March 9, 2010 by Señor Hellsquid
So-called “hard” science fiction has never been known for its emotional hooks. A lot of hard SF reads like Tom Clancy In Space, with an almost pornographic attention to the machines, the aliens, and the science, without the annoying distractions of emotionally involving characters or a deeply moving story. Characters are frequently whatever poly-fiber nano-weave sheets that replaced cardboard in the later stages of the AfterTheBadThing Wars.
YOUR favorite hard SF writer is, of course, a complete exception to this rule.
Peter Watts’ ‘Blindsight’ is the rare example of a hard science fiction novel that revels in its attention to scientific detail, while still evoking, in this reader at least, a surprising amount of emotional response.
Like, say, despair, ennui, and a vague existential dread.
In 2082, thousands of object surround the Earth, give off a massive radio burst, then disintegrate. Now aware that they have been scanned by aliens, the Earth sends the Theseus, with its crew of misfits and monsters: a woman who has split her brain into four distinct segments, each with its own personality (effectively turning it into a quad-core processor), a man who has made himself into a super-synaesthetic, so that he can ‘taste x-rays and see ultrasound, an emotionally scarred ‘pacifist warrior’, a synthesist, whose job it is to make intellectual connections and understand the circumstances of their mission, and their captain, a genetically re-created vampire. Their mission: to investigate the alien presence, whether it wants them to or not. As the crew struggles to understand beings that are far more alien than any of them, the reader is left questioning the nature of intelligence, and whether consciousness may just be an evolutionary dead-end.
While I count it as one of my all-time favorite novels, ‘Blindsight’ is not a chipper book. It packs a hard emotional punch, and will stick with you for days. A blurb on Watts’ blog says “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts.” While I have yet to be driven to nihilistic despair by his work, I did notice a decided uptick in the amount of black that I wore. I couldn’t sayfor certain whether this was due to Watts’ book, or whether all that heavy metal really had turned me evil like my grandma always believed it would. Give it a try, and find out for yourself.
To buy ‘Blindsight’, click the book cover below. Proceeds from the Amazon Affiliate go to AZASSIST, a non-profit support organization for teens and young adults on the Autism Spectrum, as well as their parents. [Disclaimer: my wife Cinder is a co-founder of AZASSIST.]
Also, if you are a fan of the John Carpenter version of ‘The Thing’, and how could you not be, Watts published a story called ‘The Things’, which retells the story from the alien’s (or aliens’) point(s) of view. It made me love the movie even more. It can be read for free online at Clarkesworld Magazine. Watts also has a blog, which deals with science, technology, and his arrest and beating by American Border Patrol guards. Damned shifty Canadians and their intolerable politeness. So, check him out all over the place. Tell him Brian sent you. Even if he doesn’t ask.
Be seeing you.
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