A to Z Challenge: B is for “Blindsight”

BFor today’s A to Z Challenge and letter B, I have my impressions about “Blindsight” by Peter Watts.

I came across this book thanks to Uczta Wyobraźni (The Feast of Imagination) great series by a Polish publisher, featuring most interesting, imaginative, and original writers of the contemporary speculative fiction. My acquaintances and friends kept telling me it’s brilliant and fresh, but they often quietly added the “challenging” part.

I had no choice, I had to read it, and see for myself.

“Blindsight” tells the story of the first contact with an alien species, but if you hope for little green (or gray) people or expect the extraterrestrials to speak perfect English, you’re going to be disappointed. The aliens are truly alien, and the way they think is nothing human-like.

Of course, there are some scientific, sociological, and psychological issues touched within the story, all of them interesting, and not really challenging—I wasn’t a scientific genius back at high-school and nowadays my contact with it is limited to the popular science articles on the web, but I had no trouble following the author’s line of thought, and never was under the impression he swamps the reader with unnecessary and over-complicated info dumps. Or maybe, with my lack of solid knowledge, I just missed the difficult and complicated bits.

Polish hardcover edition of "Blindsight" in the Uczta Wyobraźni series.
Polish hardcover edition of “Blindsight” in the Uczta Wyobraźni series.

The story itself is fast-paced enough to keep the reader’s interest, and the scenes build up to quite dramatic events, and equally dramatic discovery, so science matters aside, it’s still an interesting and entertaining read.

But I could say that about many books I’ve read, so why did “Blindsight” get a spot on my list? It’s not because it starts with B and I had no other book worth mentioning.

It’s the aliens.

I’ve already mentioned they’re nothing like what we’re used to: they don’t have humanoid features, they don’t seem to have any language, and the characters in the book even question their sentience. “Blindsight” really gives “alien” the taste and the meaning it should have, and lets that vision stay with the reader, because it feels real. If the aliens come to us or we discover them at the edges of a distant galaxy, they won’t have a language we can understand and their ideals or goals will most likely be impossible to comprehend for us.

And as much as I like my dose of adventurous space-operas with their colorful cast of odd extraterrestrial beings weird only enough to make them earn the “alien” label (and many times more human than the humans themselves), every once a while it’s nice to read a full-bodied science-fiction that brings the feeling of something truly alien along, even if it’s slightly unsettling. Because “Blindsight” is not a novel to leave all cozy and comfortable, the characters’ discovery with stay with the reader for a long time.

And what about you? Have you read books with an original and (in a way) realistic approach to aliens? Or do you prefer maybe not so deeply-developed, but still interesting and entertaining aliens from more adventure-oriented books?

Joanna Maciejewska

Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games. Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English. Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. sjhigbee

    Ooo… this sounds really interesting! There are a couple of books whose aliens are particularly good – Greg Egan’s aliens in his Orthogonal series are brilliant and China Miéville’s aliens in Embassytown are also extraordinary.

  2. Stephanie Ingram

    I can’t think of any off the top of my head but this book certainly sounds interesting. I’m not usually one for heavy science fiction but I may have to add it to my list. 🙂

      1. melfka

        Oh, do! I’m curious what you’ll think about it. I enjoyed his “Starfish” even more, I think, but I have another title for “S”, so I went for “Blindsight”.

        1. portiabridget

          I won’t hesitate to let you know as soon as I read this one. Already acquired my copy. 😉

    1. melfka

      I don’t think it’s as heavy as people say. I have no scientific background, and was able to follow the concept, but I know of people who claimed the “science” (sometimes it was more sociology and psychology really) was difficult for them to grasp.

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