Book Review: Blindsight by Peter Watts

Posted September 17, 2015 by Maire in Book Reviews / 1 Comment

Book Cover: Blindsight by Peter Watts
Blindsight by Peter Watts

A little fair warning here – I’m predisposed to like Blindsight by Peter Watts. The author is a distant acquaintance. We learned about him through a mutual friend, and hosted him at our home when he needed a bed to sleep in on a layover long, long ago. (If you’re reading this, Peter, I’m very sorry for the state of that house/room. If you ever need to crash again, the current house is in somewhat better order).

That said, while I’m biased towards Blindsight and enjoy a good Space Opera, it’s also in the realm of Hard Science Fiction. I can read science-y books, it just takes me forever. Gary Taubes‘s non-fiction opus Good Calories, Bad Calories took me ages, and not just because it quotes reams of medical jargon and scientific experiments. It’s also huge.

Blindsight felt almost like wading through GCBC again. The difference is that after awhile, the scene-setting and jargon leech away into story — and then the science gets handed to you in mostly bite-size chunks. Much more manageable. There is a part of me, though, that still feels like I missed something in the translation. The book is like a roller coaster…you get started, feel a little doubt as the ride begins, relax into the excitement of the curves and turns, and when you get out of the ride — think you might want to try it again because you’re not sure just what you just experienced (yes, a run-on sentence. Deal).

I’m challenged by Hard SF, and that’s not bad

Blindsight is good pre-reading for the Aurora-nominated Echopraxia, which is the second book in the series. Again…I’m not great with the hard science stuff. Sometimes Pratchett’s Discworld series is a challenge! The bonus to reading both books back-to-back? You stay involved in the world that Watts has built. For me, not having to switch my perspective on the world-building has been very helpful.

Blindsight is set in the late 21st Century. It’s a world where genetic modification is normal and sex is no longer a contact sport. You can even decide to permanently “check out” of real life and into a virtual reality called “Heaven”. One day, as our main character, Siri and his father are returning from visiting his mother in “Heaven”, he experiences  the first sign of contact with an alien race. Small craft surround the Earth, seem to take a picture, then disappear. Siri is chosen as one of the crew on a mission to track the source of these craft. He’s responsible for ensuring the information is sent back to Earth in terms humanity will understand.

The story takes place mostly on the ship, Theseus, with flashbacks to Siri’s personal life before the mission. He has been physically modified due to a childhood illness. He’s awkward when dealing with people, and utterly helplessness communicating with those he loves. Over time, we experience his confusion with the way his crewmates treat him – some seem friendly, but others tread the line of hostility.

His crew members are an interesting bunch, too. None appear to be “totally human”. Either they have implants for interfacing with computers, or they’ve spliced their personalities to gain a wider spectrum of knowledge and experience. There’s even a vampire.

Yes. A vampire in space.

I will say that as cheesy as space-faring vampires sound, Watts makes the concept work. He explains that they were a race from the Pleistocene that died out or became ultra-dormant due to the fact that one single vampire could chew through a significant portion of their food supply (pun intended). Gene therapy and experimentation brought the species back, and they have qualities ideal for space travel. In fact, in order to go into a deep enough slumber to survive a long space flight, crew members must have vampiric genes that can be triggered. Watts explains the vampire’s intolerance of crosses (right angles) in an interesting way — I recommend discovering it for yourself.

The group finally make contact…and it isn’t what anyone was expecting. It is obvious that Watts has thought long and hard about what an alien race might be. We usually take it for granted that it will be a carbon-based lifeform like ourselves – two arms, two legs, a head… Watts doesn’t give you that comfort. The sense of the unknown is furthered by the fact that our crew is confronted with an entity that they can’t hope to understand in the time they have been given.

If you have a head for hard SF and like a good story, I definitely recommend Blindsight. If you want to read the story but can’t afford a hard copy at this time, you can pick up an epub at Peter’s website. I definitely recommend having the paperback, though. We got ours at the local Chapters, but you can also pick one up online from Amazon. I believe in helping authors make their mortgage payments 😉


We picked up both Blindsight and Echopraxia in paperback. We may have even gifted a couple of copies to folks we know who enjoy SF…


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