Read Blindsight by Peter Watts Online


It's been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since - until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn't want to meet? Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and aIt's been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since - until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn't want to meet? Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a biologist so spliced to machinery he can't feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior, and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they've been sent to find - but you'd give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them....

Title : Blindsight
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 6726267
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 274 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Blindsight Reviews

  • mark monday
    2019-04-26 17:59

    what is Consciousness? how did the silly human race evolve beyond the herd instinct, beyond our reptile brain? how, and why? what is the purpose of our individuality, what is the need for our sense of self, what use is Human Connection, why are we even equipped with Empathy? for some naive, kinda-sorta spiritual folks (like myself), these things may explain the existence of God. but that's rather besides the point of the question. does empathy help us in the long run, does the ability of humans to connect with each other truly offer anything besides constant discomfort and potential danger? is a psychopath who does not experience empathy somehow less than human? how would a highly developed species that has somehow evolved without empathy or individuality react to a species like ours - one that is contantly talking to itself, connecting, empathizing, exploring, throwing itself and its messages out into the void, to seek, to find, to understand, to know?exploring all of those questions is the purpose of Peter Watts' superb Blindsight. the novel is about one of those Ambiguous Threats Appearing in the Outskirts of Known Space. future Earth is a fucked-up Earth, no surprise there. humans regularly 'ascend' into a fake-sounding cyberheaven. vampires - apparently an extremely predatory offshoot of the homo sapien, complete with an anti-Euclidean mental bias that explains their phobia of crosses - have been revived and now serve the human race (the inclusion of vampires may sound cheesy, but believe me, it is one of more absorbing things about the novel). there is some deadly construct called the Icarus Array located somewhere near the sun, stationed there to "protect" us. sex is an outdated activity (perhaps the sole unconvincing part of the novel). genuine human contact rarely takes place face-to-face. your usual Cold Techno-Dystopia. the Ambiguous Threat is noted shortly after a startling "Firefly" effect occurs over the earth - an effect that appears to be the Ambiguous Threat's way of taking long-distance pictures of human shenanigans. so the silly humans decide to fling a crew of misfits out into the void to engage with said Ambiguous Threat. there's a woman who has compartmentalized herself into 4 different and distinctly individualistic personalities. there's a military type armed with slaved drones whose biggest flaw/greatest attribute is her ability to empathize with her enemies. there are a couple guys who project their consciousness through machinery, all inputs mediated by that machinery - all the better to study the world around them. there is the ship's captain, a sociopathic vampire mentally bonded to his ship's computer brain. and then there is our hero - a sort of minister of information, missing half a brain, trained to avoid all forms of true connection, unwilling to engage in basic empathy. this fascinating crew finds much to be fascinated with when confronting the Ambiguous Threat. for one, a spaceship that looks like it's from Dante's Inferno. aliens from, well, the Alien films, with some upsetting Predator type invisibility to boot. hallucinations and corresonding loss of self within those hallucinations. strange communications that sound full of villainous bravado - except those communications feel oversimplified, threatening in the most obvious of ways, purposely what end? the Ambiguous Threat appears capable of automatically healing its own hull, controlling thousands of asteroids at once, and harnessing the power of a gas giant... yet seems oddly powerless, even uncaring. things don't add up. despite all the crew sees and analyzes, the Ambiguous Threat has a rather terrifying lack of signifiers.the author is clearly a highly intelligent sort, PhD and everything, and the novel is full of Exra Hard Science Action. but i think folks are really mislabeling Blindsight if they consider it to be genuine Hard Science Fiction. to put it in the corniest of terms: this is a novel about the human condition. look at the dystopic details of this future Earth, review the cast of characters... Blindsight is built on examining all of the different options for humans and nonhumans to connect or not to connect, all the ways that individuals can reach across their individual sense of self to connect with another person's reality. the nature of the Ambiguous Threat and the root of our protagonist's problems are disconcertingly connected: a rejection of individuality; an inability to connect with others. the novel is elegantly constructed so that form follows meaning rather than narrative. this may be frustrating to folks who eschew literary novels in favor of genre fiction. that's understandable... "narrative tension" is definitely lost by the constant switching back and forth between parallel storylines. on the one hand, the protagonist's past life of non-communication and deliberate avoidance of empathy (shades of Dying Inside); on the other hand, the mission into the void (which itself is rife with pointed character flashblacks). but for Watts to have structured Blindsight in any other way would have been to lose the point of it all. the novel is not really about a dark space adventure. it is about the importance of empathetic connection, its value and its dangers, how it condemns us with one hand and lifts us up to a higher place with the other.oh, and one last thing... if that last sentence makes you think that this is one of those enriching spiritual journey type of books, think again. this awesome novel is about as bleak and pessimistic as they come. an important warning to keep in mind before approaching: this dog bites!

  • Terry
    2019-04-27 15:53

    Wow. This was a tough one. It was a very good hard sf book that I don't think I'll be coming back to anytime soon. As others have said: "abandon all hope ye who enter here." A well written, excruciating exploration of the human "problem" where it turns out that it really is a problem. How do you take a book whose central premise seems to be that the development of self-awareness in human evolution was a wrong turn that wasn't meant to happen at all? That it was in fact contrary to the entire development of intelligence throughout the rest of the universe that only occurred due to a fluke in the evolution of a competing species? Talk about being alone in an uncaring reality. Watts manages to take Lovecraft's primary hobby horse and make it work in a way that is truly frightening in its utter nihilism. This isn't a scary universe because Watts tells us so (as it would have been had Lovecraft wrote the tale), it's scary because he shows us so. Our primary filter for information is Siri Keeton, a man with literally only half a brain. Due to a childhood trauma he was essentially lobotomized and given computer processors to make up for what was removed. Siri obviously lost a lot during the process, but "gained" the ability to be the ultimate "Chinese Room" for humanity...for all that was worth. His whole life he has been trying to understand even 'baseline' humans and his facility with doing so, with looking at the human enigma on the surface and from the outside, and parsing it correctly has led him to become a professional conduit between these baseline humans and the posthuman entities they have created and made to work for them. He is a uniquely appropriate narrator for this tale as his very mode of existence showcases Watts' entire argument in microcosm; and interestingly his entire development as a character is the reverse of the development of the story and even of the universe itself. Siri's story starts and ends as a very lonely one, but for very different reasons. Another fascinating element of the tale is the fairly unique use of vampires as an off-shoot sub-species of humanity originally destroyed due to humanity's self-awareness and then brought back by high science to be our servants. These are probably the most frightening vampires I've yet come across in fiction, not only because of the pseudo-scientific "plausibility", but primarily because of what we eventually discover about them in the story's conclusion. I will say very little about "Rorschach", the alien entity with whom humanity attempts to communicate in this tale of first contact, except to say that the Lovecraftian enigma of its seeming indifference to human existence is truly chilling in its implications. Far more than any dreaming Cthulhu, Rorschach is an entity whose strangeness is truly to be feared.All in all this was a rewarding, though deeply uncomfortable, read. Also posted on Shelf Inflicted

