Jewels and Cataracts: the Echopraxia Postmortem

Why yes, since you ask; I expect there will be a concluding volume to the Consciousnundrum series. I know how it begins: father and son (what’s left of them) finally reunite, decades after the fall of Icarus hit the world’s reset button. I know how it ends too, although I don’t want to spoil it for you. (I will admit that it won’t be quite as upbeat as my other endings.) I have only the vaguest idea what happens in between, but I can tell you that it involves whatever’s operating the undead carcass of Daniel Brüks, and the Bicamerals’ use of tweaked enzymes as a medium for prayer.

I’m calling it Omniscience. I don’t know exactly what the delivery platform might be: maybe traditional publishing, maybe crowdsourcing, maybe self-pubbing beyond the bounds of the pernicious Amazonian ecosystem and hoping for the best. I haven’t even bothered pitching it yet. But I do expect to write it, one way or another. There’s more to this story; elements of the first two books dovetail in a way that points towards a conclusion I never consciously planned—didn’t even see— until after Echopraxia was already out the door. It’s kind of meta if you think about it, which is at least one reason to go ahead with it.

Another reason is to try and get and get it right this time.

*

GoodreadsIt’s not that the last outing went wrong, exactly. In terms of reviews—both reader and traditional— I actually got off easier than I expected. I knew it would be pretty much impossible to deliver a focused thematic Blindsight-scale gut-punch twice in a row, I knew that playing with multiple cool ideas wouldn’t match the impact of a single mind-blowing one. Echopraxia wasn’t ever going to escape the shadow of its predecessor. So I downsized my hopes. I’d settle for people thinking this was a good or (preferably) a very good book, even if it didn’t shatter anyone’s worldview. Echopraxia could be 2010 to Clarke’s 2001, Count Zero to Gibson’s Neuromancer[1].

By that measure, I should be happy. I should be downright ecstatic; a lot of people are actually saying that Echopraxia is as good as Blindsight (or even better). Traditional reviews from the usual suspects are, if anything, better than for the first book (Kirkus, whose praise for my work has generally been leavened with grumbles, just pulled out all the stops and raved this time around). The Goodreads graph is more in line with expectation, showing a strong preference for 4- over 5-star reviews (compared to the slight 4-over-5 preference in Blindsight‘s case), but the mean score is statistically identical (technically 0.01 star less, but P>0.6). It wasn’t loved as much or reviled as much, but it was “liked” by a greater proportion of the overall audience. (Actually, the spread is almost identical to that for Starfish, which was hardly a flop.)

And over on Amazon— against all expectation— Echopraxia is kicking Blindsight‘s ass by almost half a star, 4.4 to 4.0. Even given the fact that Blindsight has over three times as many ratings, that’s highly significant (P<0.002). Echopraxia pulls in twice as many 5-star ratings on Amazon as all its other scores combined: 84% of readers gave it 4 or 5 stars.

AmazonThere’s a general pattern to reader reviews that I’ve mentioned before. Normally you expect initial scores to be really high as hardcore fans, favorably disposed, snatch up the first copies and comment early. Mean score thereafter declines as the wider audience, with less of a positive bias, weigh in at their leisure. For Echopraxia that happened at Goodreads— but not at Amazon. It’s been four months and Echopraxia‘s mean Amazon rating remains pretty much where it was at the outset. Maybe that means that people who write Amazon reviews really do prefer Echopraxia. Maybe it means the wider audience never even got to Echopraxia, and that stellar score only suggests that nobody read the book except hardcore fans. (I was warned this would happen, back when I insisted on “Echopraxia” for a title. The sales people won’t know what it means, my then-editor told me. They won’t know how to pronounce it. Rather than risk embarrassment during a pitch call to distributers, they’ll just ignore it entirely in favor of books with simpler titles.  Maybe this is the price I pay for sticking to my guns.)

Anyway. There’s no shortage of readers on either site who think that Echopraxia is the best thing I’ve ever written. In fact, in some ways it’s received too much critical adulation; when a book starts getting raves from men’s rights groups and climate change deniers, you begin to wonder what went so horribly right.

And yet I am bummed.

I am bummed because other readers aren’t just meh, but deeply disappointed. Some people waited eight long years for a follow-up, only to get something that fell short in every way: less characterization, less plot, less depth, less focus. Less point.

Of course, Blindsight was bound to have had an easier time if for no other reason than that there was no other book to compare it to. Even if the two books were of empirically identical quality, human variability dictates that some will prefer one and some the other. So why worry about those inevitable naysayers when the overall response is actually better than I’d hoped?

Basically, because I’m afraid they may be right. I was afraid of that before I even started writing the damn thing.

They’re not right about everything, mind you. Some hold, for example, that Echopraxia is plotless next to Blindsight. But when I put Echopraxia next to Blindsight, I see one book that spends its first half in conversation and setup, basically “My Dinner with André” in a tin can— while the other hits the ground with a vampire uprising, a desert war with zombies and a weaponized tornado, a bioengineered plague and an close escape into space, followed by an immediate jump-cut to an attack on a spaceship from without and a vampire playing cat-and-mouse within. I see one book with a single team and a single purpose up against a single antagonist— and another where everybody and their dog has their own agenda, each exploiting the others in a weird game of posthuman chess. If I had to pick one of those books to call plotless, it sure as shit wouldn’t be Echopraxia.

The problem, I think, is not lack of plot; it’s lack of clarity. You can see it in some of the complaints: oh, lots of stuff happens, people admit. Shit blows up real good. But it never seems to converge on anything with a point. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

It does signify stuff, of course. There is a point, but these readers aren’t seeing it. And I can only assume they’re not seeing it because I fucked up the delivery.

