Blindsight is the Hugo Award–nominated novel by Peter Watts, "a hard science fiction writer through and through and one of the very best alive" (The Globe and Mail).
Two months have past since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since―until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who should we send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn't want to meet?
Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder and a biologist so spliced with machinery that he can't feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters 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 knew what was waiting for them. . . .
“Watts explores the nature of consciousness in this stimulating hard SF novel, which combines riveting action with a fascinating alien environment. Watts puts a terrifying and original spin on the familiar alien contact story. ” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A brilliant piece of work, one that will delight fans of hard science fiction, but will also demonstrate to literary fans that contemporary science fiction is dynamic and fascinating literature that demands to be read.” ―The Edmonton Journal
“Astonishingly readable book. . . . [Watts is] one of the two or three best hard SF writers around, and this is his finest book to date.” ―Interzone
"Blindsight is fearless: a magnificent, darkly gleaming jewel of a book that hurdles the contradictions inherent in biochemistry, consciousness, and human hearts without breaking stride. Imagine you are Siri Keeton. Imagine you are nothing at all. You don't have to; Peter Watts has done it for you.” ―Elizabeth Bear, author of Hammered
“Peter Watts has taken the core myths of the First Contact story and shaken them to pieces. The result is a shocking and mesmerizing performance, a tour-de-force of provocative and often alarming ideas. It is a rare novel that has the potential to set science fiction on an entirely new course. Blindsight is such a book.” ―Karl Schroeder
“Blindsight is a tour de force, redefining the First Contact story for good. Peter Watts' aliens are neither humans in funny make-up nor incomprehensible monoliths beyond human comprehension -- they're something new and infinitely more disturbing, forcing us to confront unpalatable possibilities about the nature of consciousness. It's good, and it'll make your skin crawl when you stop to think about it. Strongly recommended: this may be the best hard SF read of 2006.” ―Charles Stross
“Blindsight is excellent. It's state-of-the-art science fiction: smart, dark and it grabs you by the throat from page one. Like a C J Cherryh book it makes you feel the danger of the hostile environment (or lack of one) out there. And unlike many books it plays with some fascinating possibilities in human development (I like the idea of some disabilities becoming advantages here) and some disconcerting ideas about human consciousness (understanding what action preceding though actually means). What else can I say? Thanks for giving me the privilege of reading this.” ―Neal Asher
“It seems clear that every second Peter Watts is not actually writing must be spent reading, out at the cutting edge of all the sciences and all the arts at once. Only that can't be so, because he obviously spends fully as much time thinking about everything he's read, before he sits down to turn it into story. His latest starts by proving that there are circumstances in which half a brain is better than one, or even a dozen-and then builds steadily in strangeness and wonder with every page. If Samuel R. Delany, Greg Egan and Vernor Vinge had collaborated to update Algis Budrys's classic Rogue Moon for the new millenium, they might have produced a novel as powerful and as uniquely beautiful as Blindsight. Its narrator is one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever encountered in fiction.” ―Spider Robinson, co-author of Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson
Peter Watts is a former marine biologist, flesh-eating-disease survivor and convicted felon whose novels―despite an unhealthy focus on space vampires―have become required texts for university courses ranging from Philosophy to Neuropsychology.
His work is available in 21 languages, has appeared in over 350 best-of-year anthologies, and been nominated for over 50 awards in a dozen countries. His (somewhat shorter) list of 20 actual wins includes the Hugo, the Shirley Jackson, and the Seiun.
Peter is the author of the Rifters novels (Starfish, Maelstrom) and the Firefall series (Blindsight, Echopraxia).
Blood makes noise.
Imagine you are Siri Keeton.
You wake in an agony of resurrection, gasping after a record-shattering bout of sleep apnea spanning one hundred forty days. You can feel your blood, syrupy with dobutamine and leuenkephalin, forcing its way through arteries shriveled by months on standby. The body inflates in painful increments: blood vessels dilate, flesh peels apart from flesh, ribs crack in your ears with sudden unaccustomed flexion. Your joints have seized up through disuse. You’re a stick man, frozen in some perverse rigor vitae.
