22 June 2010

Peter Watts - Blindsight

  • Author: Peter Watts
  • Title: Blindsight
  • Publisher: Tor 2006
  • ISBN: 978 0765312181
I borrowed this book from the library on the back of a short story by Watts in on of the Garner Dozois 'New Space Opera' books, because I am on a major SO kick at the moment. It's the widescreen, regular guy, accidental hero with a spaceship and access to a really big Internet on a pocket computer thing that excites me so much, that I would give my soul (if I had one, or believed in it) to be a part of. It turned out to be a good, but not great, fairly standard first contact story, with a few unexpected and frankly really weird twists.

(Shouldn't be any Spoilers in this one...)

Blindsight, according to the authors notes, is Watts first foray into Space stories in the novel form. All of his other novels have been set in the deep ocean, but he seems to have gotten the basic realities of space travel and has assembled a 'First Contact' novel around the exploration of the human psyche through the characters on a space ship. The premise is that an unknown alien something has dumped a whole bunch of small imaging thingos into our atmosphere, and now the Earth is sending an exploratory craft to find out what the hell sent the ball things.

The crew is made up five very different individuals. Firstly, a linguist who has a multiple personality disorder, except that in the future we understand that it isn't a disorder, it's an evolutionary advantage. Her brain has been surgically segmented so that each of her personalities can run concurrently. There is a biologist, who has been cyborged to the point where he can see in X-Ray, and tastes in ultrasound. A military specialist is also along, just in case. Our narrator, Siri Keeton, who is a Synthesis (or Information Topologist), someone who interprets information developed by AI and genius level humans so that regular people can understand it. He had half of his brain removed as a child as a radical cure for extreme epilepsy. He doesn't understand any of the stuff he interprets, he just interprets the patterns. Or something.

This is where the novel threw me. We now come to the mission commander, who is something of a monster. He is of a species of formerly extinct hominid predators, who were revived using genetic samples by human geneticists. This species is know as Vampire. No, I'm not kidding. Watts has chucked vampires into a space story. Apparently, they have a genetic aversion to right angles, hence the cross thing. They used to eat humans, but they died out a few thousand years ago. They see in four separate visual modes at once. They take a drug to stop them from going into fits when they see right angles. And they only eat donated blood and animal blood now. Honest. Oh, and they only speak in the present tense, because some brain thing means that they experience all time as 'now.'

Blindsight is one of those strange novels that only half drives you to keep reading. For me, it was like a fantastic space opera with an irritatingly vague fantasy novella merged into it. I really like Watts' short stories and I am a big fan of space stories, as anyone who has read my ramblings will know, but this one is kind of weird. I would probably read it again, but I wouldn't buy it for my library.

Average - good enough to read, not a keeper.