After the Firefall, all eyes are locked heavenward as a team of specialists aboard the self-piloted spaceship Theseus hurtles outbound to intercept an unknown intelligence.
©2006 Peter Watts; (P)2008 Recorded Books LLC
I really enjoyed this one...a lot...really refreshing
It's a dense, demanding work. Watts, a marine mammal biologist, requires that the reader keep up and isn't afraid to put out a term or concept without spoon-feeding. Given his background, he's covering the areas of intelligence, consciousness, language, etc from sort of a neuroscience perspective (which can have a bit of a different feel than some of the classic physics-driven hard SF)
As can happen with hard SF sometimes (Clarke is a good example) the plot itself can be more of a scaffolding for the exposition of speculative concepts...so I think plot-driven reading isn't the best way to approach the read (not that there isn't a plot, just if you focus on the plot, you miss the goods and can misunderstand the pacing..the pacing and "payoff" is in the concepts, not the plot)
After about - Oh 1,200 or so audiobooks I'll say this one really refreshed the medium for me (not so much in production style, which is fairly typical, but in the writing and the type of attention you have to give this work)
It's a different type of read - but well worth it and I enjoyed it greatly
Really some fresh air
Just finished Blindsight and I'm amazed and exhausted. Books like this are rare indeed. Not that it's an easy tale ... no, no, no. The science can be complex, difficult. The characters sound like they would be nonsensical - for example, what's a vampire doing as part of a crew going out to meet aliens? But the tale, and the writing, are incrediblly engaging and so well done. This is a classic, up there with the very best of SciFi ... I consider myself a tough reviewer, but this one bowled me over. Go for it!
I like Jack Reacher style characters regardless of setting. Put them in outer space, in modern America, in a military setting, on an alien planet... no worries. Book has non moralistic vigilante-justice? Sign me up! (oh, I read urban fantasy, soft and hard sci-fi, trashy vampire and zombie novels too)
This is a terrific exploration of intelligence/sentience, or what humankind understands intelligence to be, and the potentiality of meeting/becoming aliens that exist in a manner inconceivable to us.
The concepts are DEEP. Are we really human if we're hitched to computers. Can our brains hold more than one functional personality? Are there aliens so smart and fast that to them we'd look like imbeciles? If there are aliens, what are the chances that we'd ever find them, ever understand them, ever "know" them?
The vampire component is sort of beside the point - it's just one more alien (meaning foreign to human) in a book that is exploring the nature of being alien. (Even those characters that are human are explored for their "alien" characteristics).
Don't read this if you're expecting action (there is little action) or if you're not in the mood to explore the nature of alien-ness because you'll be disappointed. That being said - the narration is very good and the story is engaging and very hard to put down once you get started.
(Though I'm not making any promises that it makes sense in the end... I'm still not sure I understand.)
One of the best books I've yet to listen to. Watts puts the Science back into Science Fiction without sacrificing the story. His characters are singular and engaging. Great narration.
The best sci-fi treatment of vampires I've seen, in a dense, head-spinning novel about first contact with very alien aliens... and even worse dangers. The crew of the space ship Theseus is indeed a bunch of freaks, each one with dark secrets and a ton of baggage. This is the sort of book that requires you to pay attention -- don't blink or you'll miss an important detail. Watts's writing was a pleasant surprise; not enough sci-fi writers put effort into their prose, sticking to the story and neglecting style. I read for story first and foremost myself, but I appreciate literary flourishes, and Watts provides plenty of those. This is one of my new favorite hard sci-fi novels. It's dark and intelligent.
I had read multiple reviews of this book that said it was dark, and it is but only in a nihilistic, deterministic way--it was not that depressing to me, but maybe it should have been. Either way, I could hardly resist the quirkiest character ensemble since the Wizard of Oz. The crew selected to make first contact consists of a biologist so interfaced with hardware that his wetware is now buggy, a linguist with surgically induced Multiple Personality Disorder, a military officer with too much empathy for her enemies, and a designated observer who comprehends more with his one remaining brain hemisphere than most do with both. The mission commander is a genetically resurrected vampire and the ship is captained by an AI.
They are off to see some truly alien aliens whose actions are less scary than their implications. The book is a study of consciousness, sentience, and the Chinese Room concept. This is definitely hard SF with lots of scientific concepts and terminology, but most of the time you can grasp the science from context when it is not explained outright. That was not a big deterrent for me and I actually learned a great deal.
The Peter Watts website also has some interesting end notes.
Most reviewers find it "compelling", "amazing", "brilliant". So I wasn't too put off by Michael (WI). I wish I had listened to him! He pretty much says it for me.
My caring about what was happening slowly dribbled away until, after a couple of hours, I just couldn't be bothered listening to any more.