  • ☽Luna☾
    2019-04-28 00:06

    👽3.5/5👽**So this review will be extremely short**“He wasn't just grasping at the limb, I realized as I joined them. He was tugging at it. He was trying to pull it off.Something laughed hysterically, right inside my helmet.” Okay so I have decided hardcore sci-fi isn't my thing, I get confused with all the descriptions and literally had to google half the words in this book. The writing was a little tedious, 100 pages in and I still didn't have a clue what was going on and nearly put down as DNF. However this book turned amazing at the half way point & I literally couldn't put it down, it was fascinating, creepy, warped, wonderful & extremely different. When people talk about horror in sci-fi, I imagine something pretty cheesy. This book had no cheese what so ever and was actually pretty creepy. I had goosebumps and had to check my wardrobe for aliens, before bed. So if you like shitting your pants, this book is for you.So overall I enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it to all fans of sci-fi & horror.Ps it had the most badass space vampires ever.Buddy read with my fellow Katie Perry fanboy;Sir Twerks

  • Greg
    2019-05-02 23:49

    You know you're in for trouble when the dedication of the book says:"If we're not in pain, we're not alive."One of the quotes before the novel starts is:"you will die like a dog for no good reason"And the quote that starts the first chapter is one by Ted Bundy!But still, it's a sci-fi book about could I not love it?-----------------------------------------I've always loved Science Fiction, and not just because books about the future are inherently cool. The reason I've always loved science fiction is because I've always loved philosophy. From a young age I enjoyed thinking about what makes us human, what is the nature of "self", what is the nature of reality, and a host of other questions along those lines. Science fiction stories are able to take philosophical thought experiments and put them into a literal environment. This type of setting might not serve to replace an in-depth philosophical or scientific analysis, but it will certainly serve to prompt your mind into a continued exploration of these ideas, with the benefit of telling the story in a far more interesting way than can be done in 1800s London! (sorry Dickens)Blindsight might be one of the most superb books I've ever read at this type of story telling. In part because every aspect of this book is infused with it, from the nature of the characters themselves, to the dialog, to the plot. Whether you want your philosophy just beneath the surface or knocking you over the head, this book will long as you want both. On the surface Blindsight is your classic first contact story, with a special team sent to the edge of the solar system to make contact with an alien intelligence. But in this not to distant future humanity has modified itself to the point where none of the characters involved are recognizably human. While this might not be the newest plot device ever, it's not in the realm of physical differences that sets these characters apart, but in mental differences. In the nature of their consciousness. And it is when they finally make contact with the aliens, who, paradoxically, may be intelligent but not sentient, and who further, are not particularly happy to see them, that the story really grabs you by the balls (or whatever you prefer to be grabbed by). Watts was seamlessly able to mix action, terror, and philosophy into one engaging narrative. Something I didn't think could be easily done.A few of the more interesting questions (to me) in regards to consciousness have to do with why consciousness would ever have evolved. What were its benefits? What were the mechanisms that allowed it to evolve? What function did it serve? Blindsight doesn't attempt to answer any of these questions specifically. But what it does do, and do brilliantly, is pose a whole bunch of related questions that make those questions I asked even more important. Anyone familiar with neurological conditions such as agnosia, neglect, and yes, blindsight, knows that the brain can go wrong in countless ways, radically altering our conscious experience. Anyone who has excelled at a sport or a musical instrument knows that thinking too consciously about something just interferes with your ability to do it well. By pointing out the drawbacks and limitations of consciousness, Watts forces us ask ourselves, "what IS consciousness good for?"I found something that I wrote some years back, it was just a passing thought that I never explored, but it was this:Consciousness almost seems like a bad adaptive trait. It almost gets in the way sometimes. Limits our focus. Why do we have a brain that can store so much data, but this consciousness that has a limit of the awareness of the data. If any of these questions interest you, and you enjoy science fiction, and don't mind a bit of a darker bend to you reading material, do yourself a favor and check out this book. It's also one of the only fiction books I've ever read that actually had a whole section of notes and references after the last chapter, briefly explaining all the legitimate scientific sources the ideas in the book were taken from. Kudos Watts.

  • Becky
    2019-04-26 19:44

    Yeeeaahhh... I'm kinda not sure what I just read or how I should feel about this book. So, I'm going to revert to my usual fallback position of "random typing to see what words show up" and call it a review. Look ma, no consciousness! O_oSo, one the one hand, I can see how certain types of readers would think this book is brilliant and love it. This is smart, hard sci-fi, dealing with matters of humanity (as most SF does) and asking some really interesting questions about what sentience is and what makes human consciousness and intelligence unique. On that level, I think this book was great. Smarter than me, for sure, but I can appreciate that. I ain't mad atcha, book! Unfortunately, on just about every OTHER level, for me, this was a big letdown. I think that a lot of that is due to my expectations. This is one of the reasons why I like to go in to a book without knowing anything about it. Blind, if you will. (See what I did there?) But with this one... I was at the point of giving up on it and so I broke down and got some perspective on the book from others reading it. That didn't work out for me either, though. Based on the discussion (and the genres on the book page, to be fair), I really thought that this was going to be a SF Horror book, complete with a comparison to the movie Event Horizon - a comparison that I don't see at all. I kept waiting for the book to get super depraved and horrorish... and I waited in vain. There was a tiny portion of the book where it seemed that it could go that way, but I blinked and almost missed it. So, my expectations for what this book actually was definitely hurt my enjoyment, but having no expectations at all wasn't any better because I was bored and confused and really struggling with understanding the narrative and structure and what was actually being relayed. I don't think that I'm a stupid person, nor a lazy reader. I do read mostly for enjoyment, but I also read to learn and experience new ideas, etc. I am willing to work to earn a payoff. But for me, this book was all work, and no payoff. I came out of this book thinking that it could have been much cleaner and much more structured and would have been a better book for it. I don't mind the multiple storylines or flashbacks or the characters who don't use pronouns or anything other than present verb tenses. I'm fine with those things, though the dialogue is super technical and confusing before adding those quirks in. Just sayin'. What I'm referring to regarding the structure is mainly the beginning, where every little mini-chapter gives us a little drop-you-in-the-moment snippet of infodump, some in first person, some in second person, all in faith that the reader will be a patient one and stick with it despite having no idea what the hell any of it means. But, you know, as I type this, I kinda think that I'm actually starting to appreciate it a little more because I'm realizing that all of what I just said about the confusion really just puts the reader that much more into the story directly. BUT- it's one of those books that you'd likely have to read at least twice to really fully appreciate. It really did require almost insane levels of patience for me to complete it. So much of the book is just info and tech specs and observation, and try as I might to find it interesting, it bored me for a huge chunk of the book. The last 10% or so brought it all together, and looking at the WHOLE, it's a much more cohesive story than it seemed to be as I was reading it. *Sigh* So I've come full circle. It's brilliant, but damn frustrating. Yup. That about sums it up, so I'm giving it 2 stars for the frustration and one additional for the retrospective brilliance.

