#RRSciFiMonth: Echopraxia by Peter Watts
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Oh The Books and Rinn Reads this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Firefall
Publisher: Tor (August 26, 2014)
Author Information: Website
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
I thought I would be going into Echopraxia with two strikes against me. First, the fact that I haven’t read Blindsight which is the first book in the Firefall series, and second, there was the worry that the book would be too “hard sci-fi” for my tastes. Fortunately, neither really ended up being an obstacle. Sure, I had my issues with this novel, but those have little to do with my original concerns.
It’s hard to explain a book like Echopraxia; this is one of those cases where it’s probably better to just let the publisher description do the talking: “The eve of the twenty-second century”, “a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues”, “genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans”, “soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat”.
It’s a whole other world, with a very different status quo. People like biologist Daniel Bruks who is adamant against upgrading himself with any implants or enhancements are seen as “old school”, living fossils that are still clinging on to an extinct way of life. While working in the field in the middle of the Oregon desert, he finds himself entangled in a conflict between a vampire and her entourage of zombie bodyguards versus a faction of technologically advanced Bicameral monks. Now he’s trapped on a ship headed to the center of the solar system to learn what happened to Blindsight, the expedition which took off years ago to investigate what appeared to be an alien signal.
The ideas here are wild, spectacular and ambitious. The plot, on the other hand, is quite thin – another reason why it would be difficult to describe this novel. Echopraxia is a book that feels less concerned with providing a cohesive narrative, instead focusing more heavily on philosophical discussion and debate on the human condition. Great if like these kinds of books, not so great if you don’t. Personally, I really enjoyed the first hundred pages or so because it contained most of the story. Watts established the setting, the main characters and the conflict. But everything started unraveling after that point, and became unfocused and disorganized.
The challenge for me was in trying to tease apart the jumble of ideas without allowing myself to be driven to distraction. Watts’ writing is laden with scientific jargon and not very easy on the eyes, making this one a slower read. Given the heavier themes and tinge of gloom, not to mention the fact there’s barely any plot, there’s just not too much energy to push it along. Not that I’m saying Echopraxia is a bad book. Far from it, in fact. I feel it has all the right ingredients, but the actual execution of all those great ideas leaves something to be desired.
Over the years, I think I’ve come to gain a deeper appreciation for hard sci-fi. It’s still a struggle sometimes, I admit, but it’s no longer the insurmountable hurdle it once was. However, plot and characters rank high on my priority list. Compelling and cogent storytelling is still somewhat of a requirement in the question of whether or not I’ll enjoy a book. Unfortunately, parts of Echopraxia are just too inconsistent for me to embrace it with open arms, but Watts should be recognized for his incredible talent of making everything he writes about sound fascinating and convincing. This is not a book you’ll want to pick up for a light afternoon of reading, but it’s worth it if you’re up for a thoughtful discourse on the complexities of the human mind and consciousness.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tor Books!