Saturday, May 29, 2010

Books: Blindsight

I find that the recommendations of other bloggers are more reliable than a lot of the professional reviews out there. So, when someone like Marko recommends a book like "Blindsight," I pay attention. The book was written by Peter Watts, and it's conveniently available for free (Creative Commons License) from the author's website. I tracked down a hard copy at the local teenager and homeless person adult film center library and dove in.

At first blush, "Blindsight" is merely the latest in a long line of "isolated crew investigates weird object in space" novels (think Arthur C. Clarke's classic, "Rendezvous with Rama"). When Earth is buzzed by thousands of mysterious alien objects, a deep space probe discovers something lurking at the fringes of the solar system. A crew is dispatched to intercept, but it's no ordinary crew; they're the "bleeding edge of humanity," savants with abilities so evolved by surgery and science that they're barely human.

The narrator, for instance, has had half his brain removed, destroying his empathy, but greatly enhancing his ability to observe and intuit the intentions of others. He's the straight man: there's a cybernetically enhanced pacifist soldier, a synesthete who "tastes" UV and neutrinos, a linguist who's actually a gestalt entity made of four separate personalities, all led by a resurrected vampire who can't stand the sight of right angles (the "crucifix glitch").

I don't want to spoil it, but the story eventually yields some good hard sci-fi hypotheticals. What is the nature of intelligence? What is the purpose of consciousness? This is the book for everyone who's ever wondered about the "inner zombie" that drives your car home from work without you noticing:

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