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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Echopraxia (Firefall, #2)Echopraxia by Peter Watts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The novel is surprisingly easy to place in the taxonomy of great science fiction. Of course, to do so, one must first place Blindsight in it's proper place. It was a philosophical discussion on consciousness. Echopraxia, follows it's predecessor's conclusions, necessary story extrapolations, but it takes a sharp right turn when it brings up its primary philosophical mode. We put down consciousness for a moment, and pick up the discussion on free will. It might help to know the definition of the title: The involuntary repetition or imitation of another person's actions.

I loved the old topic. I rather prayed that it would continue, and it did in a lesser capacity. But instead of blowing my conscious mind again, we came along on a Hard-Sci-Fi ride that bumped me about on a God trip.

Wait! Wait, you might say. Is this a lovecraftian mashup with hard sf? Nope. Then is it an unintelligent social-dynamic exploration thing? Nope, not at all. Then what is it?

It's an exploration of how biology wires us to look for god, and how that expression manifests in all the new subspecies of human, and it happens in some of the most surprising of ways. Why do his absolutely friggin' fantastic portrayals of vampires believe in God? They're so smart that we've enslaved them to play the stock market or work out the hoariest of mathematical calculations. They glitch when they see right angles, unless they're put on a drug cycle, but more than anything, they're the most frightening thing from humanity's past, and the reasons are constantly renewed.

Seriously. I'm in awe. Vampires are so damn unpredictable, and it's worse because they can fly ahead with so many strange mental predictors to play everyone out in real life as if we're just pawns in chess. You think you've heard this tale? Try again. These aren't any kind of vampire I've ever seen. Try describing an autistic savant as an ultimate predator and you might have a slight inkling, but believe me, these vamps are better. They're hardly one or two dimensional, and they definitely don't match up with anything remotely social.

If they can see ahead so far as to play with all our destinies, then we've got just a small part of this novel revealed. Unfortunately for us, every species likes to play god, and let's not forget the alien species that still makes me shiver in delight and awe.

For a novel that devotes so much attention to free will, I rarely had a feeling that I had any during the reading of it.

I think I play a game with novels that most of us play to a more or less greater degree. I enjoy trying to parse out the plot well before the official reveals. For this novel, I really tried. Unfortunately, I was consistently left floundering because my brain had short-circuited in much the same ways that the characters did, as well. We are wired this way. We see the tiger in the bush, whether or not the tiger is really there. We draw eyes on the wall and immediately extrapolate a deity that watches over us. I get it. And I love how these quasi-post-singularity humans mess with their own programming along the spectrum, to greater or lesser successes in warding off the tiger.

Even aliens have to deal with the tiger. You know what I mean, you Kipling readers. It's all about eat or be eaten, even when you're discussing God.

The one thing I love the most about the novel is the main character. It was a severe departure from Blindsight, because he isn't one of the many strangenesses that came out of humanity's evolution. He is an honest baseline human surrounded by others who are smarter, faster, and more adaptable than him. I won't get into his story because it's quite fun in the novel, but suffice to say, it's worth it.

Is this a worthy successor to Blindsight?

That's an excellent question. I truly loved Blindsight, and most of that was due in particular to the main topic at hand. Echopraxia, by contrast, is up against a very, very long tradition of writers who have all tried to tackle the same question. I did particularly enjoy how Peter Watts gave credit to Dune, which was an excellent example of the same.

On the balance, Echopraxia is a fantastic standalone novel. As a direct sequel, there are a few solid connection points, but it doesn't need or beg for true resolution from Blindsight.

If I try to balance the two novels together, Blindsight's weight will knock Echopraxia off the scale. It only suffers in direct comparison, but by itself it rocks.

Do I recommend the novel? Hell yes. Great action, great characters, excellent suspense, and (again) fanfuckingtastic aliens.

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