  • Jenne
    2019-05-03 23:45

    Okay, I gave this book TWO second chances because I had heard great things about it, but I eventually gave up.It's certainly a gutsy choice to have a person with no empathy as your main character, but it's pretty hard to get readers to care about someone who has only a vaguely intellectual interest in other people. Especially if the story is told in the first person by this character. So as a result, we know that one guy is a vampire, and another guy has some kind of prosthetic senses, and there's a military woman and another woman with a multiple personality. We don't really get to know much else about them, or at least not by page 183.The other problem I had with this book was that it was hard to picture exactly where everyone was and what they were doing in whatever scene. Most of the action takes place in a spaceship, and you never get a clear idea of how it's set up, plus there are all these sort of virtual-reality things going on at the same time, and the vampire guy tends to hide out in his room and you don't really know where that is, and I think there are supposed to be some kind of tents that the people live in? On a spaceship? I don't know.Anyway, it's not that a book has to be easy to read; I like books that are complicated, but I think it's the mark of a good writer that you shouldn't have to be wondering where the aft thruster maintenance room is instead of just being engrossed in the story.

  • Twerking To Beethoven
    2019-05-12 15:55

    BR with Pizza, spaghetti, mandolino, Luciano Pavarotti and you can't even sing who happens to be a way quicker reader than ole Twerk.I learned an awful lot of new words while going through this book, mostly because I found myself being forced to in order to even follow its most basic level of dialogue. Hands up, you bastids, who knows what "malapropism" means? Ha! Gotcha. I do now, but that's because I googled that shit along with heaps of funny words that I have now forgotten. In the really technical sections of the story it was a challenge, at times, to even follow the plot. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I read "Blindsight", but... mostly for how much it makes appreciate all the more the other works that make hard science fiction look so much more elegant and seamless. Rendezvous with Rama and 2001: A Space Odyssey come to mind. It works, but it's likely going to make you work a bit as well.Three stars.

  • Alex
    2019-05-05 23:38

    I'm still having a hard time figuring out what I think about this book. I don't believe that it is well written, but I also don't believe that it is a bad book. Let's start with the first one. I've had a brief note up here for a while about this book that pretty much defines why I don't think it's well written. Take a look at this quote:"There have always been those tasked with the rotation of informational topologies, but throughout most of history they had little to do with increasing its clarity."Italics his. Oh, the irony of the italics. His problem is that he really relies on jargon an awful lot to make his descriptions, and for people who don't use that same terminology, it can be like slogging through mud to understand what he's saying. In the first third of the book, I thought this was going to be the worst of the nominees, just because I couldn't understand half of what he was saying. In the rest of the book, once he's done with setup and back story, it gets better. But it never fully goes away, and the fact that the setup and back story are so unreadable - and yet so important - is a pretty huge problem. Now on to my second point. I believe this is actually a good book. The characters are distinct and interesting, the world he created is believable, even if the "vampire" concept is a little out there. But most importantly, he did science fiction with aliens and he did it right. This is something that he even cites in the acknowledgments, but when you're doing aliens, you need to make them unrecognizable. This is a huge challenge, but you have to conceive of a species that evolved in a completely different environment, coming up a completely different path and becoming something completely unlike humanity. Or anything else on Earth for that matter. Talking cats don't count. His aliens are the most plausibly non-human I have ever seen. I'm giving this book it's score largely based on that. I want to give it four stars just because of that, but the poor writing and the fact that it feels a little unfinished at the end make it hard to do that. It has a great second act, one that doesn't quite live up to its potential for me, but a worthy hugo nominee all the same. Even though I'm giving this book a lower score than the others, this may be the winner in my opinion. The aliens may not make it rise above other books in terms of the writing, but in a science fiction contest, I believe they do. NOTE: After reading Glasshouse, my personal award goes to that novel and not this one. Stross managed to do everything right in that one.

  • Adam
    2019-04-20 17:01

    Crank up some Xenakis and Penderecki and abandon hope all ye who enter here. A book as monolithic and labyrinthine as the alien artifact at the heart of it. A grim yet psychedelic book which probably earns Watts place as the new James W. Campbell. A dystopia and a first contact story bent into odd shapes like a bristling metal sculpture. Disturbingly, as hallucinatory as most sections of this book are, Watts seemed to have scientific rational for most of it. A stunning look at consciousness, identity, reality, extraterrestrial life, technology, evolution, psychology, this is very difficult but mind altering experience if you let it. A future as weird and baroque as those pictured by Greg Egan and Charles Stross, scientifically plausible vampires (a branch of lost evolution), people turning to stone, a person with multiple personalities call The Gang of Four, truly alien aliens, and bleak a view of the universe as Lovecraft or Alastair Reynolds. Wow! The notes and references are worth price of entry alone.

  • Oscar
    2019-04-26 17:49

    Póngase una buena cantidad de H.P. Lovecraft. A continuación, añádase un buen chorro de Alastair Reynolds, y una pizca de Greg Egan. Y como ingrediente secreto, un chorrito de H.R. Giger. Agítese bien y ya tenemos el resultado: 'Visión ciega', de Peter Watts. Sírvase con precaución, ya que este cocktail no es para cualquier paladar.Esta es una novela de primer contacto, pero maneja ideas tan complejas y poco comunes, que la alejan de cualquier otra novela que haya tratado este tema anteriormente. Es oscura, muy oscura; está ambientada en una atmósfera sumamente claustrofóbica y temible.Decir que es ciencia ficción hard es quedarse corto. De hecho, al final del libro hay un apéndice con cantidad de notas explicativas y bibliografía utilizadas por Watts durante la concepción de su obra.Pequeña sinopsis: en el año 2082, aparecieron en el cielo más de 65.000 sondas que rodearon la Tierra por completo. Tras un destello, se desintegraron. El resultado: acababan de hacernos una foto. Era una prueba de la existencia de vida extraterrestre, pero ¿hostil o pacífica? Se decidió mandar una misión tripulada formada por: Jukka Sarasti, un vampiro y jefe de la misión (sí amigos, se han encontrado pruebas científicas de hace más de 500.000 años que atestiguan la existencia del Homo sapiens vampiris, una subespecie humana, que en la novela ha sido traída de nuevo a la vida genéticamente); Isaac Szpindel, biólogo, para estudiar a los alienígenas; Amanda Bates, mayor del ejército, por si hay que luchar; la Banda de los Cuatro, que posee cuatro personalidades diferentes al tener el cerebro dividido, especialista en lingüística, para hablar con ellos; y Siri Keeton, sinteticista o jergonauta, para observar, debido a su capacidad de análisis de subtextos y topologías.El narrador y protagonista es Siri, a través del cual iremos conociendo los sucesos que están pasando; al mismo tiempo, irá recordando episodios de su pasado anteriores a la misión.Hay partes verdaderamente escalofriantes y memorables, como el Big Ben, una masa joviana de magnitudes gigantescas, o la nave alienígena, de verdadera pesadilla.Recomendaría este libro sólo a aquellos lectores con un cierto bagaje en el género de la ciencia ficción, en especial en la ciencia ficción hard, más dura, ya que, aunque no es una novela de Greg Egan, sí hay ciertos pasajes algo áridos para el neófito.

