I was catching up on my reading of H+ Magazine when I stumbled across an interview with author Peter Watts of whom I hadn’t heard of before [H+ Spring 2009, pg 60]. The interview cast him in an intriguing light for me. More specifically it stated that he wrote interesting dark sci-fi that dealt with human consciousness and even more specifically that he explored the idea that what we currently consider mental disabilities or maladys like MPD and PTSD may actually just be new and superior mental evolutions waiting to find fertile ground to sprout in. I have a massive weak spot for speculative sci-fi exploring consciousness so I couldn’t help myself but go out and buy his first and his latest books.
I started with his first book “Starfish”. The author is quite proud of Starfish for getting flagged as “too dark” to be translated and published in Russia. I found it interesting if a bit slow moving but he has a bit of a distinct style and something new is nice. The book ends a bit oddly, but as it turns out, his next books continue on and form what is known as “The Rifters Trilogy” so I will be back to pick those up later. As his first novel it flows a bit weirdly, but not so much that I didn’t enjoy it and won’t be back.
Then I got to his newest book “Blindsight”. It was exactly what I was looking for. Dark and depressing as it explores many different ways of mental functioning and shedding some new light on discussions I hadn’t seen before. I loved it! Additionally he cites a lot of material in the references section of his book and I’m probably going to give reading a few of those a try too. I don’t really want to spoil much, but it was a breath of fresh air to get some speculative fiction from this decade exploring consciousness issues. A lot has happened since some of my old favorite fiction was written. I just finished reading Blindsight so I’m still caught up in its hype, so we’ll have to see how it sinks in, but right now it feels like it’s one of my new favorite books, sitting up there with the very aged “Destination Void” and “Dune” [Frank Herbert].
I think part of what makes his style different from most authors is that he is a trained marine biologist and has spent an awful lot of time thinking about deep dark far away places with weird creatures in them that are already surprisingly alien. As an interesting side note, Peter Watts hails from my home town of Vancouver and went to the same University I have. Neat.
He’s not rich, so I’d love it if you too would go out and buy a book or two of his, it’ll be a good time. If you aren’t yet convinced, and have half an ounce of cunning, you can find all his books under the Creative Commons on his site too.
Excerpt from the H+ interview with Peter Watts
“… but blindsight doesn’t posit a crew of rejects and outcasts;
they’re an A-Team at the top of their respective fields.
We baselines may regard them as dysfunctional because
we don’t live in their civilization, but they do just fine
in the late-21st Century circles they move in. They do a lot better
than we would. From a purely pragmatic perspective, I chose
them to illustrate the theme; each character illustrates an aspect
of consciousness relevant to the overall argument. but again, why
regard them as evolutionary blind alleys? These folks are supremely
adapted to their habitat; to regard them as blind alleys because they
wouldn’t be the life of the party in 2009 is a bit like describing a fish
as ill-adapted because it can’t breathe air.”
Who you do send to meet the alien
when the alien doesn’t want to meet?
You send a linguist with multiple personalities carved surgically into her brain. You send
a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultra-
sound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. You
send a pacifist warrior whose career-defining moment was an act of treason. You
send a monster to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once called
vampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics
and the blood of sociopaths. And you send a synthesist — an
informational topologist with half his mind gone — as an
interface between here and there, a conduit through
which the Dead Center might hope to understand
the Bleeding Edge.
You send them all to the edge of interstellar space, praying you
can trust such freaks and retrofits 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
only knew what was waiting for them…