I love reading, and tend to have three or four books on the go at the same time. I’ll flick between them as my mood takes me, shifting gears between a ‘30s pulp novella, some nameless fantasy yarn, a horror story, a classic or some other genre. I just pick up where I left off then lay it down and select another one from the pile later in the day. It’s something I’ve always done, reading to fit my mood without stagnating my imagination with just one type of book.
Sometimes though, I come across a book that draws my attention so much that it fills my reading time. All other books are forgotten, bookmarked but ignored until I’ve finished The One.
I’ve been reading Blindsight by Peter Watts over the last few days, and it’s firmly made entry into the One list. My other books are forgotten and I’m lost in his wonderful, frightening, dystopian xenophobic utopia. The tale combines alien First Contact with futurism, a vampire leader of an unorthodox starship crew, human augmentation and psychology. It’s a hard hitting geek novel that ticks all the boxes, analyses the contents then spits them out in unexpected directions, all the time spinning an entertaining yarn at a breakneck pace. Yes, it’s that good.
It’s not a book for everyone however. Geek terms and concepts are skimmed over (and re-invented) with a casualness that will confuse readers who are unfamiliar with them, and in such a way that will leave your average sci-fi fan reeling from the impact. Imagine if Umberto Eco and William Gibson had collaborated to write Alien, and you’re starting to head in the right direction.
The book opens with Earth facing an optimistic future where utopia is a real expectation within the next two decades. Implants, genetics and neuropsychology have removed disease, mental illness and all of the usual threats to humanity’s well-being. A near-limitless energy resource has produced technological miracles and almost eliminated war (why fight for resources when there’s no limit to access?). All is not perfect – yet – but it’s getting there, in the main.
The one day, it all changes. All of Earth is surrounded by a network of lights that appear from nowhere, forming an intricate grid completely covering the globe. They erupt suddenly, brightly, like a worldwide camera flash. Then nothing.
Realization dawns that We Are Not Alone – and the aliens have taken our picture. Paranoia and xenophobia replaces the optimism and promise of utopia, and…………
Well, you’ll have to read the book, won’t you?
Now for the good news.
Peter Watts has released Blindsight and (and his previous novels and short stories) under the Creative Commons license, so it’s available for download for free as well as buy in dead tree form. You can get it here in html or PDF form. Even if you grab the freebie ebook I suggest you pay for the paper version anyhow; this way of releasing books needs encouraging as much as possible. While the dead tree format is more convenient, the availability of free ebooks opens up reading to the masses. Creative Commons is the printing press of the future.
So there you have it. Blindsight by Peter Watts. Very, very highly recommended reading.