Too many people never got a good sense of what was going on. Even many of those who absolutely adore Echopraxia admit that it is a “difficult” book, that they frequently had to reread certain passages, that they’ll probably need to read the whole book again— perhaps after revisiting Blindsight— to really understand what happened.

This should not be necessary.

It’s true that I deliberately constructed Echopraxia to reward multiple passes. It’s also true that a certain level of reader confusion was built into its DNA, for the simple reason that posthuman motives are going to be at least partially opaque to baselines by definition. But no one was supposed to leave the party confused. My goal was to have various motives and agendas gradually resolve through the haze, and then— as we joined Daniel Brüks back in the desert— to be able to say Hmmm, the Bicams could be doing thus or they could be doing so. Valerie’s actions are consistent with either Scenario A or B. Don’t really know which at this stage, but it could work either way…

In other words, you weren’t supposed to wonder what was going on. You were supposed to know what was going on, and wonder what it meant.

I think there are two problems here. The first is that I don’t like fiction that talks down to me, that assumes a reader/viewer so damn dumb that every plot point has to be hammered home repeatedly. (Looking at you, “Interstellar“. Also “Extant”. And especially SyFy’s recent “Ascension”, which took expository dead-horse-beating to a level I never thought possible.) I have taken a solemn oath never to insult my own readers that way. With Echopraxia, I think I may have overcompensated.

The other problem is related, but distinct. I think it was Asimov who once compared prose to windows. Some authors, he said— like Asimov himself— wrote in a style devoid of flourishes or lyricism, telling the story in a just the facts, ma’am kinda way. This is your standard clear-window prose; you don’t appreciate it, you don’t even notice it, but at least you’ve got a clear view of what’s going down on the other side. Others (Samuel Delany and China Miéville come to mind) write “stained-glass-window” prose: the words contain a kind of beauty in the way they’re put together, they draw attention to their own construction and invite whistles of admiration. The only problem with stained-glass windows is, the more ornate the pane, the tougher it is to see what’s on the other side.

I like stained-glass writing. In hindsight, maybe I like it too much. Basically I need a more ruthless editor (which is unlikely to happen, given that this particular project had three different editors attached to it over the years, none of whom had anything to say about the first three-hundred-and-some pages of a 400-page manuscript.) Failing that, I really need to dial back the narrative bling.

I hope to make progress on both fronts with my next novel. Maybe the themes will be simpler. Maybe I’ll just be more condescending in my exploration of them. Either way, I’ve decided to stop being smart for a while, and try to be popular instead. Then— once I’ve learned the difference between jeweled prose and cataracts— I can take a run at Omniscience. With a little discipline it could be the best of the three.

Wish me luck. See you next year.


[1] I actually liked Count Zero better than Neuromancer. But you know what I mean.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday December 23 2014at 01:12 pm , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

84 Responses to “Jewels and Cataracts: the Echopraxia Postmortem”

  1. Spoiler warnings? I know what happens in the desert but mayhaps some later readers might wander past this blog post before reading the book and trip on it.

    (I regularly run into spoilers myself, it’s not that big a deal but some people go absolutely mental about them)

    As for the book, I find myself thinking about it regularly and I read it about a month after it came out so I figure that’s good value for money (Or serious indigestion 😉 )

  2. I second you on that Count Zero being better than Neuromancer. Turner was like a less insane Kruger from Elysium and I quite liked how the Bobby Newmark bits (seemed) to take place in future Staten Island

  3. The issue as I saw it was that the ends of little plot points were left with implied endings, the dissection of the away team, the final ending, etc. Perhaps some people didn’t see there was only one outcome and so saw them as “unfinished.”

  4. I had to re-read “Echopraxia”. I liked it more and got more out of it on a second pass. And I think it would bear further re-reading, and that each time I’d discover and understand more.

    If I had a criticism, I think it would be that I never felt as emotionally engaged with Brüks as with Lenie or Siri, and the human dimension seemed suppressed. I have a theory that your stories are all about terrified, broken people living in various kinds of hell and the ways that they hesitantly reach out to each other. That aspect seemed to be less present in “Echopraxia”. While the other books offered fleeting but very moving connections between characters, “Echopraxia” seemed to be mostly about failed connections. That makes for some bleak reading.

    But maybe on my third read-through I’ll discover some subtleties that I missed on the first two passes.

  5. Your comment to stop being smart, and focus on being popular disturbs me a little. I understand your context, but I also believe that it’s not necessary.

    Yes, Echopraxia was a bit of a dense read. Yes, many plot points and outcomes were implied or left up to the reader. No, your prose isn’t as clean and untroubled as Asimov or maybe Heinlein.

    But it’s those things about your work that make me want to be a better reader. I need to be challenged and punched in the gut every now and then. I admire any writer who delivers that stained glass window and then blackens my eye, making it impossible to see the glory of the whole thing until I’ve had a while to walk it off.

    When writing Omniscience, maybe you might lean more heavily on feedback from other writers if you;’re looking to readjust your prose. If you’re worried about tone and communicating to your audience, perhaps involving a few trusted members of your Squid Army could help in reviewing a chapter or two. You’re not alone in this.

    In the end though, you need to write the book that YOU want to write. The rest of us are just along for the ride. Some people will scream for joy and others will complain about motion sickness, but we all got on because we believe that you’ll take us on a hell of a ride.