  • Bradley
    2019-05-02 15:42

    This is one of those novels that make me feel like it's a wonder to be alive. Of course, that's a subjective statement implying consciousness, and therefore I am an evolutionary throwback who is spinning his wheels. And because I read this book and feel that the logic is unassailable, I still happen to think this novel makes me feel like it's a wonder to be alive. Notice, of course, that this is the inverse of a depressive reasoning, and this is intentional, because this novel makes me feel like it's a wonder to be alive.If I were a computer, I might call this a halting state. If I were a man with half a brain, I might never have had this problem to begin with.I think that's rather the point. I love this novel. It goes way beyond a simple entertainment factor and pushes me hard into the abyss of philosophy, and as I laugh and flail my arms about, thinking about the lovecraftian horror that's building an artifact ten times larger than jupiter in our solar system, I wonder if I'll ever leave this book again.Indeed, I'm thinking about rereading it right away.All of the characters are beyond fascinating. Check out anyone's review for this book and you'll see what I mean. Was I skeptical about a vampire captain of a spacecraft? You better believe it. On the other hand, Watts pulled this off with so much panache that the bloodsucker is now living in my brain. How did this happen? I've read way more than my fair share of vampire novels. This is almost the diametrical opposite of all of those. It's not only the evolutionary standpoint. It's the way he's given the vampire truly superhuman mentation a-la quantum computer AI's allowing for massive superposition computations. I laughed for ten minutes when I discovered why intersecting right angles tended to blow vampire minds.Of course, it's not that cut and dried, either. His character was well rounded and as alien as everyone else. It's kind of the point. Only the most alien among us are the most qualified to parley with the truly alien. It's reasonable in context and execution.I can't say that the real alien was more fascinating that the narrator or the vampire, and that's actually something because the alien was freaking awesome. I absolutely love the ongoing discussion about consciousness, as it relates to the characters, and how it relates to the planet-busting sociopathic alien. It's treatment was probably the best I've ever read, in any format. It was certainly a lot more entertaining than any other. The only other sci-fi novel to come close to the philosophical bent of this one was Anathem by Stephenson, but that's about as close to a comparison as I can get. Neither novel intersects much, whether by tone, action, or subject. I can't believe I hadn't read this Hugo runner up of 2007 until now. Sometimes I feel as if I've been living under a rock. This novel is and will be an ongoing classic of literature. It should be on your real bookshelf if you say you love science fiction.

  • David
    2019-05-05 23:56

    This is not an easy-reading book. It is complex, uses realistic technical jargon, and some rather esoteric psychological concepts. I enjoyed this book because of the wide range of interesting concepts that Peter Watts introduces in the story. The aspect of blindsight--the ability to sense one's environment without conscious awareness--is central to the story. Sometimes the human characters are subject to blindsight, but more importantly, the aliens they investigate act completely in blindsight. The aliens have no conscious awareness--they lack a brain--but they act as if they do. Each crew member has some freakish aspect to his/her personality. The captain is a "vampire". He has to control his urges to refrain from assaulting the fellow crew members on the spacecraft, of which he is the captain. He is the captain because he is incredibly intelligent. It is sort of strange to have a "vampire" in a pure science-fiction novel. The main character had half of his brain removed when he was a child. He is subject to schizophrenic episodes. The biologist on board is half organic, half machine. One of the women on board is the warrior, and is also a pacifist.It is obvious that the author is a scientist. Who, but a scientist would write, "... respective trajectories were known parabolas, our relative positions infinitely predictable at any time t." But he does get a few technical details wrong. He refers to the "Kaddish" prayer as being in Hebrew. It is not--it is actually Aramaic. And when a signal is lowered in pitch to help understand it, he writes, "Dopplered down near absolute zero." However, this is not a Doppler process because there is no motion involved--the proper jargon is "basebanded". But this is just the perfectionist in me, giving vent to a few minor issues. This is an excellent book for those who don't just want to read a sci-fi adventure story, but are hungry for some intellectual meat.

