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Blindsight Paperback – March 4, 2008
Attention Science Fiction Fans
Man vs. machine, humans vs. aliens, paranormal activities – discover the best of science fiction with these collectible books. 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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Top Customer Reviews
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. Watts packs in so many thought-provoking ideas and so much straight-up SMRT that I'm still blinking, and he does it seamlessly, while keeping everyone in character, and without letting up on the pace at *all*. (I should mention that the book includes something that would, in any other book, be three-page infodump. Watts frames it so skillfully that it serves as an emotional climax instead. I goggle at the skill required to pull this off.)
It's completely engaging from the first page to the last, and it's completely readable. It's not reassuring or fuzzy, but it's not a self-indulgent emo fest either. It's not flawless, but its successes overwhelm its shortcomings. It's very cold, very dark, supersharp, ambitious as hell, intellectually satisfying, and astonishingly light on its feet -- and I stayed up till three am on a worknight to finish it in one eight-hour gulp. If any of that sounds like your thing, buy this book. Maybe if enough of us do so, more publishers will realize that there really is a market for books like this.
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.
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.
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