Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"Biological" science-fiction

I spent the morning learning about mitosis, meiosis and recombination from YouTube: absorbing the differences between chromatids and chromatin, and figuring out tetrads.

I have a longer-term mission to get my head around genetics, and specifically population genetics, not least to interpret my own genome in its historical context, as these things gradually unveil. However, a proximate driver was reading Echopraxia by Peter Watts.

I was rather taken by the first installment of Watts' alien-contact saga, Blindsight. We're familiar with the exciting extrapolations of the physics/engineering-oriented community: Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein through Greg Bear (Eon, Eternity) and Greg Egan (Quarantine, etc etc); quantum mechanics, relativity, cosmology interlaced with artificial intelligence. But Peter Watts is a biologist and his extrapolation-settings include resurrection of extinct species, brain-re-engineering via retroviruses, biohacked-plagues, genetic enhancement and machine-human hybrids.

I'm quite excited by this future!

Watts has a short linking text - almost a story - to get us to Echopraxia, which was good. So far I'm about half way through the novel .. but disappointment is fluttering just under my consciousness. It's like Watts assembled all the components (he particularly likes super-intelligent Hive Minds) but somehow the engine is misfiring. All that authorial-energy searching for a plot worthy of it!

That's it for now; let me read on - it may all come together.

Update: Finished. Rating upgraded as I get it now. Not a 'there and back again' chase saga as I first surmised, rather an exploration of transcendence and evolutionary replacement of us baseline humans. Wow!

I'd star it (**, ****). Two stars if you're not interested in Watts's preoccupations (intelligence, consciousness, the future of both in the universe); four stars if, like me, you are.