Firefall, a book review

Posted: June 10, 2016 in Journalism, Reviews

From SFX #254.

FOUR STARS

Author: Peter Watts

Publisher: Head of Zeus

Pages: 761pp

Human obsolescence beckons.

Firefall is by turns brilliant and merciless, a science-fictionalised philosophical argument that human sentience is neither inevitable nor necessary, and that freewill is an illusion. Dressed up, naturally, with aliens and spaceships and such. Originally two books, it’s released here in the UK in one volume.

Blindsight (original publication date 2006) 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 is sent out to investigate, crewed by a bunch of barely human transhumans and a vampire. (Watts’ vampires are an offshoot human species that died out, resurrected from junk DNA by modern idiots).

Sequel Echopraxia (2014) concerns a second mission. Another story where characters sit around in a spaceship arguing the ontological toss makes for 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’ vampires in particular betray the author’s contempt for the human condition. Watts is a sort of anti-H.G. Wells, or a latterday Invasion of the Boys Snatchers Kevin McCarthy shouting unbelievable, unpalatable truths into the traffic. However, there is an immense amount of actual science, applied creatively – Watts’ aliens are almost inconceivably alien, for example – and it gives much food for thought. By no means nice, this is science fiction that is harder than granite, and about as compromising.

Did you know?

There are “synthesists” in the book, who process complex information for consumption by the masses without understanding it. A sly pop at SF writers, we think…

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Comments
  1. Lasgunpacker says:

    I read the second book in the series without reading the first, and honestly did not like it. “Zombies” and “Vampires” seemed very trite, even if the reasons for them existing were “scientific”, and I found the ending unsatisfying. Your review makes me feel like I did the book an injustice by reading it without reading the prior novel first.

    As an aside, I just picked up The Emperor’s Railroad based on the description, and without realizing that “Guy Haley” was THAT Guy Haley!

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