Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Sweet Dreams of the Dreams (Make This) (Eurythmics)

Language: Russian

Ummmmkay. Well. So there's this guy, Peter Watts, who writes science fiction. And I wouldn't have found out about him, except that Pharyngula linked to a page of his a while back about vampires.

The page was a clever Power-Pointish presentation about vampire physiology, origins, etc., which is actually brilliant. Not brilliant so much for being well thought-out biologically (though it more or less is), but brilliant for matching the tone and style of this sort of scientific presentation. And I highly recommend watching it, because it's carefully thought-through and elaborate and tonally-perfect. Plus, some of us think physiology lectures are cool in and of themselves.

So, my interest piqued, I looked around his site at basically everything else, and decided, okay, this guy knows how to build worlds in a way that meets or exceeds my exacting standards, and he's got his novels on-line, for free, so what the hell, let's give him a chance and read the book even though science fiction isn't really, "Battlestar Galactica" notwithstanding, my thing.

So I read Blindsight, which is the book for which the Power Point presentation is relevant. And . . . I think a lot of the reason why I don't read much science fiction is that when I do, I'm always interested in the wrong things. Watts is wanting me to think about the nature of consciousness and alien intelligences and the shape and function of the ship, and I'm more interested in the mundane stuff. I want to have long, digressive conversations between crew members completely unrelated to the business at hand. I want the characters to be charming and funny and clever and, you know, personable2. Distinct. Which he does lay out, more than once, the way in which each character is different, physically and mentally, from a standard-issue twentieth-century person. But they all have a tendency to talk kind of the same way, and the characters never really progress beyond their functions on the ship: I know what they look like, and what their job is, but I'm never especially intimate with any of them except the narrator, and so by the time the carnage starts3, I don't feel particularly bad about any of the characters potentially dying: I've never made a connection with any of them, really, despite trying to the whole time I've been reading.

Which means I was a bad reader. Watts points to the breathtaking philosophical space opera taking place on the stage, and I'm back in the control room talking to the guy in charge of the lights about his pets, and where he grew up, and we're discovering that we had the same third-grade teacher, and I only look back at the stage when the explosions begin.

So, Mr. Watts, if you're reading this: it's not you, it's me. But we can still be friends --

I'd still recommend the book to people. Those more accustomed to science fiction as traditionally practiced will no doubt like Blindsight just fine. And in fairness, I think I have probably been somewhat ruined for reading sci-fi by all the sci-fi viewing I've done: this would possibly work just fine for me as a movie. I may yet try one of the other books, reading more slowly, to see if that helps. But so far, the Power Point is the best thing I've seen.


1"FizerPharm: Trust. Profit. Deniability.", e.g.

2Some of them are not un-charming, exactly. And the reader's way into the story is via a character that the others don't especially trust or like, so they don't have much reason to try to ingratiate themselves to him. Which means, they don't have much reason to try to ingratiate themselves to you, the reader, either. Which might be an unavoidable structural flaw.

3I think this can't count as a spoiler, because what sci-fi books don't have carnage?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This will be made sweet:
is it necessary to contradict me?
Peace moves me, and seven seas –
each one is looking for something.
Some of them want to use you;
some of them, they want utilized by you.
To get some from them, they want to misuse you;
some of them, they want to be misused.

(You hold up your head,
you hold up your head;
moving further.)

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