Pole Star

okladka-200Well, the polling for the NAST Award has closed and it’s official: Blindsight (or Ślepowidzenie, as it’s known in translation) was voted the best foreign sf/fantasy/horror book to appear in Poland last year.  It even won by a fairly solid margin; the runner-up only got two-thirds the votes that Blindsight did.  And while beating the likes of Cormac McCarthy and Salman Rushdie might cast some doubt upon the legitimacy of the final verdict in the eyes of (as Ashcroft once called them)  the “reality-based community”, I will cling to my victory regardless.

Ślepowidzenie does seem to have made a splash over there.  I’ve done a bunch of interviews (well, two; a third awaits the next block of duck-free spare time), and glowing reviews and offers of marriage abound.  I even stumbled across an erudite academic-sounding debate on the book somewhere (although I can’t seem to find the damn thing since, and couldn’t understand it even before).  I’m told there will be a parade in my honor down the streets of Warsaw, and that if I can attend I will have my choice of hookers.

I may actually have misunderstood some of that last bit.  There are ambiguities in translation.  But I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be getting a certificate with my name on it, at least…

[Later, That Same Evening: Malakh’s kind comment below points us to that in-depth discussion I mentioned.  It’s right here, courtesy of a magazine called Esensja: and while I cannot understand much of what is said throughout its seven scrolling pages (Google Translate is a fickle friend at best), it seems apparent that there was praise and criticism and lively debate; there were complaints that I disagreed with, and others that I shared utterly; but most of all, these people were engaged.  They may have thought I was the second coming or an overrated hack, but wherever they were coming from, the damn book definitely got them talking, about Blindsight and about the greater firmament of science fiction in general.  And that would have made my current LCD headache worthwhile even if the discussion hadn’t introduced me to the phrase “Sheds on the fish completely”.  Which has got to be the most endearing euphemism for jerking off to have ever spurted across the pond.]

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday March 25 2009at 08:03 am , filed under writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

31 Responses to “Pole Star”

  1. Perhaps you’re getting a brothel named in your honor.

    In any case, your day so far beats my day all to hell.

    That’s it, kids, I am off to throw myself headfirst into the big shredder in the conference room. Goodbye, cruel world! Hello, landfill!

  2. A fanatically Catholic country likes your work?

    Or do you have fans in the Warsaw underground?

  3. “A fanatically Catholic country likes your work?”

    Ekhm… what? That’s how you see us in Canada (or wherever you’re writing from)? Well, let’s say that’s not true. Of course, we have – unfortunately – a bunch of grandmas and grandpas, that you can say, are “fanatically Catholic”, but while talking about younger generations, we are more open-minded;]

    With McCarthy’s “The Road”, well, it wasn’t that popular in Poland, as you might think. Honestly, I don’t know why – I think it’s absolutely brilliant (I’ve gave it 10/10). Myself, I’ve had a hard time, deciding between “Blindsight” and “The Road”, but in the end, I’ve chosen Peter’s book – honestly, I like it better.

    About that debate, You’ll find it here:
    http://esensja.pl/ksiazka/publicystyka/tekst.html?id=7047

    I could translate it for you, but it’s really long… I can gave you an abstract instead: Your book kick ass. It’s loaded with great ideas and gives us something to think about. Szostak and Orbitowski did some complaining, but hell, what do they know – the don’t write SF;D

    BTW I’m the guy from the “third interview”;]

  4. A hearty congratulations to you Mr. Watts. Ślepowidzenie is a fine novel and worthy of the world attention it is receiving. You’re the king of the hill in Warsaw.

    By the way, the Polish cover is bitchin’.

  5. Yeah, the Polish get the decent cover. Bastards.

  6. big congratulations!

  7. Hey malakh, maybe you can explain why, in my days of online gaming, Polish players were _invariably_ assholes or behaving like. Maybe it was the frustration with a bad economic situation, the vodka, or something, but it couldn’t have been a coincidence.

    And I would agree that Poland is not a fanatically catholic country, they had a pope and some religious nuts in high places maybe, and maybe on average they are more religious than other European countries, but all that only goes so far. Basically the whole of Europe has deep catholic roots, but the church is fast dwindling in popularity to the point of being irrelevant. (knock on wood)

  8. “Hey malakh, maybe you can explain why, in my days of online gaming, Polish players were _invariably_ assholes or behaving like”

    I can’t. But let me ask You: Only Poles behave like assholes? I don’t think so. I can only ask You not to think of everyone in Poland assholes, just because You met some actual assholes , that just happened to be Poles;)

    “Maybe it was the frustration with a bad economic situation, the vodka, or something, but it couldn’t have been a coincidence”

    Hey, don’t push it. I’m a Pole – I don’t have a “bad economic situation” and I don’t drink vodka (I prefer beer).

