If you've been frequenting popular SFF message boards lately, you are aware that a lot has been said about Peter Watts and his latest hard scifi novel, Blindsight. The more so since the author has made the book available for free on his website www.rifters.com. Many critics and readers opine that Blindsight should be a sure contender for a number of awards, and few people disagree. In addition, my recent interview with Watts leaves no one indifferent, at least judged by the responses I've been receiving. All of which, in the end, is for the best, for I believe that the more people get to know Peter Watts, the more will give Blindsight a shot. Those who do won't be disappointed, let me tell you!
Whenever I hear the appellation "hard-SF" I'm a bit concerned, because such works habitually require a Science degree or Ph. D. in order to understand what the concepts contained within the novel are all about. Neophytes never know if they'll "get it." Not so with Blindsight, though at times things are not that easy to follow.
The notes and refrences found at the end of the book show what sort of extensive research the writing of Blindsight required. Many claim that Peter Watts is on the cutting edge of science fiction. Be that as it may, although Blindsight is based on science and contains loads of scientific facts and jargon, the book also tackles enough philosophical issues to make it truly stand out from the other scifi works out there. As such, that makes Blindsight a demanding but utterly satisfying read.
The permise is traditional: First Contact with an alien race. Typical, you say? Not so, at least beyond that premise. Watts has many surprises up his sleeves, have no fear. The presence of vampires alone should pique your cusiosity.
I found Watts' cast of characters rather unique. When I originally read the blurb, I wondered what the hell it was all about. A linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into four separate, sentient cores. A biologist so interfaced with machinery that he's barely human anymore. A pacifist warrior. A Synthesist with half his brain gone, there to act as a conduit between the mission and Earth. And a vampire to command them all. I found the story to be well-crafted and interesting, but it's the characterizations that really make Blindsight such a good reading experience.
Some readers have complained that the book is too "talky." I beg to differ in that regard. There is a panoply of facts and information that needs to be conveyed to the readers through the dialogues between the different characters. Otherwise, had this simply been part of the narrative, it would have been info dumping in industrial quantity, which in turn would have turned Blindsight into a sluggish and uneven read.
Kudos to the author for maintaining the omnipresent "don't know what will happen next" feeling throughout the novel. Flashback scenes similar to the ones found in Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora help flesh out events and characters. Again, that prevents the "real time" narrative from being filled with too much info.
All in all, if you are looking for a fascinating and thought-provoking book, Blindsight is definitely for you! And with a second printing on the way, you should have no problem getting your hands on a copy. Some say that Blindsight should capture the Hugo Award next year. Well, I wouldn't be surprised if it does. . .