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Fantasy Friday – Blindsight

Blindsight by Peter Watts

Review written by Bowden P. (Trey)

Y’know, I had no idea what this would be like when I started it, and its compelling stuff. Yeah, the protagonist isn’t very likeable, but he does get the job done. Its a great, if rather chilling read. The cover blurb does a decent job of summarzing what sets the ball in motion and what the ball is – the spaceship Theseus and crew of trans- to post-humans.

It also skips over some of the most important things in the book: The nature of consciousness and whether its an advantage or not in evolutionary terms. This is the big idea of the book and the one guaranteed to unsettle a reader.

Our viewpoint character is Siri Keeton, the “synthesistan informational topologist with half his mind gone” of the blurb. Siri, is unique. He is not nice, hell, at the start of the book he might only be human by DNA, not how he acts. This leads to some interesting flashbacks and a moment of genuine sympathy for him. I will admit it might be better to say “half his brain” though – he’s had hemispherectomy to treat epileptic seizures.

Siri’s world isn’t a nice one. People routinely opt to live in virtual fantasies. There’s an ongoing insurgency over it where the insurgents use bio-weapons. War crimes from the other side are common as well. Drugs and hormones to alter mental states to something more useful are widespread. Corporations do things that lead to the creation of the vampires that are ethically challenged at best. Genetic manipulation is common – so common that one of Siri’s child hood friends is unusual for his lack of it.

But that’s just Earth. The Theseus is a lovely thing – fueled by antimatter teleported to it and assembled there, with synthesizers that can handle building almost anything so long as it has mass and is able to reconfigure itself at need. This is just the vehicle that gets them to the real action that takes place well beyond the Solar System. There an alien spacecraft has been found and is busy ‘terraforming’ a brown dwarf. Think about that for a moment and what it involves. Our intrepid band of posthumans goes out to explore and discovers an environment more hostile than can be imagined. It routinely destroys their probes and has effects on the crew even in their most heavily shielded suits. It makes communication difficult at best and meddles with their brains like transcranial magnetic stimulation but creating temporary ‘brain damage.’

Once it actually gets to first contact, its scary.

Folks, I love this book. Its five stars easy. Watts does things that many hard science fiction writers routinely fail to do – he writes well. His characters are characters, not caricatures. What he writes is darkly humorous, clever, moving and powerful. And the ideas he works with are huge, world shaking and dangerous. Good stuff to play with and he does it with human characters.

Likes: Neat neurobiology bits; Good characters; Big ideas; Some humor where needed; Big questions; Good writing; Neat toys.

Dislikes: I want more, darn it.
Suggested for fans of A User’s Guide to the Brain by John J. Ratey, Oliver Sachs, Kluge by Gary Marcus, A Mind of Its Own by Cordelia Fine, Scott Bakker’s Neuropath, and good (if dark) science fiction.

And if you can’t find it in print, head to www.rifters.com where Creative Commons Licensed version of Blindsight lives.

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One Response to “Fantasy Friday – Blindsight”

  1. Alison S. (Zylyn) , says:

    Your review made me bring Blind Sight to the top of my TBR pile. I’m halfway through the book and it is really good. I’m reminded of a recently read book Usurpur of the Sun, a Seine Award winner. The character interactions on board ship have the same feel. This book was a Hugo runner-up a few years ago, thanks for the recommend!

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