  9. anonymous said:

    Hey malakh, maybe you can explain why, in my days of online gaming, Polish players were _invariably_ assholes or behaving like.

    Dude, that’s a bit harsh. The population of my country elected a brain-dead creationist antiscience neocon who looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s evil twin— twice— and I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for that

  10. Oh, of course the Poles love you, dear – with Mr. Lem having passed onto his reward, you’re the closest thing to him SF has left.

  11. Peter,

    I will be in Warsaw at the end of April. I will try to get a picture of the book in front of something iconically Polish (perogies or kielbasa).

  12. Well I guess this puts the Kibosh on polish jokes. Cuz dumb people cannot and will not ever be able to slog through, let alone appreciate a work of that magnitude.

    Wish I could say the same thing for my gods damned neighbors.

  13. Overdue acknowledgement of one of the best writers going today. Hearty and sincere congratulations.

    This should be a fine memory to cling to in your dotage after winding down your career under the thumb of a government that will only allow creationist science fiction to be published. Better hurry and publish your next book while the school system is still teaching kids to understand science.

  14. Congrats!

  15. Peter said:
    Blindsight (or Ślepowidzenie, as it’s known in translation) was voted the best foreign sf/fantasy/horror book to appear in Poland last year.

    keanani says:
    That’s terrific, Peter. Blindsight is one of my favorite hard SF books I have ever read thus far…

    ken, on March 25th, 2009 at 12:40 pm Said:
    By the way, the Polish cover is bitchin’.

    Raymond, on March 25th, 2009 at 1:25 pm Said:
    Yeah, the Polish get the decent cover. Bastards.

    keanani replies:
    I agree, although not the “bitchin and Bastards” part…the Polish Cover is awesome…I wonder who the artist is?

    Seth, on March 26th, 2009 at 6:58 pm Said:
    Wish I could say the same thing for my gods damned neighbors.

    keanani asks:
    I wonder who your neighbors are? :) My neighbors are Japan, the Aleutian Islands, California, Mexico, Micronesia, Samoa and the Tuamotu Archepelago…along with assorted sea mounts and islands mostly for birds and monk seals…my neighbors have “gods” too, though…

  16. keanani said:
    I agree, although not the “bitchin and Bastards” part…the Polish Cover is awesome…I wonder who the artist is?

    His name is Irek Konior. Here you will find some informations:
    http://www.komiks.gildia.pl/tworcy/ireneusz_konior

    and here:

    http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/search-handle-url/191-7636801-0238145?_encoding=UTF8&search-type=ss&index=books-ca&field-author=IREK%20KONIOR

  17. keanani asks:
    I wonder who your neighbors are? :) My neighbors are Japan, the Aleutian Islands, California, Mexico, Micronesia, Samoa and the Tuamotu Archepelago…along with assorted sea mounts and islands mostly for birds and monk seals…my neighbors have “gods” too, though…

    I live in North Carolina, the non-holey end of the bible belt and my neighbors are the myriad horde of thumpers that inhabit this geographic split. There’s the dance-and-you-die baptists, the rigor mortis infused presby’s, the well-shod Jehovah’s Witlesses, the fire breathing snake handlers (pentecostals) and your run of the mill christ punchers.

    There’s also an unusual number of burka-clad soccer moms who can’t drive but they aren’t so pushy. I don’t think they’re any better than the jesus freaks but at least they keep to themselves.

    Other than a few atheists and agnostics to stave off super saturation we’re pretty think in the deity gravy. (And yes I know that gravy is a colloid and not a solution but try to forgive me for mixing metaphors.)

  18. malakh, on March 29th, 2009 at 10:55 am Said:
    “His name is Irek Konior. Here you will find some informations:
    http://www.komiks.gildia.pl/tworcy/ireneusz_konior

    Thanks malakh, or in the language of some of my ancestors – mahalo nui loa :)

    Seth, on March 31st, 2009 at 9:56 am Said:
    “Other than a few atheists and agnostics to stave off super saturation we’re pretty think in the deity gravy. (And yes I know that gravy is a colloid and not a solution but try to forgive me for mixing metaphors.)”

