The Orion's Arm Universe Project Forums

Blindsight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts
I just finished Echopraxia by Peter Watts and thought I'd write up a little review/recommendation here. If you like OA I don't see why you wouldn't love Echopraxia.

So what's it about? Echopraxia is the sequel (or perhaps sidequel? The two stories take place at the same time in different locations) to Blindsight, a novel published in 2006 that was a Hugo, JW Campbell and Locus nominee. The names of both books refer to bizarre neurological conditions, blindsight is the phenomenon where people insist they are blind even though they can see just fine (and will even be able to guess correctly things in their visual field whilst still claiming to not see) and echopraxia is the unconscious/controllable mimicking of someone elses physical motions. The reason for the names is that Watts uses both these books to explore mentality in a way few authors attempt and even fewer do well.

First the setting: it's the late 20th century and the world is going through what could be called a singularity. It's a very transhumanist book (but has a unique spin), humans have begun to augment themselves with mental implants, AIs exist but most of them are so different to humans it's a question of if they are even intelligent and vampires have been resurrected by science to run the stock market. Yes in this novel there are vampires, but they aren't anything like the twilight or buffy varieties. These have an evolutionary basis, in the novel's history hundreds of thousands of years previously were a race of hominids that evolved to hunt humans. By evolving this way they gained superior strength, speed, nightsight and an ability to hibernate for years on end (so as to not over predate the humans). The most interesting part of them is that they are an intelligent species that evolved to hunt intelligent species. That makes them very different to us mentally, in fact they are far beyond humans as they, by necessity, needed to model their prey incredibly well in their minds. They're up there with the AI for not being able to be understood and they're a great biological transapient to use OA terms.

Blindsight focuses around Siri, a young man who is a synthesist. This odd group of people fill a social role as they are able to explain concepts that only AI and vampires can understand to normal humans (as best as possible) without having to understand the concepts themselves. In Echopraxia one synthesist refers to it as just intuitively knowing what to say without really understanding any of it. They're created by augmentation and Siri is a good protagonist for us. Siri and a group of very different beings (a pacifist soldier, a scientist whose lab is part of his sensorium, a linguist with multiple minds in one body, a vampire) are sent on a ship to investigate a possible alien installation light months outside the solar system. The entire trip is an exploration into what it means to be human and whether or not consciousness (our most beloved trait) is a blessing or a hinderence.

Echopraxia occurs at the same time but back in the solar system. It focuses on a baseline human who lives alone in a tent in the desert, one day he is swept up in a series of events that see him heading to Icarus, a space station around the sun that produces antimatter and transports it using quantum teleportation to Earth. Similar to the story of Blindsight it focuses on what it means to be human and whether or not humans are really cut out for life in the universe. As the protagonist is a baseline human the take on it is different to Blindsight.

If that didn't get you interested then here's a grab-bag list of cool things in both the stories Smile

- Alien chatbots
- Superintelligent group mind of monks
- Really cool/realistic space ships
- Tornados used as power generators and weapons
- Zombie soldiers that switch off their conscious minds for better combat performance
- A virtual world where baselines go to live when they can't cope with reality

Finally if I had to say one thing about this duo it would be that it does a fantastic job of showing rather than telling what a superintelligent entity would be like. You really get a sense that the vampires, the AI and the group minds are so beyond humans that it's terrifying. Their actions are bizarre, confusing, seemingly stupid but get results in fantastic ways.

So yeah, if you want to read some great transhumanist fiction that will really make you think, buy these books.
OA Wish list:
  1. DNI
  2. Internal medical system
  3. A dormbot, because domestic chores suck!

Messages In This Thread
Blindsight and Echopraxia by Peter Watts - by Rynn - 05-07-2015, 07:02 PM

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)