If we're not in pain, we're not alive
August 25, 2014 11:17 AM Subscribe
You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?Dr. Peter Watts is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials, heartbreaking eulogies, and agonizing run-ins with fascists (and fasciitis) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight [full text] -- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room, the Philosophical Zombie, Chernoff faces, and the myriad quirks and blind spots that haunt the human mind. But Blindsight's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew/ship/"Firefall" notes, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism (PDF - prev.), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section, tomorrow will see the release of
[Note: Watts has made most of his work freely available in multiple formats on his website's Backlist page. His blog, The Crawl, has current info.]
Apart from Blindsight, Watts' best-known work is the "Rifters" trilogy, a grim epic about various bio-engineered anti-heroes struggling against lethal computer viruses and an ancient microbe that threatens to destroy a rapidly deteriorating world. Originally inspired by the short story "Home" [PDF], the completed trilogy is available in three free installments:
- "The Island" [PDF] (previously) - A Hugo-winning 2009 novelette about the jaded human architects of cosmic gateways and their hopeful encounter with a vast and exotic intelligence. Also available as an audio podcast [.mp3] (@0:49:44).
- "The Things" (previously) - A brilliant 2010 reinterpretation of John Carpenter's cult horror classic The Thing as told from the perspective of the film's shapeshifting alien. Likewise available as a full .mp3.
- "Nimbus" [PDF] - (1994) A father tries to reconnect with his daughter in a world where the very atmosphere has become a sentient force bent on destroying humanity. Available as a full .mp3 (@0:31:42)
- "Malak" [pdf] - The ethics of remote warfare are explored through a smart drone that develops its own agenda. Available as a full .mp3 (@0:35:12)
"Ambassador" - "Bethlehem" - "A Niche" - "Flesh Made Word" - "Bulk Food" - "Fractals" - "The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald" - "A Word for Heathens" - "Mayfly" - "Repeating the Past" - "Hillcrest V. Velikovsky"You can also pick up one of his collections if you want several of his stories in one place: Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes, The Island and Other Stories, and Beyond the Rift. You can also donate to his Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund to support his work (and cats).
Beyond novels and stories, his non-fiction forays (including several lectures) are equally worthwhile:
- "The Scorched-Earth Society: A Suicide Bomber's Guide to Online Privacy" [PDF] - (previously) a recent keynote lecture on privacy in the digital age
- "Reality: The Ultimate Mythology", a lecture to the 2011 Toronto SpecFic Colloquium on flaws in human perception
- "God, Jackboots, and Rule 34 -or- How Pornography Could Save the World", another Colloquium talk
- "Iterating Towards Bethlehem" - How a raisin-sized jumping spider with only 600,000 neurons solves complex problems -- and suggests a whole new approach to cognition
- "The Hierarchy of Contempt" [PDF], a response to Margaret Atwood's rejection of the "science fiction" label.
- "Choosing the Way of Pain" [PDF], a conversation about Tolkien's Lord of the Rings
- "The Inspirational Undead" (previously) - The short, sad tale of a strikingly injured pigeon.
- Since There Still Seems to be Some Confusion Over the Title...
- "This insane Ferris wheel stretched a hundred meters from side to side..."
- A Bit of a Twilight Vibe
- Break Fast
- Bright Eyes
- Worst Date Ever
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