  • Stuart
    2019-04-20 17:50

    Blindsight: Mind-blowing hard SF about first contact, consciousnessOriginally posted at Fantasy LiteratureThis is ‘hard SF’ in the truest sense of the term - hard science concepts, hard to understand writing at times, and hard-edged philosophy of mind and consciousness. It aggressively tackles weighty subjects like artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, genetic modification, sentience vs intelligence, first contact with aliens utterly different from humanity, and a dystopian future where humans are almost superfluous and would rather retreat into VR. It’s also a tightly-told story of an exploration vessel manned by five heavily-modified posthumans commanded by a super-intelligent vampire, and a very tense and claustrophobic narrative that demands a lot from readers. If that sounds like your kind of book, you’ll find this is one of the best hard SF books in the last 10 years. I try to avoid using the term ‘mind-blowing’ when it comes to hard SF. After all, the phrase is over-used by readers and publishers alike, but once in a while a book comes along and just knocks you off your feet, leaving you struggling to get your head around it. There are plenty of hard SF books that throw dozens of complex scientific and philosophic ideas at you, trying to show how smart the author is, but I haven’t encountered many SF books in which the characters, backstory and first contact are all different iterations of the same central argument: human sentience is a fluke of evolution that is not indispensable for survival, and could be a hindrance in the grand scheme of things, i.e. humanity could be a lone aberration in a cold and unsympathetic universe. The First Contact plot is familiar - a shower of mysterious probes (later dubbed ‘fireflies’) enter Earth’s atmosphere, send out a flood of electro-magnetic info, and burn up. Clearly an alien intelligence has scanned the planet, but why? Several years pass without any further developments. However, when an alien signal is detected from a distant comet, humanity scrambles to put together an exploratory team that will be able to investigate and perhaps initiate First Contact, one of the most fundamental SF tropes in the genre. The twist is that ‘baseline’ humanity has lost its taste for adventure, and would rather send highly-specialized transhumans instead.The new Millennium changed all that. We've surpassed ourselves now, we're exploring terrain beyond the limits of merely human understanding. Sometimes its contours, even in conventional space, are just too intricate for our brains to track; other times its very axes extend into dimensions inconceivable to minds built to fuck and fight on some prehistoric grassland. So many things constrain us, from so many directions.The most altruistic and sustainable philosophies fail before the brute brain-stem imperative of self-interest. Subtle and elegant equations predict the behavior of the quantum world, but none can explain it. After four thousand years we can't even prove that reality exists beyond the mind of the first-person dreamer. We have such need of intellects greater than our own.The crew of the Theseus consists of five transhumans, an AI ship captain, and a cold-blooded genetically-engineered vampire leader (and it doesn’t sparkle in sunlight or brood in the high school cafeteria either). They are Siri Keaton, a ‘Synthesist’ assigned to observe the mission and report to ‘baseline’ humanity back home; Amanda Bates, a combat expert hardwired to control robot grunts; Isaac Szpindel, a biologist and doctor keen to examine xenobiology if the opportunity arises; his backup Robert Cunningham; Susan James, a linguist with 3 other distinct personalities known collectively as The Gang; and Jukka Sarasti, a hyper-intelligent vampire cloned from DNA of a long-extinct offshoot of humanity from the Pliocene era.Our narrator Siri is very unusual, as is the rest of the crew: he’s had half his brain removed in favor of implanted technology that allows him to read the minute physical movements (‘topology’) of people and analyze behavioral patterns based on this. He describes himself thus:In formal settings you'd call me Synthesist. On the street you call me jargonaut or poppy. If you're one of those savants whose hard-won truths are being bastardized and lobotomized for powerful know-nothings interested only in market share, you might call me a mole or a chaperone.We won't admit that our creations are beyond us; they may speak in tongues, but our priests can read those signs. Gods leave their algorithms carved into the mountainside but it's just li'l ol' me bringing the tablets down to the masses, and I don't threaten anyone. Maybe the Singularity happened years ago. We just don’t want to admit we were left behind.Peter Watts excels at describing things from the perspective of being so far advanced and modified by technology and gene-therapy that old-fashioned ‘baseline’ humans cannot understand them. It’s always a challenge to write hard SF that purports to describe a complex future that is, by definition, impossible for current readers to understand. Sometimes this comes off as pure scientific ‘hand-wavery’ that is merely fantasy hidden behind layers of technical-sounding jargon. And unless you actually are an evolutionary biologist with a PhD in particle physics and quantum theory, it’s basically impossible for the vast majority of SF readers to know whether a ‘hard SF’ book is plausible or complete nonsense. Therefore, if it makes you feel like you are in an incredibly advanced and complex future, I think its done its job well, and Blindsight certainly achieved this for me.Speaking of which, the title refers to the real phenomenon of blindsight, defined online as: “The ability to respond to visual stimuli without consciously perceiving them, a condition which can occur after certain types of brain damage.” As the story progresses, Watts introduces more examples of this in the natural world and neurobiology - what it comes down to is that we rely on the chemical messages sent by our nervous system to create our picture of the physical world around us. We are not actually ‘seeing’ it directly at all. So if an external force can manipulate the signals our brains receive, we would be at their mercy. It’s a fascinating and scary concept, and it gets plenty of book time.Going back to the central plot, things get interesting when the Theseus crew actually encounters a giant alien spacecraft near the comet in question and investigate it. I’m sure we’ve all read so many similar setups that it may sound completely familiar territory, but when Peter Watts throws his super-intelligent transhumans at the problem, their responses and actions are very different indeed.Any further details would spoil your enjoyment as things gets fast and furious as things go wrong very quickly. Yet there is a heavy interweaving of discussions on the nature of perception, humanity, consciousness, sentience, and how humanity’s understanding of these things gets turned upside down by the aliens it encounters. Dare I say that the discussions and action are equally mind-blowing? The audiobook is narrated by T. Ryder Smith, and he does a solid job with difficult material.It’s interesting to read the wide range of responses to a book you enjoyed so much. In the case of Blindsight, readers have said it was brilliant, unreadable, incomprehensible, incredibly pessimistic about humanity, mind-expanding, or a mix of all those things. Your response will depend largely on what type of SF you enjoy most, but if you are hungry for a hard SF story that tackles a classic SF theme with a host of cutting-edge scientific concepts in a fiercely-intelligent way, and expects the reader to work hard to keep up, you will not be disappointed.Many have strongly disagreed with the central argument of the book, but I don’t think that should detract from appreciating it. I expect SF to challenge me with new and mind-expanding ideas - I don’t have to agree or be convinced, as long as the argument is worth debating. No truly important issues are resolved in the span of any single book or discussion, but I guarantee this book will make you question the value of intelligence and sentience, in which case it has accomplished its goal.

  • Michelle Morrell
    2019-05-12 15:50

    In order to expand my reading, I've been making an effort to put more hard scifi into my rotation, to get out of the "fluff rut" I've been in, riding books that are easy to consume but ultimately unsatisfactory. So, after many rave reviews (and a Hugo nomination), I chose Blindsight. A shower of sparks streak from the sky, flashing the entire planet in what is obviously an outside intrusion, an alien snapshot. A crew of genetically modified people are sent to find first contact before it finds them. This book used my whole brain. Every nook and cranny. It's basically a mystery, who are these creatures, what makes them tick, how are they different than us, how are they the same? Every step of the journey is a battle for discovery, both of the aliens and of the crew members themselves. In delving the foreign, the narrator dissects what it means to be human.The crew, barely human themselves through genetic modifications, cybernetic implants and voluntary dissociative identity disorder are tasked with deciding if these new neighbors are friend or foe, while trying to determine the same about each other.Bonus points for some truly unsettling and scary moments, which makes up for the negative hit for throwing in a vampire captain. Because, yes, I get the science and reasoning behind it, but still, it's pretty silly.

  • Rob
    2019-05-06 23:57

    ...I absolutely tore through this book. An utterly fascinating read; well-done in both its science and its style. Watts makes some clever choices in structuring his narrator (and consequently, the narrative) without it coming across as a gimmick or some other bit of contrivance. So we have this faithful guide working in our favor and a good entry point for the story.And then he slowly unfurls idea after idea that link together into a shillelagh to bash your brain in. At one moment near the end, I glanced up from the page and said aloud: He’s saying that consciousness and self-awareness are metabolically expensive and that if we’re lucky, we’ll grow out of it. I had several jaw-dropping moments. Like I said, it’s a little bit “harder” of a flavor of scifi than I usually get into but this novel just held my attention totally rapt; I was utterly engrossed. And I highly recommend it.---Second read: Still love it. Maybe more this time.--- See also:• Complete version on my blog• review at SF Diplomat

  • Roy
    2019-04-21 18:46

    A real clever and thought provoking read. Deals with a tonne od subjects, consciousness, identity, philosophy, gender, death way too many topics to list. I loved the heavy science element and the characters. Its a first contact novel with a twist. I think the only negative for me, is that it occasionally got lost in its own cleverness which made some of the plot a little scattered or uneven to follow. Not one yo usually be obsessed with heavy scifi novels, but this is one the better ones i read out there. Theres one section about ATP at a molecular level and it was very clever/cool.

  • Guillermo
    2019-05-05 17:51

    "How it is that anything so remarkable as a state of conciousness comes about as a result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djin, when Aladdin rubbed his lamp." -Thomas HuxleyBlindsight is a very imperfect creation. It sputters and starts, it rears it's head, looks around, drops a poop on your lawn and asks you to just figure it out in your spare time please. I'm going to piggy back a little bit on some of the great reviews I just read (especially Mark. Wow. Just wow.I think I lost my eyebrows reading that. he really nailed it) and repeat the sentiment that you know you are in a great deal of trouble when one of the first quotes is Ernest Hemingway informing you that "you will die like a dog for no good reason", or the preceeding heart warming dedication to Lisa, stating "if we're not in pain, we're not alive". You're in trouble. One of the best services that science fiction provides is to act as a mirror by showing us "the other". That way, we can understand ourselves and look at each other in a way we perhaps hadn't thought of. We often take for granted the real majesty of our existence and conciousness and think there just wouldn't "be" another way to "be", right? Wrong. The "other" in this book is so bizarre, so beyond our comprehension, that it makes sense. The other doesn't really even feel like communicating with us, not because its a machine, or a hive mind, or any of the other usual sci fi tropes, the things aren't even concious! Steven Pinker describes conciousness as consisting of 3 different aspects: 1. Self knowledge - the ability to understand yourself in a mirror. 2. Access to information - you can tell me what you had for breakfast, the content of your daydreams, and whether or not your stomach hurts. 3. Sentience - what is it like to do whatever it is you're doing right now? Your subjecive experience, phenomenal awareness. The creatures in Blindsight have no such thing. What is most troubling and/or thought provoking is that our species did not need this to become successful on this planet. Why did conciousness arise? For what purpose if it wasn't evolutionarily necessary, which I dont think it is. Blindsight officially blasted my mind and the fact I can still say this several months after reading it, is testament to its insidious nature. It's why I read science fiction.