Finally! A well-written, inventive, smart, hard science fiction novel written by a scientist on the cutting edge of neurobiological/linguistic thought. Peter Watts clearly takes delight in the well constructed sentence. I thoroughly enjoyed this audio-book as a perfect mix of literature, action/mystery novel, and thought-provoking, lucid explanation of cutting edge science. Blindsight was a great "read"--exactly what I Iook for in SF as an information scientist and long-time science fiction aficionado. It will be apparent to you, too, that Peter Watts is exceptionally well read. (Dorothy Parker would have become an SF fan had she read Watts!) Watts reaches for the stars in this book brimming with novel thoughts and entertaining writing.
Many sci-fi novels treat the communication barrier between aliens and humans as a minor inconvenience, to be hastily patched by something like a 'universal translator' so that we can get on with the plot. Refreshingly, in Blindsight, the communication barrier between the aliens and humans IS the plot.
Watts imagines an alien species so unlike us, evolving in such different conditions, that it is unclear whether the humans are communicating with a consciousness or an elaborate stimulus/response system like a computer program. The narrator, Siri Keeton, has seemingly been chosen for the mission because his bizarre personality is well-suited to dealing with this problem. A childhood brain hemispherectomy has removed Siri's ability to empathize with people, so he negotiates social situations as an elaborate computer program would, calculating and adapting responses that result in successful interactions.
The other characters are as interesting and bizarre as Siri, but his (understandably) emotionless narration style does keeps the reader from knowing their motivations and feelings very well. Aside from a stupid bit about vampires and crosses, this book avoids almost every sci-fi cliche and keeps the reader thinking at every step.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This one falls into roughly the same territory as Stanislaw Lem’s classic, Solaris -- a first contact story in which the alien and its motives are deeply inscrutable, raising questions about what it means to be sentient, and if humans and non-humans can ever truly understand each other. Or even if humans can understand themselves.
This story features a Lovecraftian alien construct lurking in the Oort Cloud that calls itself "Rorschach", has sent probes to Earth, and doesn't seem to want visitors. In addition, the Earth of the 2080s is somewhat of an alien place itself, filled with people who’ve retired into the terminal dreamspace of a simulated reality called "Heaven", plus various kinds of post-humans. These make up the contact expedition.
There's a woman who has had her mind partitioned into several different personas. There's a man who has given up some of his human senses in order to be able to interface with machines. There's a military officer with unconventional ideas of duty. There's the main narrator, Suri, a guy who lost his ability to empathize with others after half his brain was removed, but gained implants that enable him to "read" others more easily. His role is as an impartial observer (perhaps). Then, there's the most interesting character, a vampire. As it turns out in this story, vampires were real, an offshoot of humanity that existed in paleolithic times and were brought back through the miracle of genetics. Vampires are still fearsome to humans, thanks to racial memory, but they're extremely intelligent and think differently than us in various ways. It’s an interesting cocktail, and the authorities hope that someone on the diverse crew will figure out how to talk to the alien construct and discover what it wants with humanity.
There are some writers who will hold your hand and lead you into the story, but Watts is not one of them. Instead, we get incomplete information about the characters and universe, and must piece together what’s going on for ourselves. I don’t necessarily mind being challenged in this way, but it did make the first chapters a chore, and most of the characters felt more like thought experiments than people.
Fortunately, Watts has a lot of interesting ideas, which were what kept me engaged. There’s game theory, the Chinese Room problem, the notion of communication as a virus, and questions about the nature (and value) of empathy and self-awareness. I also enjoyed the disquieting persona of the vampire character, who’s the captain of the expedition; the eventual breakdown of crew dynamics; and the strangeness of the alien artifact and its inhabitants, who may or may not be sentient beings.
That said, I found some of the ideas a little questionable. A creature that makes itself invisible by observing human saccades (eye movements) and only doing things during the brief downtimes? Cramming multiple people into one skull? Um, okay. And I’m skeptical about the idea that the human brain can be neatly separated into “unconscious” and “conscious” parts. I believe, based on my own reading and thinking, that consciousness is an emergent thing, coming about as evolution made our ancestors’ brains more interconnected. While there’s obviously a lot of unconscious circuitry that’s pretty good at what it’s programmed to do, the interconnectedness seems to be what makes a brain think outside the box of instinct and support the complex, adaptive neural pattern dance we call “awareness”. The Chinese Room metaphor doesn’t do this powerful, chaotic, endlessly recursive process justice, and it may be the only realistic way to make an intelligent system.
Still, Blindsight got me to think, and I enjoyed pondering its questions. While it didn’t haunt me the way Solaris did, the possibilities it entails might keep you awake at night. 3.5 stars.
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