  6. First, gratz on the whole not-as-bad-as-expected thing.

    Some hold, for example, that Echopraxia is plotless next to Blindsight. But when I put Echopraxia next to Blindsight, I see one book that spends its first half in conversation and setup, basically “My Dinner with André” in a tin can— while the other hits the ground with a vampire uprising, a desert war with zombies and a weaponized tornado, a bioengineered plague and an close escape into space, followed by an immediate jump-cut to an attack on a spaceship from without and a vampire playing cat-and-mouse within.

    Yep. Also Alien to Aliens. Liked em both for different reasons. The extended discussions were awesome with the constant wondering what was going to happen suspense stuff. In Exchopraxia, *shit happened.* It happened a lot.

    Too many people never got a good sense of what was going on. Even many of those who absolutely adore Echopraxia admit that it is a “difficult” book, that they frequently had to reread certain passages, that they’ll probably need to read the whole book again— perhaps after revisiting Blindsight— to really understand what happened.

    This should not be necessary.

    I just don’t know. One of the charms of Deadwood was the fact that you typically had to watch it again. In media res was the standard fare and if your brain wasn’t keeping up placing the patches together as a tapestry, try, try again. Made it seem more compact, like you were always getting your time investment paid for.

    I like stained-glass writing. In hindsight, maybe I like it too much. Basically I need a more ruthless editor…

    As long as they can grep when it is good to be crystal and when it is good to be stain-glass, I think that could work. You/Isaac nailed it about the style. I never got the {to pick on someone, perhaps unfairly} Fellini “look at me” thing that takes you out of the story with your stained-glass, though. I got “even in the future, even in dystopia, there is the poetic,” and I think it tends to excite, add energy, drive the story even if it isn’t directly “just the facts” plot related. Kind of like a catalyst, I guess.

    And I guess I know what I’m in for. About to pick up an Asimov novel for the first time, I think. Read lots of his short stories back in the day, but don’t recall any longer reads.

  7. Some SPOILERS within so be warned.

    Obligatory: Yes. Count Zero. It lacked the shocking yank into the future world, more of a return to it. It somewhat assumed the reader had clue as to the WTF of it and to me it seemed a bit more subtle. The development of AI into “loa” was IMHO just inspired. It’s been a long time since I read it but it had immense stylistic influence on me and probably on lots of other would-be authors.

    @Peter Watts: I think the problem you will find most difficult to work around is the fact that when you cut loose with everything you have, the number of people who can actually understand it may be a fairly large number but in percentage of potential readership, it’s kind of limited. The more you write for the people you want to reach with the quality you want to produce, the smaller the box they can fit in. But let me bounce an idea off of you and see which way it goes. Please accept this as a humble suggestion.

    One of the things I personally find difficult with any fiction reading is this: I have a limited attention span, and my memory does weird things sometimes, and on my first reading of anything, I tend to stick pretty closely to the moment in the narrative. I’m thinking about what I am reading moreso than I am thinking about what I have read. Maybe I am just weird and it’s quite likely… but I may be reading a lot more like the average raised-on-television still-watches-lots-of-TV person, than would your target-audience reader. I notice that you do of course have some flashback as you write. Yet the way I read, possibly the way a lot of non-superbrain people may read, tends to gloss over flashback unless it’s less the reflection of a moment and then return to the progressive narrative of the moment, and more of the hard-cut flashback vignette. Valerie in the round room might be a good example of that. Maybe you could add more emphasis (and also have more opportunities to digress if you feel like it) with more viewpoint changes? Some people may be missing the time-shift in some flashback moments, which could be problematic if the flashback is also foreshadowing and/or is meant to guide the reader to understand something as one possibility more likely than others surrounding it.

    Bruks is watching Sengupta work at one point and that’s because she’s painting the walls with some subset of what she’s perceiving through her implants. You show us what Bruks sees, but what is Sengupta experiencing? Since the personal viewpoint of the seriously-different is where you particularly shine IMHO (see also “the Things”) maybe toss a bit more of that into the narrative and this may get you some of the “Blindsight”-preferring folks, and almost certainly the art-appreciators will be drooling. Fix in the mind some of the essential twists that you need people to know but don’t want to hammer home with repetition, through some change of scene/vignette or prose style. Sticking to the viewpoint of Bruks might be helpful in appealing to the folks who aren’t already very-hard-SF fans but for the hardcore fans of Peter Watts, the gravy for us (myself, anyway) is writing as in ‘Postscript: An End to Loneliness’. That omniscient impersonal viewpoint is like a nice juicy boot to the head in a good way. BTW, for about 3/4ths of the way through that, I was thinking that maybe that biopsy needle Valerie got pithed with had more of the Bicam/Portia juice in it and what was being reconstructed was Valerie. Which would actually be pretty cool because then she actually could, in Omniscience, appear having risen from the grave. 😉 Or maybe not be actually seen but be implied because how could things be the way they are otherwise. Or not. I’ll wait until you write it. I’m pretty sure we all will.

  8. Personally, I think you’re just up against atrophied appreciative capacity in genre audiences. Too many dumb SF blockbusters (hey, naming no names) over time have dialled down the readership’s capacity to do the lit thing and manage with (hell, actively enjoy!) ambiguity, implication, speculative space and wonder. In place of those things, comes an obsessive and myopic geek completionist vibe, in which EVERYTHING MUST BE KNOWN and nailed in place. But of course life isn’t like that, and nor should good literature be.

    I’d liken EP to Pynchon’s V – both wander about a lot conceptually, chart very deep waters at length, and then end with a narratively ambiguous but elegiac and emotionally powerful climax. In both cases, you may not be entirely sure what just happened, but you know damn well that the movie just ended and it’s time to go home, because your heart and guts and tear ducts are telling you so. That, for me, was enough.

