Review: Blindsight by Peter Watts

Rating:

Blindsight by Peter Watts
2006, Tor

Review Summary: Blindsight is a fantastic read, concise and hard-hitting, without sacrificing either the very solid thought-experiments the author is playing out or the characterization or emotional impact of the story.

Full Review:

Blindsight is a fantastic read, concise and hard-hitting, and unlike other such novels, without sacrificing either the very solid thought-experiments the author is playing out or the characterization or emotional impact of the story.

The human characters of Blindsight are at once very alien and very human, each transcribed, transformed, or otherwise distinctly altered by life in the far future – a gray area, where the author comments “Maybe the Singularity happened years ago. We just don’t want to admit we were left behind.” (50) Each of the characters is unique, individually motivated, and believable, and I’m impressed with Watts’s skill in pulling this off, considering that the characters are, in Watt’s own words, “less cuddlesome than usual”. (364)

Plot-wise, everything clicks, without having all of the answers explained in extensive detail – there are a few holes in the story which the narrator just isn’t in a position to know and discuss, and the author doesn’t take the easy way out by jumping to some sort of third-person omniscient narrative to explain the missing peices. My only fault with the novel is that, though for very logical reasons, certain sections in the middle of the novel begin to sound a lot like the 1997 movie Event Horizon – and here I actually blame myself more for having seen the movie with such unreasonably high expectations than the author for (most likely) unknowingly recreating some of the effects of that movie.

Thematically, Watts is firing on all cylinders as far as I’m concerned. Post-human singularities, the disdain a realist has for hiding away in a virtual reality life, the morality of fixing any and all genetic “bugs” and emotional trauma with surgeries and drugs and various other tweaks, dealing with an ever-increasing pace of change when one is still (mostly) only human, the tough realities of interstellar travel, huge swaths of information theory, biology and evolution and psychology, and the big one, consciousness – the “I” we perceive at the center of ourselves… Watts knows no bounds, and moreover touches on all of these ideas well, without disruption to the story which is the vehicle for all of these ideas.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone serious about metaphysics, AI and theories of consciousness, as well as to anyone just looking for a masterfully-crafted, tight and thoughtful read.

10/16/07 CSL

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