Voices/Future Tense

An Orions’ Arm E-zine

Blindsight, by Peter Watts

Review:
Blindsight
By Peter Watts
Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Tor Books

Language: English

ISBN: 978-0765319647
Plot Summary:
It’s late in the 21st century and humanity seems to be teetering on the edge of the Singularity. Or maybe the Singularity has already happened. Or maybe it hasn’t and never will. No one seems to quite know for sure.
Vast numbers of people lock themselves away into fortified crèches, their bodies maintained by automated machinery while they live out their lives in virtual reality fantasies. Others have themselves modified to increase their intelligence or other mental abilities, usually with various inconvenient or unpleasant side effects. Vampires have been discovered in the ancestral genome and resurrected (they had superhuman intelligence, but were also few and far between, and right angles drive them into epileptic fits. When humanity started building with straight lines it was pretty much the end of them). And one day millions of unidentified objects appear out of deep space around the Earth, apparently take a picture of everything on the planet down to a resolution of about one meter, and then burn up in the atmosphere.

In the shocked aftermath of this event, a signal is discovered to have been sent from the objects out to a point in deep space and the Theseus expedition is born. An AI ship, a crew of modified humans, and a single vampire are sent out aboard an experimental spacecraft to try and determine what is going on. What they find is enigmatically alien, very disturbing, and very, very dangerous. Whether more or less so than the crew themselves and the civilization they come from is an open question that may nag the reader right up to the end of the book.

OA Relevance: Moderate to high
While not completely akin to the OA future, much of what is described in the book might be similar to that found in the early to mid Interplanetary Age in OA. Augmentations without the bugs all worked out, social stresses brought on by new technology, and the complexities of interpersonal relationships when the participants may practically (or literally) be different species are all examined here and definitely resonate when considering the early OA timeline.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

Watts is definitely writing a hard SF novel here, complete with references and an appendix going into the scientific details at the end of the book. Some of the concepts explored here are downright mind-blowing, particularly when he starts getting into just how buggy the human perception of “reality” really is. I finished the book both impressed and depressed at the same time. Also wondering how some of the weirder scientific facts the story plays with might be translated into the OA universe.
That all said, this is very much a psychological thriller type book, with a heavy focus on the mental states and mental baggage of the characters. The science and technology aren’t entirely secondary, but definitely don’t usually play more than a supporting role. Depending on your preferences, this may either thrill you or bore you. I occasionally found the introspection dragging on a little long, but overall the book does a good job of grabbing and holding the reader’s attention.

Overall Rating: Very Good
Definitely a book that will make you think. If you think that there’s nothing really new under the SF sun, Blindsight will probably make you change your mind. Well and fully developed characters combined with mind stretching science in areas that most SF never thinks to explore. Highly recommended.

*****

More about the reviewer, Todd Drashner, here.

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