  9. Thanks for making yourself available like this but it’s weird. Like I haven’t earned the right to say anything critical. Like you should be all distant, and act like a Wheel, or something… At the same time I feel compelled to let you know exactly how your stuff impacts me.

    I liked Blindsight much better than Echopraxia. The story was clearer and I had a good time imagining what it was like to be Siri Keaton. And the idea that consciousness is a sort of niche adaptation (and easily trumped) freaked me out for weeks.

    In Echopraxia there are perhaps too many moving parts for a sensibility raised on Hollywood through-lines (meaning myself). The motives of suprahuman intelligences are intrinsically hard to turn into a story that makes sense to readers who are by definition a lot stupider than the players. Yeah, well, unfortunately that’s the problem you set for yourself and luckily it’s not mine. I get to just sit there and read the end result. In Echopraxia, almost everyone was smarter than the reader, or else their bodies just bypassed the central committee of consciousness altogether. That was creepy but less horrible than I expected–and added to the confusion. It put players without personal motivations into the mix…

    Daniel Bruks necessarily serves as our envoy into this world we barely understand, and he wasn’t nearly as interesting a person to me as Siri, until the very end of the book.The very end. So it was less fun. And yeah, I put it down and thought, well, now I have to read the whole thing over again because I’m not sure who did what, or what it means going forward to those people or that world.

    I loved Starfish, and worked my way through some part of Behemoth. But, um, it kind of turned into a slog and I stopped. You know what I liked? Your novelization of Crysis: Legion. You were just having fun and it was great. I mean, you know what your neuro-horror stories do to people, and I’m not saying you should dumb it down because yours is some of the smartest stuff out there. But that was a nice change of pace. It was nice to see you having a good time.

    I like stained-glass prose. I like Pynchon over Hemingway. I like Gibson over Asimov. I like Delaney even though I had no idea what was going on in Dhalgren.

    I look forward to Omniscience. Most people don’t even seem to be aware that there’s a crisis in science and that certain cosmologists and physicists are about to turn their back on determinism. (Or why that matters). You brushed up against this in Echopraxia and I assume you’ll hit that pipe again…

  10. […] To Peter Watts. […]

  11. There are a couple basics that authors tend to not recognize, at least not as a primary part of their writing. One is that they know exactly what they are trying to convey with their words while we (the stupid readers according to Mr. Morgan) must try to discover meaning from the words alone. We don’t have the mental picture (concept) except by trying to interpret the words and form them into some coherent theme. The more indistinct (less direct) the writing, the greater probability that the reader will draw the wrong conclusion. The author can either blame the reader for not getting the concept or assume the responsibility for the confusion. It seems obvious but having read Science Fiction for over 50 years, it has become apparent to me that some authors couldn’t care less about whether the reader gets it or not.

    I went back and read Blindsight again before I started Ecopraxia just to refresh myself with the book. Echopraxia is a difficult book. Blindsight is a difficult book when compared with the Rifters triology (yup, I know it was 4 books). The concepts in the Blindpraxia series are far harder to grasp, especially without the background education that Peter Watts has running around in his head. What I got out of reading the Blindpraxia series so far may not be what was intended but I enjoyed both books. I would have benefited from more bread crumbs to mark the trail but the lack of the Jack Webb methodology didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the books.

  12. One of Blindsight’s big strengths was the point of view. The whole thing being directly narrated by a smart, flawed, sarcastic narrator made the text more readable and relatable. Echopraxia’s third-person POV, on the other hand, felt like it had a little less personality.

    And you do have a good point about clarity. For all its cutting-edge ideas, dramatically Blindsight functioned almost like an old-school murder mystery or detective noir — the narrator sets the scene, introduces the characters, lets them stew for awhile, then piles on the horrors, only revealing what really happened at the very end. Echopraxia was more true to the nature of the world it operates in, but its many-layered ambiguities and invented jargon and n-dimensional chess games blunt the dramatic impact somewhat.

    It’s still a remarkable work of science fiction, it just didn’t wow me to quite the same extent that Blindsight did. But Blindsight is my all-time favorite SF novel, so that’s not a very strong criticism at all.

    PS: I really wouldn’t pay too much attention to the Amazon/Goodreads reviews, at least not to the point of calculating p-values. It is *so* not a scientific sample — a black box, with a self-selected audience, from different years, different contexts, and judging on a completely subjective basis. It’s better than agonizing over 2016 presidential election polls (ugh), but not something that should keep you up at night (or influence what direction you go in the future). So excited for Omniscience, btw!

  13. See, I like having a little science…biology, physics, astrophysics, psychology, neuroscience…thrown in that I am not familiar with. And I like the gut-punch way it often gets discussed and/or shown to work given several decades. I can always do a websearch for a topic I’m unfamiliar with.

    It does make me stop, mark my place, go off on a tangent for a while, and then come back and maybe back up a bit to figure out how what I just learned fits in.

    The story goes {yeah, well, I don’t have the better Elia Kazan version or whatever} Chuck Norris’ early films didn’t do as well as Chuck thought they should. While working with David Carradine, he asked him during lunch what was wrong, what could take it to the next step. Carradine said that his scripts had him saying what he was going to do, showed him doing it, and then had him saying what he just did. This is the structure for a sales pitch, or persuasive speech, but not a movie. You need only show the audience what you are doing. If they got up to go to the restroom, they missed it.

