempt to comprehend the spacecraft, which proves unfathomable to human methods of thinking. Siri makes for a fascinating point-of-view character, his pathological detachment both an advantage and fatal flaw in discerning what is happening on board the ship.
While on the surface, the book is about humanity's interaction with an alien species, it's really about humanity's interaction with itself. How we define humanity, and how we connect despite the massive gulf in understanding between each person. It ends on a fairly dark note, but one that makes perfect sense, a twist that the story has been quietly building to all along. Of course it was going to end this way; there's no other way it possibly could.
I strongly recommend it as both a thriller and hard sci-fi. It'll mess with your head, but in the best way possible.