    :) Where I live, I thought by now we’d have at least allowed same-sex unions, but we seem to be pretty conservative – even though some people in other U.S. States still think we go around in bathing suits and live in little grass shacks with the coconut wireless for communication – but then Hawaii natives were christianized – and most immigrants were either Christian (Protestant, Catholic or Mormon) or Buddhist – so more opposition to same sex “marriage” still defeats that prospect. We do have our converts to “Huna” though, with “Kahunas” of all sorts (not just native Hawaiians), and our share of magic crystal vortex seeking souls.

    The closest to your gravy metaphor of colloid substance would be our gray food of “poi”, or pounded to a mash mixed with water taro – or as some people seem to state – “tastes like Elmer’s glue or dirt”. (I often wonder if these adults who claim that Hawaiian poi tastes like Elmer’s glue are just looking at it’s viscosity and claim it tastes like Elmer’s glue cause it looks like a purply grey glue like subatance, or they are having a kiddie time flashback when Elmer’s glue and play-doh were snacks during school and playtime…)

    Maybe Siri could have offered the aliens some of the purply grey gluey stuff – or Jukka, perhaps, we eat this “Elmer’s glue” with raw fish…weren’t the aliens “octopussy sea star” type life forms?

  19. I hope it’s not bad form to hijack the thread if it’s for a Blindsight-related question.
    I’ve re-read Blindsight lately and it came to me that I don’t really understand how the scrambler made itself invisible to Siri. The scrambler can read Siri’s brainwaves to figure out when his eye performs a scan, and from what I understand from the text, that cancels the sensing of motion. But how can an eye ignore the difference in shape / lighting between the images from both eyes? How do you fool a person’s stereoscopic vision? you still have to send a different image to each eye. How can a scramble do that?

  20. It’s a question of how far upstream you hack the process. Surely, if you’re trying to interfere with the retinal photoreceptors you’ve got a problem; but we don’t ever see that raw input anyway. The juvenile scambler was playing around up in (and even above) the visual cortex, above the Mexican hat arrays, way up where the brain maps an integrated image of attention space. At that point, the images relayed by two eyes have been incorporated into a single model.

  21. I really enjoyed blindsight but there is one issue that I hope you can help me with. The underpinning of much of your writing revolves around evolution. Your back story about how vampires had a “neutral” adaptation (I know neutral isn’t the right word) that became a negative when humans started building houses is very plausible and, I must say, a very clever way of using science to explain how something like vampires could exist. Much more clever than relying on the supernatural.

    But I have a harder time accepting that the scramblers could take advantage of the human visual processing system. I would think that for this to happen, they would either have to have similar neurological systems as we do, or at least evolved alongside animals that were neurologically similar to us.

  22. No, they’d just have to be smart enough to “hack” our brains.

  23. DB Ellis said No, they’d just have to be smart enough to “hack” our brains.

    That still doesn’t answer it for me. I am assuming that they evolved in a similar fashion to life on earth, even if the basic chemicals are different. It has been a while since I read Blindsight but I believe that this skill did not require any equipment, which means that it had to evolve. It is easy to envision the vampire glitch developing through a random mutation and spreading throughout the population through drift. Since there is no metabolic cost to spreading this glitch through the population, there would be no selective pressure to remove it until right angles became prevalent. However, I cannot see how the ability to take advantage of the mammalian (or vertebrate) neural processes can be done without significant metabolic costs. If this is the case, development and retention of this skill must have resulted from interactions with other organisms with neurology similar to ours over a long period of time.

    Again, I want to repeat that I think that this is a great book and have recommended it to several of my friends. I have already read it twice and plan to read it again. This is not something I do with most books.

  24. anony mouse said:

    …I have a harder time accepting that the scramblers could take advantage of the human visual processing system. I would think that for this to happen, they would either have to have similar neurological systems as we do, or at least evolved alongside animals that were neurologically similar to us.

    No, you read that right. The very implausibility of that trick was the whole point: what freaked Cunningham out so was that a juvenile scrambler could do that even though there hadn’t been any possibility of coevolution. Quoting from the sacred texts:

    “Where are they going to get that instinct from, Keeton? How is it going to evolve? Saccades are an accidental glitch in mammalian vision. Where would scramblers have encountered them before now?” Cunningham shook his head. “That thing, that thing Amanda’s robot fried— it developed that strategy on its own, on the spot. It improvised.”

    You’re supposed to be incredulous. This is no evolved reflex or instinct; this is an organism encountering a neurological system it has never encountered before, with a unique glitch, and figuring out how to hack it on the fly. We could never do this. The point is, these fuckers are scary smart.

