Blindsight is a novel by sci-fi author and cynical marine biologist Peter Watts. It mixes neuro-punk with first contact by sending a crew of transhumans past Pluto to investigate an alien race in the Oort Cloud. While the crew pushes the limits of what is human physically and mentally the creatures they meet seem to defy any earthly conception of lifeforms or minds.
MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
Imagine that you had grand mal seizures that threaten to kill you at a young age. Imagine that to save your life they had to cut out half of your brain and most of your soul to save you. Imagine you grew up as the permanently depersonalized remains of the person you use to be. You are Siri Keeton, the protagonist of the story. You're a synthesist by trade. On paper you translate technical information into something that CEOs and laymen can understand, in reality you translate whole system; theory and theorist. Six years ago your sky caught fire as sixty-two thousand alien probes self destructed on the edge of space. The world just got its picture taken and it wants to send you and eight others to find out who took it. You wake up five years later from a nap decided for you by the ships captain, its computer. Your crew mates are all freaks like yourself, products of science with parts hacked out of them to make room for enhancements, more and less than human. Your commanding officer is the genetic ancestor of psychopathy and savantism. All of this is nothing compared to what you find. A torus twenty kilometers across orbiting a brown dwarf, growing from branches that resemble thorns, feeding on magnetism and breathing hard radiation. It speaks to you plain English but you can't make sense of its answers. Discovering the truth will require a descent into the behemoth; but between the hard radiation slicing up your cells and the magnetic fields activating parts of your brain you didn't know you had you'll be lucky to make it out alive... and what you find may make you wish you hadn't.
So how does this book stack up. It is definitely hard sci-fi and while the story is well written and very engaging the level of technical detail will probably turn away most casual readers. It follows Asimov's one impossibility per book rule with the vampires which both serve a purpose with regards to the book's point and are freaking awesome besides. The number of concepts touched on is staggering, starting in neurology and moving to evolutionary psychology, strategy, (exo)biology, and most importantly cognitive science. Most of the major technologies include a section in a bibliography which provides more than a few disturbing insights into our future. If it had a flaw it would be that it ends on a very sad note. We don't exactly lose, but it's a Pyrrhic victory.
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If you are a fan of hard science fiction or just want a story that will make you think then you will probably like Blindsight. Because of issues with his publisher Watts decided to make his work available under a creative commons license. It can be found for free here. If you're not sure if you would like it this twenty minute presentation on vampire domestication will give you a sense of Watts's style and the content of the book.