  • 11811 (Eleven)
    2019-04-23 18:53

    I bumped this up a star after the second read. It's not the author's fault that I'm too dumb to appreciate this in its full five star entirety. Some (a lot) of this was far over my head but I can honestly say I've never read anything like it.Hard sci-fi and horror haven't crossed paths like this since Who Goes There?. Some of that was also far over my head until John Carpenter turned it into THE THING and then my dumb ass was like 'oh yeah, that's terrifying.' If you are a fan of this genre combo you should at least give this a shot. You owe it to yourself. As of now, this is still available FREE from the book's Goodreads page. If the book turns out to be smarter than you are, I promise I will only mock you a little. If you were smarter than the book, I don't wanna hear it. To all: smart and dumb included - there's a sequel :)And kids, stay in science class.

  • Ben Babcock
    2019-04-20 18:48

    I’ve had this book on my to-read list for several years now, and I feel like the me who added this book would have liked it more than the me who ended up reading it. One of the nice things about having Goodreads to help me track my reading, what I’ve read and what I want to read, is that sometimes I can remember why I’ve put something on my list. In this case I can’t, specifically, except maybe that I heard about Peter Watts or Blindsight somewhere, maybe io9, and it seemed like something I could read. Plus, you know, he’s Canadian and a science-fiction author, so that’s something to celebrate.Three or four years ago was my personal zenith for posthuman SF. As I noted in my review of Postsingular, I’ve become rather fatigued with posthuman SF that is fantasy masquerading as SF so hard that the technology verges upon magic. Greg Egan’s Incandescence and Diaspora contributed to this somewhat as well.Blindsight, to be fair, is harder SF than the aforementioned novels. Watts restricts himself to the near-future (2088 or so?) and to the confines of our solar system. Some of the technology, such as the telematter-driven Theseus or the cyborgs Szpindel and Cunningham or the vampire (I’ll spend some time on him later) seem more out there and fantastical. Nevertheless, Watts seems intent on honestly interrogating how humans might investigate an alien object lurking at the edges of the solar system.In many ways this book reminds me of an SF horror movie in the same vein as Alien or perhaps Cube. Watts introduces the scramblers, denizens of the alien object Rorschach that might be parts of a whole or individual entities—it’s hard to tell. I like, however, how he tries to take a fairly original approach to alien biology: no DNA, distributed neural networks, etc. The crew’s initial encounters with the scramblers inside Rorschach feel like a horror movie. Everything is so disjointed; it becomes difficult to follow what’s going on. It feels like a scene from one of those movies where the protagonists are walking down a dark corridor, and you just know something is going to jump out at them. Now picture the dark corridor as the vacuum-interior of a large alien object, and the something involves direct manipulation of the human visual cortex. Yeah.Bottom line, without spoilers: the theme behind everything (seriously, everything) in Blindsight is one that any transhumanist would acknowledge (and probably celebrate) while the rest of us often deny or conveniently forget—the human brain is easily hacked. We aren’t all that good at hacking it to do specific things at the moment—at least not with any degree of finesse; technically, programming our brains to read and write is a monumental feat of hacking, albeit one that is done much more slowly. But it seems like we are developing technology, and a better understanding of the brain, that would let us manipulate the brain more easily. With this ability would come more questions and issues surrounding what makes us conscious, and whether our consciousness makes us who we are.Everything in this book is another facet of how Watts explores these issues. Each of the four protagonists manifests consciousness and brain-hacking differently. Siri, the narrator, underwent a hemispherectomy as a child to cure his epilepsy; he now considers himself a Chinese Room more than a functional individual, and we get treated to flashbacks of an awkward relationship as evidence. Contrastedly, Jukka Sarasti is a vampire. It turns out that vampires were a subspecies of humanity from hundreds of thousands of years ago. Never very populous because of their nature as predators, vampires probably would have become the dominant species, except for a weird brain glitch that causes seizures when they see intersecting right angles (“crosses”). But for some reason, a vampire is necessary as the leader of this first contact mission, so scientists used some DNA to recreate one. Cool, huh? I kind of feel like that whole idea could be a plot of a novel by itself.It would be easy to dismiss Blindsight as a collection of interlinked concepts that don’t quite work together—a precarious house of cards on an unstable foundation. Yet for all the work reading this turned out to be, it’s clear Watts is pursuing a single and comprehensible idea. He has no qualms about forcing the reader to consider how truly alien life outside our solar system could be. He makes us confront the terrifying idea that we could be the anomalies—not in the sense that we are alone, but that other advanced forms of life might not be sentient or might be so different from us, sentient or not, that we could never hope to communicate with them.Watts is far from the only one who advances such propositions, of course! The antagonist of Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandor’s Star is similarly so alien that it isn’t evil, just different. Yet Watts succeeds in confronting these ideas, in interrogating them, in a compact way that remains fast-paced and, at times, fiendishly difficult to follow. He throws so many curveballs and twists at the reader that keeping up requires careful attention and a willingness to have a little faith. Siri is a somewhat unreliable narrator, as he should be, and even by the end it remains difficult (at least for me) to understand clearly what happened aboard Theseus. Siri is one step up from found-footage when it comes to being informative on such things. I’m not going to pretend I fully grok what happened, and I’m not all that interested in going back and re-reading to clarify things. Fortunately, one of the perks of being human is that we can form snap judgements based on the bigger picture.The big picture, when it comes to this book at least, is that it is incredibly ambitious, quite clever, but also somewhat boring and unpalatable. I’m probably going to lose my literary snob street cred for saying this, but I’m a big fan of the straightforward narrative, especially in hard SF where the technobabble can make it difficult enough to follow the plot. Blindsight asks a lot of its readers. This is not per se bad. But the return on investment wasn’t there for me. I’m intrigued by the ideas that Watts puts forward, and for that reason I still liked the book despite finding it difficult to get through. Alas, if you don’t already share my fascination with philosophy of mind, then you may find it difficult to perceive the positives of Blindsight.