    It’s a fine line. You want to avoid magical thinking and outright fantasy, but at the same time if you want to demonstrate a superhuman intelligence you can’t be too plausible, because after all the whole point of the higher intelligence is that those things are going to be able to parse things that we never could. If I fill in all the blanks, the alien doesn’t look any smarter than a midlist sf writer.

  25. Peter,

    Thanks for the response. As I mentioned, it was a while since the last time I read it and I hadn’t remembered these words. I agree with you that I don’t like books that waste words trying to explain and justify every possible mystery. If I wanted that I would read a text book, not a novel. Even though you are straddling that fine line you mentioned, you obviously stayed on the right side of it because it made me want to hypothesize how this skill could develop rather than simply accept that Gandalf could come back from the dead.

  26. Peter Watts said:

    “The very implausibility of that trick (scramblers taking advantage of the human visual processing system) was the whole point: what freaked Cunningham out so was that a juvenile scrambler could do that even though there hadn’t been any possibility of coevolution.”

    “…this is an organism encountering a neurological system it has never encountered before, with a unique glitch, and figuring out how to hack it on the fly.”

    Yes, this was my understanding of what the scramblers were capable of, that they were beyond the crew of the Theseus of an intelligence never encountered before. Thanks for confirming that is what it was.

    Peter said:

    “The point is, these fuckers are scary smart.”

    Scary smart as in smart beyond a “comfortable understanding” of such a level and manner of intelligence, that it gives “people” the heeby-geebies, or a spectacular “chicken-skin” spooking.

    Smart as opposed to “sentient” and possessing an intelligence that seems to not have a “sense of feelings” and a “conscience”.

    As Susan James engaged the Rorschach in “communication”, (p. 95 onward) the various “voices” and the “words” utilized by the “aliens” had a feel of artificial intelligence, “computerized essence”- (They know the words but not the music -Robert Hare, “Without Conscience”)-Susan informed the crew that “it” does not have a clue as to what she is saying, does not comprehend and it is not in a meaningful sense (p. 114). A cold intelligence that is necessary within the environment that the scramblers are “born” into and live in.

    Anony mouse

    “Even though you (Peter) are straddling that fine line you mentioned, you obviously stayed on the right side of it because it made me want to hypothesize how this skill (scrambler hacking) could develop rather than simply accept that Gandalf could come back from the dead.”

    Aw, I read LOTR when I was thirteen, and the magical and mystical undercurrents made the books such a joy to read – a human being’s sense of wonder and magical-mystical thinking does not end when we depart childhood…come on, did you not cry when Gandalf vanished into the abyss as he yelled for the fellowship to continue on in the quest…without him…”fly you fools”? Don’t you have a form of communication with cats and dogs (in your life, part of your family) that makes you wonder if there is something more to feline and canine intelligence? Beyond the physical, mechanical and biological?

  27. keanani said: did you not cry when Gandalf vanished into the abyss….

    I didn’t say that LOTR wasn’t a wonderful read. I was merely pointing out that some writers (Peter) leave you wanting to solve the little mysteries that he has left open and others (LOTR) are written in such a way that these mysteries are trivial and you don’t really care about them.

  28. Anony mouse said:

    “I didn’t say that LOTR wasn’t a wonderful read. I was merely pointing out that some writers (Peter) leave you wanting to solve the little mysteries that he has left open and others (LOTR) are written in such a way that these mysteries are trivial and you don’t really care about them.”

    :) Yes, I know what your were pointing out. I was merely defending the magical, mystical and beyond rational beliefs…but yes, solving the mysteries ourselves is something I like too. It is rather boring to not be engaged, really truly think, and have to meaningfully work one’s mind in a more profound way.

    I do however, like to work and stimulate both sides of my brain, right and left, and choose an assortment of mental floss, whether hard science fiction or something more along the lines of fanatasy…

    By the way, you have a very cute handle-username…even though I sometimes rile you with my “teasing”…:)

  29. The discussion in Esensja was actually by 3 notable writers of their own – Jacek Dukaj, Łukasz Orbitowski and Wit Szostak. It’s a damn shame that particularly Dukaj still can’t find an English-language publisher. His books are mind-blowing (as are yours, Peter).

  30. Well, I’m really glad ‘Blindsight’ was published in Poland. Believe or not but your novel was a big inspiration for my bachelor’s thesis.

  31. XER said:

    “Well, I’m really glad ‘Blindsight’ was published in Poland. Believe or not but your novel was a big inspiration for my bachelor’s thesis.”

    I wonder what your bachelor’s thesis is…