Mar 022009

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.

Not recommended


About Joe Smith

I’m patiently waiting for the future. I want to sail on the sea of stars, I want to get into a bar fight with a Cephelopod buddy fighting at my side. I want to believe in a good blaster by my side. I want to be just like Captain Harlock when I grow up. I might also be in the market for some rental time with Doc Brown’s DeLorean or any functional time machine, so if you can help me out, I’d appreciate it.

  3 Responses to “Book Review: Blindsight, A Vampire in Space”

  1. Sorry, but I think you missed the point of the story. It wasn’t a “character study about outcasts saving the world.” Saving the world was only a tangential part of the contrived, rushed ending. (Self-destructing a spaceship? Whoulda thunk?) The point of the book is to explore the themes of consciousness, of what it means to be an intelligent being, and what would happen if humanity ever met another kind of being that is completely alien to us. The vampire piloting a starship was not a main selling point at all- in fact Sarasti didn’t even pilot it, he’s not even capitain; he’s mission commander. He’s supposed to confrom to the “feral archetype” because, as Watts explains, that’s the whole point. The prehistoric vampire was a very very deadly predator. The “idea of vampirism is based in sensuality, intimacy, romanticism with overtones of rape”? What? The idea of vampirism is based on a manlike-monster that hunts men and eats their blood in the dead of night. You’re looking at it from a purely literary point of view while Watts is looking at it from a hyptoethical biological point of view.

    Not to say your review doesn’t have merits. The characters are indeed dull, and I would critique that while Siri is a rather interesting narrator, he doesn’t seem to have the same sort of sociopathic tendencies that a hypothetical “Chinese Room” character would have. But I guess that’s a bit original in subverting the Hannibal Lecter/Dexter archetype of a person with no empathy being a serial killer. The book really does read slowly, but I would ascribe that less due to his pacing and more that his ability to write action scenes needs a bit more work. Ender’s Game is not a hard science fiction book at all. In conclusion, your review has some good points, completely misses the book’s premises, and at the end of the day works just as well, if not better, as sour milk at turning audiences away. I would highly recommend SF Diplomat’s review instead:

  2. Thanks for the review — I read two of the books in the rifters trilogy (must make time for the third!!), this one sounds cool too. I wish they’d make a movie of some Peter Watts stuff.

  3. This book seems combine science fiction and horror together. Silenus, and thanks for your complementary info too. Both good reviews, from different point of view. I wonder will this booked be published as a movie? That’s must be interesting!

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