Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Way out in the water, see it swimming

Pessimism, thy name is Canadian Science Fiction. Oryx and Crake, most of William Gibson's work (fine, he's American, but he has lived in Canada since 68), and a fair chunk of Robert Charles Wilson's work are exemplars of the downer angle that works it way into SF of the great white north. But those guys have nothing on Peter Watts. His homepage proudly displays this quote : "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts." This exaggeration is, no doubt, only slight.

With this warning in mind, I heartily recommend Watts' Blindsight. The basic story, first contact with aliens, is as old as SF itself. Watts adds a dystopian future where humans are retreating into a virtual reality heaven as AIs, cyborgs and vampires slowly take over the Earth. That's right, vampires. Watts has vampires as an extinct predator of humans gene-resurrected because of their hyper-intelligence (think about it predators are always smarter than the prey.) In order to investigate an alien presence in the Oort cloud, Earth sends a vampire, a cyborg with more than double normal human senses, a high functioning autistic who can read patterns, a super soldier and a woman whose brain has been cut to allow for multiple personalities. So it's aliens visiting aliens.

Watts is a hard science fiction writer which means an exploration of science is central to the book. In this case, Watts starts with brains and brain modification and then explores the relationship between consciousness and intelligence. The aliens brains are not built as ours are and this becomes quite important to the story. The science gets a bit challenging in places, but he weaves it well into the story. He embeds his politics and pessimism into the story itself rather than stepping aside to deliver a lecture. If you are a reader of scifi or have an interest in brain science this should be on your 2007 reading list.

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