Blindsight

BlindsightBlindsight by Peter Watts
Series: Firefall #1
Publisher: Tor Books
Released: October 3, 2006
Pages: 384
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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 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.

I picked Blindsight up thinking I’d be reading an immersive sci-fi story. At least I got the immersive part right. I guess it is, technically, also a sci-fi story in so much that the plot takes place in space, but labelling this book as sci-fi would be doing it a disservice.

This really is a heavy book, and keeping up with it is tough. Normally I put this down to lazy/pretentious writing and/or bad storytelling, but in this case it turns out to be more of a mutual agreement between the book and the reader. Yes, you have to struggle to get your head around it, but once your head is around it you realise that the struggle really was the only way to get where the book needed you to be. There is no black or white in this book, no simple characters, no easy answers. The characters are a collection of beings who are all very different, not only from each other, but also from what they once were, and what others may think they should be. The reader only ever sees these characters through the eyes of the narrator, Siri, who should in theory be the most reliable storyteller available. But is he?
So many things are explored in this book, and there are trains of thought that are ethically, emotionally and (for me at least) intellectually challenging. Several times I had to re-read segments, not because I had missed something, but because I just hadn’t understood the point or the impact of what I just read. And when I did finally understand, that didn’t always make me less confused or unsure of what was going on. This is a book that will keep you guessing and keep you thinking, not only about what is happening in the book, but also about things that go beyond the book itself.

In the end I have no idea whether I’d call Blindsight an inaccessible sci-fi story, or a somewhat accessible work of philosophy. I’m also not sure whether I liked it, or whether I loved it. The sci-fi in this book is solid, but is overshadowed by the great number of thought-inspiring avenues this book ventures into. I can’t help but think I might have liked to go a bit further down some of these avenues, not to see them be resolved, but just to explore them a bit more. On the other hand, it’s possible that the book very consciously stopped just short of where I would have liked it to go, and instead of “simply” being able to think about things, I also have to continue guessing as to what exactly the author wanted to make me think about.

It feels wrong to say that I enjoyed this book, but I’m very happy to have read it. The feeling Blindsight gave me is comparable to that of working on a very complex problem: solving it can be frustrating, but once it’s solved I feel great. Having finished this book I feel like I’ve almost worked through most of the problem, but without the satisfaction of having resolved it.

Which, considering the book itself, seems about right.

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