echopraxia

Is is very rare that a book can truly be thought-provoking these days, especially works of fiction in an age of consumerism, materialism, and pop culture. It’s even rarer that I count down the days until the book is released. On August 26, 2014 Peter Watts released Echopraxia, the sequel to Blindsight. Not only did I purchase it as soon as possible, but also purchased the first edition hardcover instead of the Kindle version. It did not disappoint—I read all 384 pages in one day.

Echopraxia is a continuation of the story of humanity’s reaction to an ambiguous but very direct contact on Earth from something outside the solar system. This book is about the second space mission that investigates this contact. This occurs after the results of the first one in Blindsight are unknown. It is set about 80 years in the future and includes a human population that pushes the upper and lower limits of development.

In this novel, things such as genetically modified humans that have a phenotype traits similar to vampires and zombie soldiers are presented in a convincing light. The allegory for designed obsolescence is further hammered in the book when upgrades of the body are contrasted to those who are unmodified “baselines.” Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything here.

The various interactions between these humanity “types” caused me to consider the social interactions of human beings today, and this is not the only consideration of the modern world this book has caused me to reevaluate. Concepts such as consciousness, levels of control and manipulation, and determinism are dwelt on in this book in ways not seen in general publishing since the Enlightenment. Allow me to highlight  some choice excerpts:

Long before art and science and philosophy arose consciousness had but one function: not to merely implement motor commands but to mediate between commands in opposition.

This passage really got me thinking about the nature of consciousness. The way it is framed actually had me questioning whether it really existed, and was not just a set of higher-level programming in an organic brain that is merely perceived as “conscious” due to increasing complexity.

Hell rationality itself—the exalted human ability to reason—-hadn’t evolved in the pursuit of truth but simply to win arguments, to gain control: to bend others, by means logical or sophistic, to your will.

This reminded me that your opponent in a debate might not actually care about the truth and is just peddling influence. It also give me a way to articulate my thoughts the next time someone is trying to push political influence on me when their goal is not the truth.

Truth had never been a priority. If believing a lie kept the genes proliferating, the system would believe that lie with all its heart.

This reminds me of the current artificially constructed systems that have a lie at their core necessary for the continuation of that system (e.g. feminism).

It’s all window dressing. They think they’re really sticking it to you but they’re being herded into the service of agendas they’d never support in a thousand years, if only they knew. And they’re dedicated, Daniel. They’re ferocious. They fight your wars with a passion you could never buy and never coerce, because they’re doing it out of pure ideology.

This quote is in reference to activists in the book and how they are doing the dirty deeds for the system they think they are fighting against. Applying this logic to current political and social activism, one should question who truly benefits from such activism, and consider that maybe those beneficiaries are the true hidden string-pullers.

Peter Watts covers quite a bit of philosophy and science in his book. All of it seems very well-based in actual modern ideas and concepts. He even has a bibliography at the end of his book highlighting where to look for information on these ideas. This allows the reader to look up scientific and philosophical ideas themselves and draw their own conclusions.

Overall, this book is a work beyond just science fiction. It is not the province of nerds alone. It is one of the few cases of literary open-mindedness today and is not wishy-washy propaganda. It is very sophisticated, and you might have to look up certain terms and concepts in order to understand them. I know I did. Nothing worth knowing in this world is easy, though. If you want to step it up from Tom Clancy or Twilight pulp fiction, this is the book for you.

Read More: Echopraxia, By Peter Watts