Blindsight is a hard Sci-fi novel by Peter Watts which deals with the impending invasion of the Earth and the small crew of misfits who are sent to deal with the problem. In many ways it is a novel that wears it’s that conceit on its sleeve for all to see in the ham-fisted manner of a Hot Topic Goth out looking to save the world. It’s an old, old literary device with so many examples that I won’t even go into explaining the genre since this novel’s plot is basically a generic JRPG, only less satisfying and missing any form of excitement.
The main selling point of Blindsight is that there is a vampire that pilots a starship, a concept which could have been exciting but ultimately falls flat. This is mostly due to the mishandling of the character archetype, utilizing the nontraditional ‘borderline feral’ interpretation of the vampire. This use of character archetype only works in a few select works, since the idea of vampirism is based in sensuality, intimacy, romanticism with overtones of rape. The feral vampire can work, 30 Days of Night showed us that it could work, but the vampires in that work were antagonists that could have been swapped out with any number of things that go bump in the night and the plot would not have changed at all. Blindsight’s vampire is brought to life, or lack thereof, through genetic manipulation. Watts attempts to explain the supernatural presence in book as a product of genetic engineering in keeping with hard sci-fi rules and it only works as a selling point of the novel.
Blindsight also fails the reader with it characters, who are stock misfits, unsympathetically dull, who seem to be moving through their lives as slowly and ponderously as the ship that they inhabit and the plot which drives them. Watts tries to make the characters exciting but they are ultimately forgettable cogs in the clockwork that drive his kernel of an idea that a vampire should be driving a starship in a harsh world of real science and Newtonian physics. It is a novel that lives and dies by this high concept and it fails because of the restraints of hard science fiction.
The novel is, as whole, a character study about outcasts saving the world, which reads with all the flair and fast paced prose of the Chilton’s Automotive Repair Manual for the Ford Taurus 1995-2005. A close literary cousin to Blindsight is the much better Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, a novel which is also set in a hard science fiction world with misfits saving the world, but is much better written and does not rub your face in the fact that it is based on real science, a major problem of the genre. Watts had a good idea when he started the novel, but he shot himself in the foot by attempting to stay in the confines of real science, his ponderously boring writing style doesn’t help either. As I read this novel I felt as if it was being read to be by a less than unenthusiastic Ben Stein. It’s a poor example of hard science fiction, a poor example of use of character, but an excellent example of how to have an audience not care about the characters.
Blindsight is boring, slow, completely misuses its premise, and at the end of the day works just as well, if not better, as warm milk at putting its audience to sleep. How it was nominated for a Hugo defies logic.