  • Simeon
    2019-04-23 15:43

    Why do putatively brilliant scientists insist on explaining simple shit to one another? Their sole purpose appears to be strolling out at key intervals of the story and expounding on pop science. "Oh hi, did you know that according to Game Theory the most efficient cooperative strategy is reciprocal altruism?" Game theory may not be common knowledge, but it's hardly arcane either. The UK actually has a TV show built around it. Similar bleeding edge opinions on consciousness, neurology, and linguistics may all sound recondite but are really pretty quotidian even today, a century before the novel takes place. One of the most hardcore sci-fi novels, Blindsight manages to be sometimes brilliant and often dull. It does so by telling the story from the perspective of a high-functioning sociopath, who is the best and worst of narrators. Mostly the latter.

  • Wealhtheow
    2019-04-23 16:51

    Really interesting, chock full of ideologies, debates, and fascinating new technologies. It's great scifi. The only problem is that I completely disagree with the main premise of the book, which turns out to be that sentience is in fact a *problem* rather than Our Specialness. It's a cool twist to the usual first contact with alien life scenario, but unfortunately it makes no sense to me. I just don't get it. Yeah, a consciousness means that you second guess decisions and are slower to make them, so from an evolutionary standpoint it may not be the best ability to have. Maybe when we get into space, the very fact that we know we exist will be the death of us. I am so fine with that. If the other option is life without awareness, I don't care that it makes me less likely to survive a space battle. I thought I was arguing this against Watts until near the very end of the book, and even then I'm not sure what his stance on the issue is. If you're looking for a mind fuck, go for this novel.

  • Alan Baxter
    2019-05-10 16:54

    The benchmark by which all first contact stories should be judgedI first read this book a while ago and recent conversations with a friend triggered me into reading it again. It blew me away the first time and it blew me away again on a second read. Honestly, I could read this book several times and get more from it on every go.Peter Watts’ knowledge of biology is excellent – he has a doctorate in Marine Biology – but it doesn’t stop there. His knowledge and exploration of biology, anatomy, psychology and sociology are evident in all his work. But perhaps none moreso than Blindsight.It’s the story of human first contact with an alien race. The humans, metahumans really with the advances in technology and medicine that Watts includes, are almost alien themselves. Watts explores posthumanism brilliantly. But when we meet the aliens we realise what “alien” truly means.This book is fascinating on so many levels. It’s incredibly engaging as a story, as a what if scenario and as an exploration of human (and other) nature. It really is an incredible achievement and it’s the first contact story that all others should be judged against. I’ve yet to read anything else that comes close.

  • Apatt
    2019-05-05 17:54

    I posted a review on this one months ago but it seems to have fallen into a blackhole and I have no backup. This was a very difficult book for me due to the prose style. I just found it a little rambling, unclear and unfocussed. I kept losing track of where the current scene is taking place and which characters are present, not to mention what exactly was happening. In all fairness this probably my own failure and not the author's, his prose style just does not resonate with me.That said this book is generally critically well received and there are many ingenious concepts in this book which feature a truly inscrutable alien, several highly modified human characters and a scientifically convincing vampire. If you find the synopsis of this book (not part of this review!) interesting there is no reason not to give it a try it as it is available as a free e-book here.

  • bsc
    2019-04-26 19:39

    This is a great science fiction book. Smart and entertaining with a great cast of characters. In my mind, this book ranks up there with the classics like Rendezvous with Rama, The Mote in God's Eye, and Gateway. Watts is incredible and is on his way to being one of the new great science fiction authors.

  • Megan Baxter
    2019-04-23 22:49

    I really really tried with this book, but it was always a book that required that I slog through, trying to find snippets of enjoyment. Unfortunately, they were few and far between. I wanted to like this book a great deal more than I did, but I ended up stubbing my toe on the distance between the author and his readers, the lack of exploration on the themes I did find interesting, and something that happened near the end that both baffled and upset me.Note: The rest of this review has been withheld due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook

  • Jesse
    2019-04-25 18:07

    So I read a lot of science and speculative fiction. and a lot of it is crap, more or less. Peter Watts is obviously very smart (and has a Ph.D. to back it up - oooh, scary) but is only a marginally gifted storyteller. Blindsight raises a lot of interesting questions about our self-perception (as individuals and as a species), about xenophobia and about our penchant for projecting ourselves into every situation, but the characters all felt contrived and the story doesn't really unfold so much as it scrambles forward.If you like SF enough to look past the cosmetic flaws, then 4 stars; otherwise, just give it a pass.

  • Lightreads
    2019-04-21 23:41

    Yes, it is not quite as good as I’d been told, but orders of magnitude more brilliant than anyone had conveyed. Which statement will be very puzzling to anyone who hasn’t read the book, but just take my word for it: it makes perfect sense. And yes, this book will deservedly win this year’s Hugo, if the rumblings are right. Sorry, Temeraire, you’ll have another shot, I’m sure. So. The actual review. Summarizing this book is quite difficult without being far too parsimonious or far too verbose. It’s SF, and there ain’t much squishy here. It’s told by Siri Keeton, informational synthesist, professional observer, member of a tiny human expedition sent out to meet an unknown alien presence at the outskirts of the solar system. Mostly human – it’s hard to classify people living on the “bleeding edge” of the future, with edited brains and altered bodies. They meet the Scramblers, an alien race more frighteningly alien than anything I’ve ever seen in any other science fiction. There they are reminded of the eminent hackability of the human brain, what a fragile machine it really is, and that’s just the start.It’s hard, because I want everyone to read this book, though I know the majority of people won’t get past the first fifty pages. It’s not just the hard SF elements, not the dense but oddly beautiful prose. This book just requires a lot. It’s packed tight with theory, and I don’t know what it would be like going in without at least a conversant background in biology, psychology, neurology, a bit of physics. It’s just that, when the boom swings around about three-quarters of the way in and smacks you on the forehead, you really should be leaning forward eagerly into it. And I don’t think that’ll work if you’re struggling to keep up with the ologies. The science isn’t background here, it’s not ambiance, and the unprepared reader would probably be very puzzled by an obscure and strangely technical alien encounter book. Because you’ve got to do the work to get the payoff. It’s one of those arguments which is reduced out of all reasonableness by reduction at all – that’s why it’s not made often. Watts called this book a “thought experiment.” It’s about intelligence existing in the absence of sentience, of that conscious I first person narrator. About the brilliance of our brainstems; they are faster than us, smarter than us, perfectly capable of surviving just fine without upper management – that’s what the brainstem is for, after all, surviving. Blindsight starts there, and then bypasses the perennial bottleneck of what consciousness is, and goes straight on to what it’s for. Evolutionarily. Biologically. I think its conclusions are wrong. Well, I hope its conclusions are wrong. But it’s brilliant none the less."You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself.Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Maybe you think it gives you free will. Maybe you've forgotten that sleepwalkers converse, drive vehicles, commit crimes and clean up afterwards, unconsciousthe whole time. Maybe nobody's told you that even waking souls are only slaves in denial. Make a conscious choice. Decide to move your index finger. Too late! The electricity's already halfway down your arm. Your body began to act a full half-secondbefore your conscious self 'chose' to, for the self chose nothing; something else set your body in motion, sent an executive summary—almost an afterthought—to the homunculus behind your eyes. That little man, that arrogant subroutine that thinks of itself as the person, mistakes correlation for causality:it reads the summary and it sees the hand move, and it thinks that one drove the other.But it's not in charge. You're not in charge. If free will even exists, it doesn't share living space with the likes of you.Insight, then. Wisdom. The quest for knowledge, the derivation of theorems, science and technology and all those exclusively human pursuits that must surelyrest on a conscious foundation. Maybe that's what sentience would be for— if scientific breakthroughs didn't spring fully-formed from the subconsciousmind, manifest themselves in dreams, as full-blown insights after a deep night's sleep. It's the most basic rule of the stymied researcher: stop thinkingabout the problem. Do something else. It will come to you if you just stop being conscious of it."A fascinating, difficult book. I was right there all the way, but then again I took a lot less convincing than many readers probably will. That, and I was highly entertained by the quick and dirty tour of some of the stranger stops in the DSM-IV (oh right, there’s Cotard’s Syndrome. Love that one). Not for everyone by its very nature, and also by necessity populated with strange, uncuddly people and stranger situations, so that a casual, surface read of a typical hard SF story may or may not be enjoyable. I don’t know, and the inaccessibility is not a flaw, it’s a necessity. I do know that I admire the single-mindedness required to write so narrowly, so smartly, and that it's definitely worth the work, if you're positioned for it.