You’d scream if you had the breath.
Vampires did this all the time, you remember. It was normal for them, it was their own unique take on resource conservation. They could have taught your kind a few things about restraint, if that absurd aversion to right angles hadn’t done them in at the dawn of civilization. Maybe they still can. They’re back now, after all—raised from the grave with the voodoo of paleogenetics, stitched together from junk genes and fossil marrow steeped in the blood of sociopaths and high-functioning autistics. One of them commands this very mission. A handful of his genes live on in your own body so it too can rise from the dead, here at the edge of interstellar space. Nobody gets past Jupiter without becoming part vampire.
The pain begins, just slightly, to recede. You fire up your inlays and access your own vitals. It’ll be long minutes before your body responds fully to motor commands, hours before it stops hurting. The pain’s an unavoidable side effect. That’s just what happens when you splice vampire subroutines into Human code. You asked about painkillers once, but nerve blocks of any kind compromise metabolic reactivation. Suck it up, soldier.
You wonder if this was how it felt for Chelsea, before the end. But that evokes a whole other kind of pain, so you block it out and concentrate on the life pushing its way back into your extremities. Suffering in silence, you check the logs for fresh telemetry.
You think: That can’t be right.
Because if it is, you’re in the wrong part of the universe. You’re not in the Kuiper Belt where you belong: you’re high above the ecliptic and deep into the Oort, the realm of long-period comets that only grace the sun every million years or so. You’ve gone interstellar, which means (you bring up the system clock) you’ve been undead for eighteen hundred days.
You’ve overslept by almost five years.
The lid of your coffin slides away. Your own cadaverous body reflects from the mirrored bulkhead opposite, a desiccated lungfish waiting for the rains. Bladders of isotonic saline cling to its limbs like engorged antiparasites, like the opposite of leeches. You remember the needles going in just before you shut down, way back when your veins were more than dry twisted filaments of beef jerky.
Szpindel’s reflection stares back from his own pod to your immediate right. His face is as bloodless and skeletal as yours. His wide sunken eyes jiggle in their sockets as he reacquires his own links, sensory interfaces so massive that your own off-the-shelf inlays amount to shadow puppetry in comparison.
You hear coughing and the rustling of limbs just past line of sight, catch glimpses of reflected motion where the others stir at the edge of vision.
“Wha... ” your voice is barely more than a hoarse whisper, “... happ... ?”
Szpindel works his jaw. Bone cracks audibly.
“... Sssuckered,” he hisses.
You haven’t even met the aliens yet, and already they’re running rings around you.
So we dragged ourselves back from the dead: five part-time cadavers, naked, emaciated, barely able to move even in zero g. We emerged from our coffins like premature moths ripped from their cocoons, still half-grub. We were alone and off course and utterly helpless, and it took a conscious effort to remember: They would never have risked our lives if we hadn’t been essential.
“Morning, commissar.” Isaac Szpindel reached one trembling, insensate hand for the feedback gloves at the base of his pod. Just past him, Susan James was curled into a loose fetal ball, murmuring to herselves. Only Amanda Bates, already dressed and cycling through a sequence of bone-cracking isometrics, possessed anything approaching mobility. Every now and then she tried bouncing a rubber ball off the bulkhead; but not even she was up to catching it on the rebound yet.
The journey had melted us down to a common archetype. James’s round cheeks and hips; Szpindel’s high forehead and lumpy, lanky chassis—even the enhanced carboplatinum brick shit house that Bates used for a body—all had shriveled to the same desiccated collection of sticks and bones. Even our hair seemed to have become strangely discolored during the voyage, although I knew that was impossible. More likely it was just filtering the pallor of the skin beneath. Still. The pre-dead James had been dirty blond, Szpindel’s hair had been almost dark enough to call black, but the stuff floating from their scalps looked the same dull kelpy brown to me now. Bates kept her head shaved, but even her eyebrows weren’t as rusty as I remembered them.
