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Peter Watts

Peter Watts is a marine-mammal biologist. He has received the Aurora, Hugo, and Shirley Jackson awards. His science fiction has been used as a core text in science and philosophy courses as well as the usual gamut of sf electives; he only wishes his actual science had been taken half as seriously, back in the day. Both he and his cat have appeared in the prestigious journal Nature. Watts lives in Toronto. Click here for more stories by Peter Watts.

Firefall

Firefall — (2006-2014) Two months since the stars fell… Two months since sixty-five thousand alien objects clenched around the Earth like a luminous fist, screaming to the heavens as the atmosphere burned them to ash. Two months since that moment of brief, bright surveillance by agents unknown. Two months of silence, while a world holds its breath. Now some half-derelict space probe, sparking fitfully past Neptune’s orbit, hears a whisper from the edge of the solar system: a faint signal sweeping the cosmos like a lighthouse beam. Whatever’s out there isn’t talking to us. It’s talking to some distant star, perhaps. Or perhaps to something closer, something en route. So who do you send to force introductions on an intelligence with motives unknown, maybe unknowable? Who do you send to meet the alien when the alien doesn’t want to meet? You send a linguist with multiple personalities, her brain surgically partitioned into separate, sentient processing cores. You send a biologist so radically interfaced with machinery that he sees x-rays and tastes ultrasound, so compromised by grafts and splices he no longer feels his own flesh. You send a pacifist warrior in the faint hope she won’t be needed, and the fainter one she’ll do any good if she is. You send a monster to command them all, an extinct hominid predator once called vampire, recalled from the grave with the voodoo of recombinant genetics and the blood of sociopaths. And you send a synthesist — an informational topologist with half his mind gone — as an interface between here and there, a conduit through which the Dead Center might hope to understand the Bleeding Edge. You send them all to the edge of interstellar space, praying you can trust such freaks and retrofits 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 only knew what was waiting for them…

Blindsight: Mind-blowing hard SF about first contact, consciousness

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Blindsight by Peter Watts

This is ‘hard science fiction’ in the truest sense of the term — hard science concepts, hard-to-understand writing at times, and hard-edged philosophy of mind and consciousness. Peter Watts aggressively tackles weighty subjects like artificial intelligence, evolutionary biology, genetic modification, sentience vs intelligence, first contact with aliens utterly different from humanity, and a dystopian future where humans are almost superfluous and would rather retreat into VR. Blindsight (2006) is also a tightly-told story of an exploration vessel manned by five heavily-modified post-humans commanded by a super-intelligent vampire, and a very tense and claustrophobic narrative that demands a lot from readers. If that sounds like your kind of book, you’ll find this is one of the best hard science fiction books in the last 10 ye... Read More

Echopraxia: Nowhere near as good as Blindsight

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Echopraxia by Peter Watts

I was extremely impressed by Peter WattsBlindsight (2006), a diamond-hard sci-fi novel about first contact, AIs, evolutionary biology, genetically-engineered vampires, sentience vs intelligence, and virtual reality. It is an intense experience, relentless in its demands on the reader, but makes you think very hard about whether humanity’s sentience (as we understand it) is really as great as we generally think it is.

The short answer, according to Watts, is no. It’s an evolutionary fluke, was never necessary for survival, and will actually be a hindrance when we encounter more advanced alien species, most of which may have developed high levels of intelligence without wasting any precious brain capacity on sentience, self-awareness, or “... Read More

Magazine Monday: Theodore Sturgeon Award Nominees

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The Theodore Sturgeon Award will be given to one lucky author at next weekend’s Campbell Conference Awards Banquet in Lawrence, Kansas. The banquet caps both the Writers Workshop in Science Fiction and the Novel Writers Workshop in Science fiction, and is the kick-off event for the Intensive English Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction. Writers mingle with academics, which must make gathering that a studious reader would find pretty lively. I wish I were going to be there myself.

Instead, I’m doing the next best thing and reviewing all of the nominees for the Sturgeon Award. This award is granted to the best science fiction short story, though the length of the “short” story varies widely in this year’s field, from Eleanor Arnason’s “Mammoths of the Great Plains, a long novella, to the tidbit that is Yoon Ha Lee... Read More

SFM: Baker, Chatham, Watts, Fawver, Liu

Short Fiction Monday: Sharing our finds in free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet.

“The Likely Lad” by Kage Baker (2002, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Starship Sofa podcast #23)

Kage Baker is one of my favorite authors. I love her sense of humor and sardonic voice. She’s at it again in “The Likely Lad,” a funny novelette that you can find in print in Asimov’s Volume 26(9) or free in audio format from Starship Sofa’s podcast #23 (which I listened to and recommend).

The story, which tak... Read More

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: An enjoyable collection

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The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014 edited by Rich Horton

I've been reading a lot of anthologies lately, including another of the several "Year's Best" collections (the Jonathan Strahan one). I was pleased to find that, unlike some of the others, this one matched my tastes fairly well for the most part.

I enjoy stories in which capable, likeable or sympathetic characters, confronted by challenges, confront them right back and bring the situation to some sort of meaningful conclusion. I was worried when I read the editor's introduction and saw him praising Lightspeed and Clarkesworld magazines, because they can often be the home of another kind of story, in which alienated, passive characters are... Read More