    With a book, the reader is in control of the speed, the pause, the rewind, etc. Some books aren’t meant to be mental chewing gum. Some are so densely packed with ideas, that you really aren’t supposed to get it all in one read. The issue I suppose, once one works in the commercial angle, is how does that correspond to helping the author financially? Some folks probably are not used to re-reading books unless there is a strong emotional arc that they got from it. So maybe it just doesn’t.

    But what it does do for Peter Watts is to provide something unique that you can’t really get elsewhere.

    Personally, I think at least some of this issue is that Pete’s readership is expanding, and naturally there are some folks who aren’t going to be prepared for something different. They may be expecting something more akin to the older style scifi and movie adaptations.

    So, maybe here’s a suggestion. Do a quick book. Make it an expanded short story. A short novel. Make it more like the open window. Offer an alternative product line, one that pays off because it’s perhaps more adaptable to other media and maybe more accessible to a wider audience. ebie’s post on having enjoyed the Crysis adaptation {haven’t said so, but so did I, though in a different way from Pete’s usual work} would seem to indicate some different interest than the philosophy grad students and profs who flipped out over Blindsight. Diversify! *

    But I wouldn’t want to see the challenging read go away altogether. There is a feeling of having conquered something after a Watts novel, though maybe not completely, requiring a later bout. That’s pretty cool in my book.

    * Until such time as the market dictates retracting again. That’s just how it works. Of course, the vamp coffee table book might also fit the bill, but I know, you’ve got graphics, layout, artwork and therefore collaborators to deal with.

    And a belated duh! moment. This is what you meant by writing under a pseudonym, didn’t you?

  14. I nearly bust a gut laughing when I asked myself why Sengupta wasn’t peppering her sentences with insults towards Bruks. That was a brilliant and subtle way to illustrate what was going on with Daniel. It also forced me to start over and reread through a different lense. Damn you. It wasn’t in a hurry to finish as you’d posted the ending on this blog under the dumbspeech tag. (DY^2) before the book was ever published.

    I definitely enjoyed reading Echopraxia more when reading with the right lenses attached. When Bruks woke up on the Crown of Thorns couldn’t help thinking “You poor bastard” multiple times after reflecting on the sequence of events leading up to his first date with Valerie. There was a lot to be gained watching a poor dumb roach get sucked up into the vortex of trans games.

    The second time through, watching for the breadcrumbs was far more rewarding though I thoroughly enjoyed the first time too.

    Though I still can’t figure out the point of the snake at the start. Dan Bruks, too dumb to die? The sheer persistence of “life?” My hideously empirical engineering mind is quite comfortable with missing a metaphor or two (though Moses was great) however my hideously solution-oriented engineering mind won’t let a puzzle go.

    I also think that you’re being a little harsh on yourself for saying that Blindsight lacked action. I found the tension of the exploration of Rorshach almost unbearable. There was also a massive amount of bloodthirsty glee when I realized that you’d added a haunted house to a sci-fi novel already populated with zombies and vampires.

    Tension and action are interchangeable when skillfully and creatively deployed, which you accomplished in both novels.

    So, those are my disjointed thoughts after a day of trying to figure out someone else’s design intent on a half finished undocumented project. Cause it’s all about me.

    WTF was the snake about? And yeah, I just read the dream. Still clueless.

  15. There are a lot of interesting comments going on here in this thread. I always find it fascinating comparing how people approach the same stories I’ve read.

    As time goes by, I have noticed my relation to your books changing. At first, I was comparing Echopraxia to Blindsight (and I was one of the many who preferred Blindsight, although I love them both). But increasingly, I find myself comparing Echopraxia to Charlie Stross’s Accelerando — both involve plenty of incomprehensible intelligence clusters re-shaping humanity, and a few poor souls who have lagged behind.

    If there was a single biggest difference I found with Echopraxia, I found the hero to be much more passive than Siri (or the Macx family of Stross’s book). Bruks most of the time felt like he was just along for the ride, which makes him harder to engage with.

    Of course, even though Stross envisioned the end of our world, he also kept things pretty light and humorous (well, Echopraxia was “humorous”, but as in bodily humors, as in oozing and spurting).

    Or, if I may make another comparison, I would compare your books to the movies of David Cronenberg — I find I don’t always know what to make of them the first time I see them, but in the months and years that follow, they stick with me and gain resonance and depth. They take time and aren’t easy, but the experience is all the richer for that.

  16. While i loved Blindsight to bits, Echopraxia left me completely baffled. And even after i discussing it with others i realized i did understand what had happened, but it still left me confused. I’m guessing a lot of the imagery flew right by me.

    I think my main problem is with Bruks. He’s just too normal. Your characters tend to get better the more inhuman they are.

  17. “the stupid readers according to Mr. Morgan”

    Actually, careful reading (!) of the text will show I accused no-one of stupidity. The issue is cultural conditioning, caused by long exposure to, let’s say, intellectually and emotionally unchallenging entertainmentplex product. The narrative techniques at work in EP wouldn’t cause anyone to even blink in literary circles (though of course the hard science assault probably would), they are part of the furniture of the form. But decades of pre-digested sub-Campbellian pap have made this kind of literature a risky gambit in genre.

