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Echopraxia Hardcover – August 26, 2014
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“A paranoid tale that would make Philip K. Dick proud, told in a literary style that should seduce readers who don't typically enjoy science fiction.” ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
PETER WATTS is the Hugo nominated author of Blindsight and has been called "a hard science fiction writer through and through and one of the very best alive" by The Globe and Mail and whose work the New York Times called "seriously paranoid."
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Top Customer Reviews
The central character is baseline human Dan Brüks, a biologist and tenured professor who resists all the wiring and implants that most people take for granted. As Exchopraxia begins, Brüks is in the desert where he finds Bicamerals threatened by a not-so-controlled-or-confined vampire and her zombie helpers. Soon the Bicams and the vampire join forces (more or less) because they appear to have a common but unidentified enemy. An attack from an unknown source sends Brüks and the Bicams and the vampire and a baseline military officer and some other characters scrambling to a spaceship that is itself chased and attacked by the unknown enemy. Figuring out who (or what) is engineering the high tech attacks is one of the plot's three mysteries. The second involves a mysterious something -- the "Angels of the Asteroids" is the roughly translated name bestowed by the Bicams -- and its association with Icarus, a space station that acts as a conduit of unlimited solar energy. The third involves the abrupt disappearance of the Theseus, a spaceship that investigated mystery number two, on which the military officer's son was serving.
Peter Watts has a better than average prose style. I like the way he renders dialog in a character for whom language is too slow to keep pace with thought. Characters have carefully designed personalities. Brüks and the military officer are both carrying a bundle of guilt, a byproduct of being baseline humans who can't jettison inconvenient emotions. The plot moves quickly, particularly in the novel's second half, but it does not short-change character development or the refinement of themes (including the benefits and disadvantages of being human rather than transhuman) that are central to the story.
The novel's background is filled with ideas, some familiar and others fresh. Watts doesn't assume that readers are stupid and need their hands held. Concepts that don't seem to make much sense initially (like "smart paint") are eventually made clear, usually through context rather than direct explanation. Watts scores points with me for avoiding needless exposition.
While Echopraxia is science-heavy science fiction, Watts also scores points for recognizing and engaging the limits of science -- which is not to say that the novel prefers a religious approach to understanding phenomena, despite the importance of transhuman monks to the story. Watts understands that too many people have blind faith in the ability of either science or religion to supply correct answers to all questions when, given our relatively primitive evolutionary state, we don't even know what questions to ask. Watts provides an antidote to arrogance, a reminder that it is wrong to belittle others because their understanding of the universe (or of our tiny part of our single universe) differs from our own. Echopraxia makes a strong argument for the importance of keeping an open mind about ... well, everything ... because the odds are good that whatever we believe to be true is fundamentally wrong.
Apart from being intellectually engaging, Echopraxia tells an entertaining story. The combination of an intelligent background, a fun plot, important themes, and strong characters make Echopraxia a rewarding read.
I feel a bit strange saying that I found _Echopraxia_ to be a lot of fun. I don't know what he is like in Real Life, but his books and stories do not tend toward the cheerful and optimistic. He has a sense of humor - but it's a very, very *black* humor. Like, if you take black, and you attempt to make it even *darker* by removing all of the black from it - that's about where Peter Watts is.
But despite its overall grim take Things To Come, _Echopraxia_ is filled with all manner of technological wonders, and taken all-together it paints an original and fantastic - and, yeah, terrifying - vision of "The Singularity".
It's not for everyone. In fact, I'll just say it: if you aren't a smart, thoughtful person, you won't get much out of Watts or Egan etc. But if you like to think about things, and if you like to challenge your beliefs - you'll probably appreciate _Echopraxia_.
If you enjoy trying to understand why we humans think as we do, or why pother humans think as they do, I highly recommend this book.
I love a complex world, but many aspects of the book go over explained or under explained.