Sunday 12 October 2014

Firefall - Blindsight & Echopraxia

As I mentioned last week I started reading Peter Watts Firefall, the omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia.  Well I sat and finished read Blindsight last Sunday and what can I say?  

How about wow?  

If you haven't read it, and you like hard SF novels about first contact scenarios, then I suggest it will be worth your time and effort to do so.

A Google search will bring up a ton of reviews, which I feel the need to comment on.

Blindsight is a novel that discusses complex issues, and therefore if you are not the sort of person that likes to be challenged by rational scientific topic you may find the work not to your taste.  No amount of evidence to the contrary will likely change your mind.

In someways this is the product of our own nature, and how one understands consciousness versus intelligence.  

An argument can be made that consciousness deals with aesthetics and emotional responses, whereas intelligence deals with process.  However, the evidence is scarce, hampered by a lack of a general theory of consciousness, with the best research into whether it's nature or nurture that drives human behaviours, only showing correlation rather than causation with either.

As regard the free will debate, I agree in principle that we live in a deterministic universe, but with the caveat that calculating the choice a person, or people in polynomial time within our frame of reference problematical.  

As such, while we may not have free will, we live and act in a way that might as well be called free will as described by the two stage model.  I bring this up, because otherwise one would be hard pushed to explain behavioural changes made through cognitive behavioural approaches otherwise.  I apologize for simplifying what is quite a complex argument into one line in the process.

As pitch line: Blindsight by Peter Watts is like Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke, but with more despondency and despair at mankind's deficiencies.

And I finished reading Echopraxia today.  It's the sequel to Blindsight, and deals with what was hinted as happening back on Earth at the end of the first book.  Spoiler alert.  It's not going to end well for homo sapiens sapiens.  

For that matter it's not going to end well for any of the other cognitive sub-species either; the vampires and bicameral hive minds.

One thing I will say now is that both books require close reading of the text.  Skim read and you'll miss the clues the author plants.  

Reading this book reminds me of discussions about reading levels for information pamphlets when I use to work in the NHS.  Our research showed that we needed to lower the reading age of our pamphlets, so as to make our subject as accessible as possible to the widest number of readers.  

I'm not going to comment on reading levels, other than to say that people who like to read have higher than average reading comprehension, and leave it at that.

The point I'm making is that Peter Watts makes no concessions to readers, he assumes you will keep up with what he is writing about.  I enjoyed rising to meet the challenge.  Some readers may find it makes the story less accessible.

My pitch line for Echopraxia would be, it's like Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke, but with even more despondency and despair at the transformation of the world by the Overmind.  

One final thought came to mind.  At the end of the story I was really touched by a line of dialogue from Valerie, who is a vampire, who says quote, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along?"  In the context of what a vampire is, I found this a very moving statement.

One day I hope I will get the chance to meet Peter and talk about consciousness.  Until then I will have to console myself by reading his books.

As for my work this week I see I've managed to write 1,668 words, but this translated into five finished chapters.  So on reflection this has been very much a week of edit what I've written before.  So the evidence suggests that I'm still working my way through the morass of plot and structure hurdles, resulting from the process of converting the first draft of what was a graphic novel, into a first draft of a novel.

In addition I wrote 1,600 words for reviews for Henry at Miniature Wargames & Battlegames  magazine.  So all-in-all not a bad week, even if it's not the most productive week of writing I've had.

NB: Edit to add opinion.

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