My rating: 5 of 5 stars
i read Watts’ books as much for the science as for the story, and i have to say, they are the meatiest sf you can get, in terms of really fascinating science. any other book you’ve read lately have 140 footnotes marking scientific papers & other research?
Echopraxia should really be read after Blindsight, even though they are contemporaneous (more or less), not consecutive. most aliens in sf aren’t really so very alien–they are some variety of human experience, often exaggerated or skewed, but still… you recognize them. Blindsight‘s aliens are really, really alien, and not only that, so in some ways are the humans who spacefare out toward the Kuiper Belt to investigate them.
Echopraxia takes place back on earth and on a sunward voyage, and the connection between the characters is a very slender one. the very alien aliens have not arrived on earth, and the messages from the spacefarers have not, in large part, arrived. but humans are not particularly good at sitting around waiting, and so… they haven’t.
let’s just say, things back home are not pretty.
in Blindsight Watts did a thorough examination of consciousness. in Echopraxia he’s taking on “invisible sky fairies seriously enough to incorporate into a hard SF novel”–in other words, religion. but this is not a theological treatise like Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow or any of a zillion snot-nosed, shooting-fish-in-a-barrel takedowns of organized religion–he’s seriously contemplating what a deity might be, how it might manifest, and what it would mean for us mere mortals (particularly us atheist mortals).
this is not the god of fire and brimstone, or of eternal ponies in the sky. this is not a god that is like us, only better. in fact i don’t think i can tell you exactly what Watts’ god might be like, except that to it, we humans are very, very small. and not particularly beloved.
i adore writing that takes risks–big risks–and gives me a well-stocked playroom full of new concepts and new thoughts. and you just can’t get any better than Watts for all that. he’s probably not ever going to be warm and fuzzy like Dickens (whom i adore, even when he sharpens up his prose to razors), nor make the bestseller lists, nor have legions of fans who say that his book changed their lives/made them laugh, made them cry/lifted them up to transcendence, etc etc. but if you can read a Watts book and not think hard about it for months after… you’d best make sure your circuitry is still functioning.