shiny things hovering in the void over a scary black thingThere’s been a recent surge in interest in this book, but I want to make sure I get all possible cred for being in the know by pointing out that I got it out of the library after reading about it in James Nicoll’s blog back in early November. The surge of buzz is due to the fact that Watts has posted the whole book under a Creative Commons license on his website (he did this because the book has been released into a kind of perfect storm of lousy sales which you can read about (at length) on his blog). And in the interest of full disclosure I have to come clean that even though I got it out of the library, I never got around to reading that copy, just kept it for a month and turned it in late without ever having cracked the cover. Instead, I downloaded the novel after he posted it and read it on my Palm.

I really liked the book. It’s refreshing to read such an idea-based hard science fiction novel after the recent rash of disappointing Endeavour hopefuls (Blindsight isn’t eligible since Watts lives outside the Pacific Northwest). In particular, Blindsight builds up to one rather disturbing big idea, but if I told you that (like many other reviewers apparently do), I’d be subverting the whole reason for this book’s existence and you don’t want that, do you?

Fortunately there are a bunch of other fascinating smaller ideas in the rest of the book that I can reveal without particularly spoiling anything. Blindsight is what Alien might look like if it had been written by Oliver Sacks. There are neurological fringe cases all over the book. The point of view character had a radical hemispherectomy as a child to address a seizure disorder. One of the characters has an intentionally induced multiple personality (to better use her brain’s capacity), another has had his brain rewired to extend his sensory range and ability to use telepresence equipment. Another principal character is a vampire.

I hesitate to even mention the vampire connection since it’s mostly a peripheral issue. This isn’t a vampire book in any traditional sense. Watts seems to have included them more as a lark, but he does some very interesting stuff to make his vampires somewhat plausible within the existing vampire mythos as well as showing how their existence might be useful to the rest of us.

So what the book is about is an alien first contact. And it’s a nice scary creepy what-the-heck-are-they-and-what-do-they-want kind of first contact novel rather than the tiresome humanoid-meets-humanoid kind.

So if a claustrophobic, talky, space-based, first contact novel with neurologically marginal but interesting and realistic characters sounds like fun to you, go buy Watts’s book. Or if you’re a cheap bastard like me, get it from the library or download a copy. And when you’ve read it, send me an email and let’s talk about that big scary idea.