  • Leseparatist
    2019-05-09 15:48

    Moments that deserved four stars scattered among moments that deserved book throwing. Two stars it is.Two jokes: 1) if free will doesn't exist, does it mean it's not my fault I read this and not Watts's that he wrote it? 2) For a novel that supposedly argues that sentience and self-awareness is not worth the cost, the book does a lot of navel-gazing and self-referentiality. (It even has the narrator berate himself for infodumping in the middle of an infodump.)I like science fiction and I can even have fun with hard science fiction (as pretentious as that name sounds), but in case of Blindsight there were several obstacles to me deriving enjoyment from the novel. Firstly, it drew precisely on the sort of "science" (cognitive studies and evo psych) that I'm most skeptical about (and the Dawkins fanboy moments... just really didn't work for me). Secondly, instead of using that science as an integral part of the narrative, it combined practical application of theory in thought experiment with massive infodumps, many of which made little sense because the people of the future probably wouldn't need the explanation (and yet some really advanced ideas are namedropped without explanation while some pretty self-explanatory concepts are explained. Go figure). Thirdly, the characters are cliched vehicles for thoughts. I think Sarasti has his moments, as do Amanda and Susan, but the cheap mess of the protagonist's family life... The two fridged women who only exist to attempt to make him feel things and be self-aware. The super special girlfriend and the mother whose abuse is that she wants him to love her. Was this really the best the author could come up with? Fourthly, the worldbuilding feels disjointed and tertiary to the science and philosophy. Is there a reason we should believe humans would be so willing to give up having sex in person but cigarette smoking and coffee drinking would still look pretty much the same (and in space at that)? And for what I suppose is meant to be a post-gender (and default post-racial, although Jewish people seem to exist) future, rape seems to be a common metaphor. (Probably because of evo psych and its perverse fascination with rape.) Animals also seem to have pretty much disappeared. And that ending... I've seen too many iterations of "vampires wage war against humanity" to consider that so completely natural in any way, for a super-intelligent species, without an additional incentive, just because of predator-prey relationship. That can be changed even in less intelligent species and predation is not only genes/biology/instinct, it's a learned behaviour too. (I'm sure a psychologist - or perhaps an animal psychologist - could explain the reason why that makes little sense more convincingly.)But then, this to me reads like grimdark science fiction. Alas, I'm not a big fan of grimdark for the sake of grimdark and I don't think the more predatory the behavior the more natural it is.Maybe the fault is mine. I read the description and I expected a book that might be hard science fiction, but that doesn't take itself too seriously. And this book did.

  • Sebastien Castell
    2019-05-14 19:48

    Blindsight is a challenging novel to review in part because the categories to which it belongs don't really convey the spirit of the book. Although I'm not a heavy science fiction reader, I think it's safe to call this "Hard SF" in that the science is credible and meticulously thought-out (as evidenced by the heavily cited appendix at the back of the book.) On the other hand...vampires.Well, even here Watts provides a believable explanation for an offshoot predator species whose one weakness has to do with a neurological response to something that never occurs in nature and so hasn't been weeded out through natural selection: perfect right angles (e.g. crosses.) Blindsight contains a number of these kinds of interesting explorations, dealt entirely within the narrative of the story and never deviating into info-dumps. However this presents its own challenges: because the main character sees the world through his own eyes (rather than a 20th Century viewpoint), you have to figure out the social and technological underpinnings of the novel piece by piece. I suspect more experienced SF readers than I would have an easier time of this, but Watts does an admirable job of making the book accessible even to people who aren't especially scientifically literate.So with intriguing, scientifically-sound concepts and thrilling intrigue all the way through, what's not to like? Well, the characters. This isn't due to any flaw in Watts' writing--only to his commitment to a realistic portrayal of the kinds of people we would need to send into space to investigate an extinction-level threat. You simply don't send nice, socially-adjusted people struggling with their inner doubts and falling in love. You send people as close to the finely-tuned machines needed for the job as possible. So the characters are interesting and intriguing, but I never felt connected to them. This is, I think, one of the consequences of Hard Science Fiction: to present a realistic view of the possible, you have to be ready to shun the predictable and comforting.Blindsight is in no way comforting. What it is, however, is compelling, thought-provoking, and ready to challenge some of the most basic assumptions that shape our view of our place in the universe, and most especially whether sentience is really all it's cracked up to be.For people like me, whose love of Sci-Fi is dominated by Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy, Blindsight is a call to set those familiar Space Opera tropes aside and delve into a well-written piece of contemporary hard science fiction. It's worth the effort.

  • Doyle
    2019-05-13 18:01

    I spent a majority of this book being lost. Not so lost in the ludicrous amounts of science jargon as I was confused by the "who/what is this?" Though the author sacrifices story and pacing at every convenience to flex his brain and show off all the cutting edge science theory he reviewed to prepare for writing this, my main bitch is simply not being able to follow even basic conversations held between characters. Every character/space ship/astral body in this book has a name, and possibly an additional nickname. You better set the brief description associated with that name in stone the first time through because there are almost NO context clues to help you figure out what type of object the author is referring to afterwards. I'm glad that the cover of this book has a picture of what the main space ship looks like, otherwise I would have never known how the main setting was laid out. I'm sure the ship was described at some point, but the author probably referred to it's nickname, and shoved in tedious minutia details to really bore me into not remembering. Here is a list my further bitching that I'm not going to elaborate on:1. You might relate to the main character only if you are autistic. 2. Secondary characters are all the same character (personality-wise), save the vampire. 3. There is a vampire in this book for no god damn reason. 4. The first chapter starts out suspiciously like the first chapter of Ender's Game. 5. Secondary character introductions are made 100 pages too late.6. Seemingly inconsequential plot points are glossed over, then revealed to be incredibly important in the last chapter. The last chapter? I can't believe I made it to the last chapter.