Outis's Reviews > Blindsight

Blindsight by Peter Watts
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U_50x66
's review
Feb 13, 12

bookshelves: science-fiction, transhumanism, cyberpunk

This book wasn't for me but it's worth checking out.
The author was smart enough to CC-license his work and upload it. I'm thankful for that and I encourage you to fire up your search engine and to start reading. If you're worried the book isn't for you, you may want to skip the beginning or search the text for some keywords. Chances are that I would have put the book away if one of the first things I had read was what followed the first mention of Kurzweil for instance.

Blindsight is a very creative and clever first contact story.
The author describes the book as a thought experiment and has the guts to ask real questions. But while it's very intriguing in many respects, for this reader it ultimately failed to deliver. Instead, it ended up retreating into sentimentalism and 20th century thinking, something I wouldn't have expected from these characters.
I also found the action difficult to follow at times and I had no interest in the flashbacks about the narrator's personal life. The narrator orginally wanted to keep it private and I wish he hadn't changed his mind.

A first contact story needs truely alien aliens. In spite of their bizarre proficiency at human communication, Blindsight's aliens are definitely up to snuff. The trouble is that they remained excessively mysterious throughout the book (not a failing unique to Blindsight of course).
Another problem for me is that the culture shock I experienced was not with the aliens or even with the human protagonists (as the author expected) but with the author.
Many describe Blindsight as hard sci-fi but, as far as I'm concerned, its human society is blatantly implausible. It's virtually a paradise and the story's protagonists somehow have capabilities indistinguishable from magic. I suppose the author wanted to contrast that with their trivial concerns but it only made me more puzzled about how the pieces were supposed to fit together.
In an appendix, the author shows his work to convince us he's "not crazy" but the things which are explained are not the ones I thought most needed explanation. I wasn't suprised because the book had previously convinced me the author inhabits a world subtly different from mine.

A book such as this one stand on falls on whether its ideas are conveyed in a convincing way. So I'll end this vague review with a non-spoiling snippet:
"Oh, a few outsiders—Dawkins, Keogh, the occasional writer of hackwork fiction who barely achieved obscurity—wondered briefly at the why of it: why not soft computers, and no more? Why should nonsentient systems be inherently inferior? But they never really raised their voices above the crowd. The value of what we are was too trivially self-evident to ever call into serious question. Yet the questions persisted, in the minds of the laureates, in the angst of every horny fifteen-year-old on the planet. Am I nothing but sparking chemistry?"
If you can stand this sort of thing, maybe Blindsight is for you.
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