Hu­man ob­so­les­cence beck­ons

SFX - - Books - By turns bril­liant and

Re­lease Date: OUT NOW!

761 pages | £ 20 ( hard­back)/£ 5.79 ( ebook) Au­thor: Peter Watts Pub­lisher: Head Of Zeus mer­ci­less, Fire­fall is a sci­ence-fic­tion­alised philo­soph­i­cal ar­gu­ment that hu­man sen­tience is nei­ther in­evitable nor nec­es­sary, and that free will is an il­lu­sion. Dressed up, nat­u­rally, with aliens and space­ships and such. Orig­i­nally two books, it’s been re­leased here in one vol­ume.

Blind­sight is set at the tail end of a post- sin­gu­lar­ity 21st cen­tury. The catalysing event is the un­ex­pected survey of Earth by an alien in­tel­li­gence. A mis­sion’s sent out to in­ves­ti­gate, crewed by a bunch of barely hu­man tran­shu­mans and a vam­pire. ( Watts’s vam­pires are an off­shoot hu­man species that died out, res­ur­rected from junk DNA by mod­ern idiots.)

Se­quel Echopraxia con­cerns a sec­ond mis­sion. Another story where char­ac­ters sit around in a space­ship ar­gu­ing the on­to­log­i­cal toss makes for a cer­tain amount of over- fa­mil­iar­ity, and it lacks the first’s im­pact.

A sort of cal­lous Ren­dezvous With Rama, the book’s tone tends to the di­dac­tic, while the over- the- top abil­i­ties of Watts’s vam­pires in par­tic­u­lar be­tray the au­thor’s con­tempt for the hu­man con­di­tion. Watts is a sort of anti- HG Wells, or a lat­ter- day Kevin McCarthy shout­ing un­be­liev­able, un­palat­able truths into the traf­fic. How­ever, there’s an im­mense amount of ac­tual sci­ence, ap­plied cre­atively, which pro­vides food for thought. By no means nice, this is SF harder than gran­ite, and about as com­pro­mis­ing. Guy Ha­ley

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