We’d revert to our old selves soon enough. Just add water. For now, though, the old slur was freshly relevant: The Undead really did all look the same, if you didn’t know how to look.
If you did, of course—if you forgot appearance and watched for motion, ignored meat and studied topology—you’d never mistake one for another. Every facial tic was a data point, every conversational pause spoke volumes more than the words to either side. I could see James’s personae shatter and coalesce in the flutter of an eyelash. Szpindel’s unspoken distrust of Amanda Bates shouted from the corner of his smile. Every twitch of the phenotype cried aloud to anyone who knew the language.
“Where’s—” James croaked, coughed, waved one spindly arm at Sarasti’s empty coffin gaping at the end of the row.
Szpindel’s lips cracked in a small rictus. “Gone back to Fab, eh? Getting the ship to build some dirt to lie on.”
“Probably communing with the Captain.” Bates breathed louder than she spoke, a dry rustle from pipes still getting reacquainted with the idea of respiration.
James again: “Could do that up here.”
“Could take a dump up here, too,” Szpindel rasped. “Some things you do by yourself, eh?”
And some things you kept to yourself. Not many baselines felt comfortable locking stares with a vampire—Sarasti, ever courteous, tended to avoid eye contact for exactly that reason—but there were other surfaces to his topology, just as mammalian and just as readable. If he had withdrawn from public view, maybe I was the reason. Maybe he was keeping secrets.
After all, Theseus damn well was.
She’d taken us a good fifteen AUs toward our destination before something scared her off course. Then she’d skidded north like a startled cat and started climbing: a wild high three-g burn off the ecliptic, thirteen hundred tonnes of momentum bucking against Newton’s first. She’d emptied her Penn tanks, bled dry her substrate mass, squandered a hundred forty days’ of fuel in hours. Then a long cold coast through the abyss, years of stingy accounting, the thrust of every antiproton weighed against the drag of sieving it from the void. Teleportation isn’t magic: the Icarus stream couldn’t send us the actual antimatter it made, only the quantum specs. Theseus had to filterfeed the raw material from space, one ion at a time. For long dark years she’d made do on pure inertia, hording every swallowed atom. Then a flip; ionizing lasers strafing the space ahead; a ramscoop thrown wide in a hard brake. The weight of a trillion trillion protons slowed her down and refilled her gut and flattened us all over again. Theseus had burned relentlessly until almost the moment of our resurrection.
It was easy enough to retrace those steps; our course was there in ConSensus for anyone to see. Exactly why the ship had blazed that trail was another matter. Doubtless it would all come out during the post-rez briefing. We were hardly the first vessel to travel under the cloak of sealed orders, and if there’d been a pressing need to know by now we’d have known by now. Still, I wondered who had locked out the Comm logs. Mission Control, maybe. Or Sarasti. Or Theseus herself, for that matter. It was easy to forget the Quantical AI at the heart of our ship. It stayed so discreetly in the background, nurtured and carried us and permeated our existence like an unobtrusive god; but like God, it never took your calls.
Sarasti was the official intermediary. When the ship did speak, it spoke to him—and Sarasti called it Captain.
So did we all.
He’d given us four hours to come back. It took more than three just to get me out of the crypt. By then my brain was at least firing on most of its synapses, although my body—still sucking fluids like a thirsty sponge—continued to ache with every movement. I swapped out drained electrolyte bags for fresh ones and headed aft.
Fifteen minutes to spin-up. Fifty to the post-resurrection briefing. Just enough time for those who preferred gravity-bound sleep to haul their personal effects into the drum and stake out their allotted 4.4 square meters of floor space.
Gravity—or any centripetal facsimile thereof—did not appeal to me. I set up my own tent in zero g and as far to stern as possible, nuzzling the forward wall of the starboard shuttle tube. Th...