  18. I did like it a lot (and plan to nom it for a Hugo this year!), just not as much. I think it’s not so much a matter of plot as… agency, I guess? One character was part of the plot, the other had the plot happen to them. Siri, he may not have been the most active or qualified member of the team, but he WAS part of the team, going on a specific mission with a specific purpose that was more or less known to him, and, from his own perspective, by his own choice. Bruks may have had a purpose there from the perspective of the transhumans, but from his own perspective he was some combination of herded there/there completely accidentally through the whole book. Making a valiant effort to understand while he was there, but we identify through him, and so the effect on the reader feels somewhat plotless, because he’s sort of bounced around from one event to the other with no specific goal other than survive and everything (including whether he survives) is largely out of his control. That’s not to say you can’t make a compelling story out of that (and in my opinion, you did), it’s just a bit of a harder sell, and so it doesn’t work QUITE as well.

    Like in time travel stories, you can write a story about somebody specifically trying to DO something with time travel (even if it all goes horribly wrong), or you can write a Time Tunnel/Quantum Leap story where they’re just bounced around with pretty much no control of anything outside the immediate crisis, just hoping they get home. I find the first one type interesting (as much as I did have a fondness for QL back in the day). I’m not-entirely-successfully restraining myself from trying to overextend the metaphor and work in some kind of Doctor Who analogy with Bruks being the companion, usually with little more to do than scream, shuttled along by the post-human intelligence with an agenda that seems completely random but is probably quite deliberate (by which, I mean, the TARDIS, of course).

  19. I was introduced to more new ideas in Blindsight than in Echopraxia. Mind blown. that was the first time I encountered its consciousness thesis. (thanks much for the subsequent pointers to The Ego Tunnel in the blog). For whatever reason (the blog, life, ?) my mind wasn’t as blown by Echopraxia. Let’s see what happens when the novelty wears off.

    I felt pretty stupid for not being able to give good feedback on Echopraxia, but the writing is pretty damn good. I went and read some slushpile self published stuff and holy crap was it bad. I immediately saw where those things could be improved.

    I could maybe recommend different pacing in places, and I thought maybe you got excessive with figurative language in parts. on the other hand, I don’t want to read what I would write. I want to read what you would write.

  20. “I know how it begins: father and son (what’s left of them) finally reunite, decades after the fall of Icarus hit the world’s reset button.”

    This, maybe, answers the single-most burning question I had after reading Echopraxia. If I recall correctly, the novel suggested or implied that whoever was sending the messages to Jim Moore that purported to be from Siri may not have been Siri at all, given that those messages were being used to manipulate Jim (and I think one of the Bicams did an auditory analysis and suggested that the speaker may not have actually been male).

    That suggested to me that maybe it was Susan James in that escape pod, not Siri, and that Rorschach (who had a demonstrated ability to implant new personalities into Susan) had put some version of Siri into her. “Imagine you’re Siri Keeton” and all that. Maybe she thinks she is Siri.

    I’m very probably wrong though.

  21. I love your style of writing. It’s amazing.
    Reading ‘Echopraxia’ took me 3 days or so to be exact. That was great, but for good or worse I find ‘Blindsight’ just a little better.
    First part was little easier to read for me, and less philosophically heavy.
    The whole “God as the universe virus” concept is way over my head.

    Still it’s 9.5/10 for me

  22. For me, the biggest fault, I guess, with Echopraxia was that it really felt like it was cut down from a much larger book. I think a lot of this had to do with the larger scope and cast, so everything presented had less room to breathe.

    The first time through I left the book mostly confused, but the second time was much easier to go through and understand. It was also more funny the second time through.

    I had some trouble (both times through) picturing what certain things were supposed to look like and both times I kept thinking the Bicameral’s Monastery was a monolithic structure shaped like the tower of babel with the vortex engine coming out of the peak. I don’t know why I kept picturing it like this so odds are I’m just retarded.

    The real biggest fault is that I couldn’t picture Daniel Bruks as anything other than a fedora wearing neckbeard.

  23. “And especially SyFy’s recent “Ascension”, which took expository dead-horse-beating to a level I never thought possible.”

    Quite right. Such interesting starting concepts so completely undercut by mad libs dialogue.

    Thanks for sharing all of your self-reflection about this. I loved both books as they are (and enjoyed the challenge of them), but it’s interesting to get these insights into your thought processes.

    Merry Christmas to you too, Peter. Now, I’m off to wrap the copies of Blindsight I’m giving out tonight…

  24. Greggles:
    WTF was the snake about?

    Think you had a few things. Bruks is “superior” to snake as Val, aliens and THs are to Bruks, or seems so. Scene showed Bruks doing bio work and that his specialization actually puts him ahead of superior intellgences later {probably even if you factor in that they knew what would happen}. And foreshadowed the end. Plus there’s the biblical thing that pervades the book. Serpents be part o’ that.

  25. This comparison with Gibson interests me, because I have been re-reading all Gibson’s novels in order this year. Neuromancer is still an undisputed gem, hard and brilliant. It is still an amazing work. It has aged only in the clinical sense, where some of the descriptions of technology seem dated, but it doesn’t matter.

    But my favorite of the first three, as far as the emotional involvement gained from re-reading, was actually Mona Lisa Overdrive, a book I didn’t appreciate that much the first time around. The biggest reason was that the character of Mona was just so affecting; deeply sad, filled with pathos, but portrayed with utterly no sentimentality. I don’t know if this suggests anything about your writing. I have read all your other novels, Peter, and a few of your short stories. I think _Starfish_ is your _Neuromancer_, with that arresting literary element. But I don’t know where that puts the rest. _Blindsight_ is great work, one of those books I look forward to re-reading.

    I have a copy of _Ten Monkeys_ waiting on my to-read shelf, and also _Beyond the Rift_. I have not yet read _Echopraxia_. I will try to come to it without expectations based on other people’s reviews, or based on the previous one.

