Book: Blindsight by Peter Watts

Dark and interesting but occasionally unnecessarily difficult first-contact story

Peter Watts
Tor, 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-7653-1964-7
ISBN-10: 0-7653-1964-0
365 pages (main text)

In the science-fiction book Blindsight by Peter Watts, it's the late twenty-first century and biological engineering has gotten pretty good. Good enough that ordinary humans aren't particularly useful. So when aliens make themselves known to humans and there's a signal at the edge of the solar system, the crew that's chosen to go on the first-contact mission consists of Jukka Sarasti, a vampire (they were extinct, but the genome has been brought back because they're very smart even though they present some disadvantages); Susan James, a linguist who's often called "The Gang" because she has four independent personalities that she can call on; Isaac Szpindel, a biologist who has a great many hardware upgrades; Major Amanda Bates, who mostly slows down her robotic soldiers; and the narrator, Siri Keeton, who interprets things for others and has had half his brain removed and replaced with machinery.

To my, um, mind that's a pretty good premise for a first-contact science-fiction novel. Add the fact that the aliens are thoroughly and persuasively alien and you have a book with a lot of potential. And there's some interesting investigation of themes of being and knowing as the book goes along. But there is also at least one impediment to enjoying the book. Mr Watts, or perhaps more exactly his imperfect narrator, uses metaphors even when they aren't especially illuminating. Take, for example:

    And when your surpassing creations find the answers
    you asked for, you can't understand their analysis and
    you can't verify their answers. You have to take their
    word on faith --

    -- or you use information theory to flatten it for you, to
    squash the tesseract into two dimensions and the Klein
    bottle into three, to simplify reality and pray to whatever
    Gods survived the millennium that your honorable
    twisting of the truth hasn't ruptured any of its load-bearing
    pylons. You hire people like me; the crossbred progeny
    of profilers and proof assistants and information theorists.
    (p. 49)

Whether that's a potentially interesting and distinctive voice or a prickly and tedious impediment to comfortable reading is probably up to the individual reader.

Posted: Fri - August 13, 2010 at 09:02   Main   Category: