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Blindsight

by Peter Watts

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Firefall (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,3501224,978 (3.91)106
Two months since the stars fell... Two months since sixty-five thousand alien objects clenched around the Earth like a luminous fist, screaming to the heavens as the atmosphere burned them to ash. Two months since that moment of brief, bright surveillance by agents unknown. Two months of silence, while a world holds its breath. Now some half-derelict space probe, sparking fitfully past Neptune's orbit, hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever's out there isn't talking to us. It's talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer, somethingen route. So who do you send to force introductions on an intelligence with motives unknown, maybe unknowable? Who do you send to meet the alien when the alien doesn't want to meet? You send a linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into separate, sentient processing cores. You send a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultrasound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. You send a pacifist warrior in the faint hope she won't be needed, and the fainter one she'll do any good if she is. You send a monster to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once calledvampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics and the blood of sociopaths. And you send asynthesist--an informational topologist with half his mind gone--as an interface betweenhereandthere, a conduit through which the Dead Center might hope to understand the Bleeding Edge. You send them all to the edge of interstellar space, praying you can trust such freaks and retrofits with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they've been sent to find. But you'd give anything for that to be true, if you only knew what was waiting for them...… (more)
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  9. 00
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» See also 106 mentions

English (120)  Italian (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (122)
Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
I wanted so badly to like this. While initially I was put off by the thought of "vampires in space," once I read some more about Blindsight and realized it wouldn't be nearly so cheesy, I jumped right in.

Science fiction horror is my favorite genre, and I have read quite a few books (hard science fiction included!) and articles and think-pieces in my time; I've even taken a few college-level psychology and biology classes. However passé it is to say this, I consider myself pretty intelligent. But I found Blindsight too obtuse, to the point of unreadability.

The "big ideas" (the Chinese Room, Heaven, sentience) were well executed and explained; no problem there. But it felt as though, since Watts did all this research, he might as well cram all of it in there. This leads to plenty of concepts scattered throughout the story with little to no explanation, and they keep on coming. If I took the time to look up and understand everything he casually drops in, the book would have taken me twice as long to get through. But reading it as I did, hoping context clues would get me through and that anything truly important would be explained, just left me confused and lost. (In fact, reading the end notes, I found out that some of the jargon is made up! Which is fine if that's all you're doing, but you can't combine real and imaginary concepts and not make a distinction.)

I have no problem with Siri as the narrator - it ties in neatly with ideas of the Chinese Room and sentience vs intelligence. While his narration was a bit removed, it served a purpose. But this left me with no feel for any of the other characters. I didn't even know Bates was supposed to be 10 feet tall with some kind of cybernetic enhancements until I read the (unnecessary) section where she makes peace with a Realist terrorist. And then it's never mentioned again. That's just a basic failure in description and world-building. Same with Cunningham and Spzindel(?) and James: we get the bare minimum of description. Even Siri, the famed objective observer, would surely make more note of their physical characteristics than that.

Similarly, I had no problem with the disjointed sections inside the Rorschach (those were some of my favorite parts - Rorschach threatening Susan was chilling) or their struggles to understand the Scramblers. These things are alien in all senses of the word, of course no one would be able to understand them (I, too, am tired of bipedal aliens that manage to resemble us in all major ways). But the whole narrative felt disjointed: Siri is the narrator, and there are sections that delve into his past (including a failed relationship that I don't understand the necessity of including), but there are also sections where he's imagining being other crew members, and sections that are actually about other crew members. It's confusing to keep track of which timeline we're in, or even who we're following.

My main issue (besides the overload of unexplained concepts) is that there are so many tantalizing hints that are dropped where an explanation is expected, but never comes.
Why is Siri so strange? Simply because of the hemispherectomy? But hemispherectomys are actually very safe and brains are very plastic, especially when young, and there are no evidences of severe personality or cognition changes after such a procedure. It's very safe and effective, so makes no sense that Siri would be so radically changed, especially after having the procedure so young.
Why does Sarasti attack Siri? There was some kind of "purpose" hinted at, but Watts just assumes you'll understand it.
Why did Sarasti make the other crew complicit in keeping the secret of the Scrambler's from Siri? Apparently it was so Siri could figure out on his own that the Scramblers weren't sentient, but why couldn't he have just told him? Why was it so important he reach the conclusion himself?
Why do they all make the conclusion that the Scramblers are indicative of every other life form in the universe, and that humans are the strange ones? You can't take one interaction and then assume that's the norm! That's bad science!


Rather than a science fiction story with roots in today's ideas, this felt more like a narrative meant to combine those ideas. Meaning: the science overtook the fiction. ( )
  Elna_McIntosh | Sep 29, 2021 |
I was really intrigued with this story. There was a lot of concepts that I enjoyed exploring, such as the idea of human consciousness being up loadable into a computer system (obviously separating our psychic nature from our biological machinery). This sets the stage for the author to present his ideas about the relationship between intelligence and consciousness (which I generally associate with defining individuality or ego) in a first contact story very similar to how [book: Space Odyssey 2001] reads. On top of this, there are several hard science concepts and theories that had me scrambling to my references to see if he had invented it or if it was real (a lot was real and I actually learned a lot about the current state of science exploration). The author supplies a ton of citations and references to many of the concepts that he uses within the story.

I don't agree with some of the author's premises, but it was an interesting discussion none-the-less and added to my enjoyment of the book.

This book is currently available online (for free) here.

A very good review (with spoilers) is available here. ( )
  Kris.Larson | Sep 13, 2021 |
Found this to be a bit needlessly cryptic at the beginning (bit like William Gibson), but picked up the pace and some clarity as it went on. Some really interesting ideas about extended cognition and sentience / free will embedded in an action story with aliens and explosions. ( )
1 vote paulusm | Aug 12, 2021 |
This sort of reminded me of the 2nd and 3rd book in the Annihilation trilogy - lots of amazing ideas, but I had a really hard time following some of the narrative and it made me want to see a movie or tv version of it.

There are some really deep, thought-provoking ideas about intelligence, language, consciousness, identity and more but the 1st person perspective and the pacing was so strange that the ideas never flew off the page like I wanted them to and I spent the entire read mildly frustrated.

Also, vampires. And digital heaven. And really crazy world building, maybe I'm not smart enough to comprehend all the science-fiction and science in here.

Weird one. ( )
  hskey | May 31, 2021 |
After hearing this one recommended everyday on Reddit, being a fan of first contact stories and seeing it on the Hugo nominees for it's year, I decided to give it a shot. It's what a lot of people consider "hard sci-fi", but I'm slowly realizing is really just "hard to read" sci-fi. The story is very slow moving, with very little happening, and most of the exploration taking place in the descriptions of events, the types of beings and awareness.

There were a number of interesting ideas presented as well as some interesting characters, but in the end I wasn't able to connect with the story. ( )
  adamfortuna | May 28, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 120 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peter Wattsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bear, ElizabethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pringle, ThomasCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shimada, YoichiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
Try to touch the past. Try to deal with the past. It's not real. It's just a dream.
- Ted Bundy
Dedication
For Lisa
If we're not in pain, we're not alive.
First words
It didn't start out here.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Two months since the stars fell... Two months since sixty-five thousand alien objects clenched around the Earth like a luminous fist, screaming to the heavens as the atmosphere burned them to ash. Two months since that moment of brief, bright surveillance by agents unknown. Two months of silence, while a world holds its breath. Now some half-derelict space probe, sparking fitfully past Neptune's orbit, hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever's out there isn't talking to us. It's talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer, somethingen route. So who do you send to force introductions on an intelligence with motives unknown, maybe unknowable? Who do you send to meet the alien when the alien doesn't want to meet? You send a linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into separate, sentient processing cores. You send a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultrasound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. You send a pacifist warrior in the faint hope she won't be needed, and the fainter one she'll do any good if she is. You send a monster to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once calledvampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics and the blood of sociopaths. And you send asynthesist--an informational topologist with half his mind gone--as an interface betweenhereandthere, a conduit through which the Dead Center might hope to understand the Bleeding Edge. You send them all to the edge of interstellar space, praying you can trust such freaks and retrofits with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they've been sent to find. But you'd give anything for that to be true, if you only knew what was waiting for them...

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Sentient contact?

Conscious thought avails you not

Scramblers are coming

(amweb)

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