  26. I’m also a ‘stained glass’ kind of lass, and when I try to write even the tiniest of stories / essays the words come out the way they do because it is a reflection of my thinking and, ultimately, a reflection of who I am. Therefore, when someone reads and confesses to me that I’ve written a confused and jumbled mess, while I am glad for the corrective feedback and try to accommodate it, I am also a wee bit hurt – because the response invalidates some aspect of who I am and how I put things together to make sense of the world for myself and communicate that understanding to other people. It’s almost an accusation of insanity, like: ‘see how you can’t string 2 thoughts together?!’ … and then I start worrying that maybe my mind really doesn’t work properly (cue solipsistic death-spiral of self-doubt). Point is:

    Authors are real people with their own imaginations and their own life experiences and there is not a tome anywhere written on earth, fictional or non-, well-written or otherwise, that DOESN’T reveal some aspect of the writer’s way of being in the world and their way of knowing. I think as a reader you are partly being told a story and partly bearing witness to someone else’s existence/experience of the human condition. Does the writer (as an artist, not as a communicator of fact) not have the right to express themselves and paint with words however they might need to, at the time of writing? In the words of John Lee Hooker, “it in him, and it got to come out”: sometimes it’s got to come out, as un-sense-making as it might be to others.

    We don’t actually have a god-given right to understand someone else’s works, and secondly, consumers of any form of art should be mature enough to discern between the incomprehensible that points to larger/other things… encouraging you to explore some aspects of (your own) reality further… versus the incomprehensible that is unable to communicate the existence of things beyond itself. I don’t think anything in the starfish-to-echopraxia incontinuum falls in the latter camp.

    I myself will never fully comprehend the Wattsian universes; The “real” and the Wattsian are both equally bewildering, while constantly pointing you in the direction of where to inquire next. This is as it should be. Thanks for looking over your shoulder to make sure we’re still here and you haven’t completely lost us. The empathy will carry us through. Now stop worrying and get ON with it!

  27. whoever:
    {yeah, well, I don’t have the better Elia Kazan version or whatever} Chuck Norris’ early films…

    Lol, sigh.

    https://mccoyote.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/wpid-img_20141224_185319.jpg

  28. re: plot–I think Blindsight worked so well because the plot was simple. Not dumber, just fewer moving parts.

    I enjoyed Echopraxia (like Blindsight, I devoured it in a night), but it seemed a lot like a TV show that’s been running for a few seasons–lots of threads and mysteries nested together.

    Blindsight is more like a tightly scripted film… you got your cowboys, you got your big bad outlaw, and you got the one wild card in the middle. You set us to dreading Rorschach long before the crew set foot on it.

    I read Blindsight again recently (more slowly, with wikipedia in the other window), and was more aware of the exposition. I think that’s just part of Watt’s World, and IIRC, Echopraxia didn’t have significantly more or less.

    I wish I knew where entertainment value and info-density could meet optimally to keep the kitty litter bill paid, but I don’t. I think Echopraxia will probably season with time; I know I’ll read it at least once again before I give away the book. I enjoy the challenge of it; I enjoyed searching some word I’d never read before, and I enjoy realizing that there’s no articles online to tell me what it all means.

    On a purely cynical level; if “Omniscience” brought together Siri and the Colonel, you’ll have us all bawling in the aisles. I mean a good tearjerker scene has to be worth a dozen pages of demanding prose.

  29. I feel a growing shame very time you allude to the harsh first-impressions review I sent you some time ago – at least the fact that you’re now using plurals when describing some of the criticisms I had gives me the hope that I was not a lone maniac railing against windmills in your writing…

    Though, to address – like some annoying naysayer who cannot say anything good, ever – your point about the greater amount of plot and action in ‘Echopraxia’, on some reflection my real problem was not as much the lack of plot, or lack of action, as the fact I was not emotionally invested in the plot that happened. Sure, there’s a standoff around the bicameral compound, and a biological weapon, and a weaponized tornado and a daring escape – but since the bicamerals are portrayed as alien and Brüks is something of a passive outsider, I felt no particular reason to care once the bicams started dying. It was all just ‘stuff happening’.

    If it helps your holiday mood a little, I can at least say that I received another one of your books as a Christmas gift, and the way you write is immensely evocative, with novel ideas pouring off every sardonic line. I hope to read ‘Omniscience’ some day, and I am sure I will consider it a rewarding experience. For all that I felt disappointed by ‘Echopraxia’, it still blew my mind several times over.

    Brian:
    That suggested to me that maybe it was Susan James in that escape pod, not Siri, and that Rorschach (who had a demonstrated ability to implant new personalities into Susan) had put some version of Siri into her.“Imagine you’re Siri Keeton” and all that.Maybe she thinks she is Siri.

    This would be rather amusing if it were the case – if only because if the Siri-simulacra in Susan’s head is accurate enough, it would be Siri, and father and son could have their reunion, making an emotional spit in the face of all those books, films, and TV shows that have proclaimed the death of some beloved character because the exact copy didn’t have physical continuity with the beloved one. Like the end of ‘Accelerando’, only more Wattsian.

  30. I finally got a copy of Echopraxia a couple of weeks ago, read the first few pages and then decided I had to re-read Blindsight. This was a good thing IMHO, to get me back into the storyline and Mr. Watts’ style. (It’s been a while). I found Echopraxia enjoyable and look forward to a sequel.

    Peter, please don’t dumb down your writing, although if it means becoming richer due to increased sales, I don’t suppose I could blame you, much! No, ever since Starfish, and including the Crysis novel, I expect to read your novels with a dictionary or the internet close by, but please keep on doing what you do. I may be able to pronounce the words even if I don’t know their meaning, but don’t let that bother you :)

    Thanks.

  31. Mr Watts, your problem is that with “Blindsight”, you wrote one of the greatest First Contact novels of all time.

    In the late 1880s and early 1900s, you had guys like Welles and Clarke doing great First Contact novels. Stanislaw Lem then put a new spin on the genre; for Lem – like your own creatures in “Blindsight” – the alien is irrevocably “alien”. Even worse, the alien doesn’t want to meet you!

    The 1960s and 1970s then saw First Contact novels going political. These tended to be political allegories, using aliens to delve into social/political/economic systems. Ursula le Guin’s probably the best at this stuff. But from that point onwards, “mainstream” First Contact novels essentially become military porn and excuses for war tropes.

    “Blindsight” reinvigorated the genre. Drawing from cutting edge neurobiology, it presented the first genuinely alien aliens since Lem. Even better, the book was about what it means to be alien, what it means to not know, what it means to know, and how do we know what we know anyway? Even creepier, your human beings were already alienated from themselves; what and who they are doesn’t “belong” to “them”. Combine this with some Lovecraftian awesomeness – your aliens felt unfathomable – and you had a powerful cocktail.

    But the more you expand upon the “Blindsight” mythology, the more books you write set in the “Blindsight” universe, the more you will find yourself having to explain away the ambiguities and delishious “unknowables” of the first novel. This might demystify your original aliens and lead to your series becoming like soap-opera. Look at how Prometheus dumped all over Alien. How do you avoid this?

    From the look of this blog post, it seems that your third book seeks to expand upon the “evolution” of Zombies, Vamps and humans. I think what your fans want, though, is more horror, more minimalism, more philosophy and more set-ups which allow you to explore the horrors of “what consciousness really is”, “what constitutes human subjectivity” etc. Kill us with some neuro-nihilism, bring back the aliens, and try to keep them beyond comprehension.

    Mr Watts, you call yourself a “stained-glass-window prose kinda guy”. I think you’re the opposite. You prose is blunt, clipped, has a staccato quality, is hard edged and angular. You’re Raymond Chandler meets Metzinger, Dashiell Hammett with a PDH. I would say the cadence of your writing resembles blog writing or has been influenced by the way we process words on the internet. It is snappy, hammers like a machine-gun and has a kind of macho-poetry.

    For me, a “stained-glass-window prose kinda guy” is someone like VS Naipaul. Know what I mean? Slow, languid, flowerly, beautifully ornate. In fact, a style like this might have suited “Echopraxia”; everyone in that novel seems like neuteured old technology. I can see that book written in the style of a elegiac lamentation, all your guys contemplating the cusp of their own extinction.

    Whilst “Echopraxia’s” style of writing is the same as “Blindsight” and the “Starfish” novels, the novel’s structure is different. I think “Echopraxia” is your “Full Metal Jacket”. Like the middle section of Kubrick’s film, bookended by hookers travelling in opposite directions, “Echopraxia” seems to be deliberately inverting and reversing alot of things in “Blindsight”. I think there’s all kinds of mirroring and doubling effects which casual readers aren’t seeing. To be properly soaked up, it needs at least 2 readings. The implications and gravity of what’s going on, on a scene-by-scene basis, aren’t apparent upon first reading. “Echopraxia” only reveals itself, or gains weight, upon hindsight.

  32. Am reminded now of the time, just before its release, I listened to Dream of the Blue Turtles on the radio and thought my musical idol had lost his mind. It was just such a departure from Synchronicity, I had trouble squaring them as coming from the same dude. But it grew on me.

    OK, Siri as a woman. Preggers? Oh my…

  33. Greggles,

    Greggles: I also think that you’re being a little harsh on yourself for saying that Blindsight lacked action. I found the tension of the exploration of Rorshach almost unbearable. There was also a massive amount of bloodthirsty glee when I realized that you’d added a haunted house to a sci-fi novel already populated with zombies and vampires

    Oddly, I came to this same realisation the other day, watching a horror film by the name of The Babadook. Spoilers could abound, but suffice to say that it gave me one of those moments where the feeling is that I’d experienced that exact day—or moment, or feeling, or visual, or tingly feeling in the back of my neck— before. Then I remembered Blindsight.

    My brain likes to hit me with hindsight. I liked Blindsight, but I don’t think I got Blindsight until watching that film, because the visual and audio cues wormed their way deeper or just more pervasively than text tends to.

    I like Echopraxia, but I don’t think I get it yet. If visual media lags behind print media to the same degree again, I don’t think I’ll get Echopraxia until 2020. I’m looking forward to it.

  34. I’ll only say this: ‘EP’ is conceptually sound and logically executed. Its impenetrability is rather the point of any self-respecting “trans” narrative. Making it easily digestible would have been a failure, a contradiction.

    You can probably dial down the obscurity factor in the concluding segment, but only if you feel it’s right for the story you mean to tell.

    Please don’t test-screen your work. Don’t let the audience dictate what you do. The audience sucks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDieLtDoWbs

    You can always be crystal clear if the narrative requests that you are. Maybe ‘ID’ is where you can try your hand at wiping that joyously blemished window of yours.

  35. I personally found Echopraxia gripping enough that I had to run to Amazon and give a five-star review before I was even halfway through. If there’s a ‘however’, however, it’s this: Siri was a flawed hero, but emotionally we were on his side (mostly); in contrast, Bruks was more of an antihero – I just didn’t want him to be my POV because I really disliked him (especially earlier in the book). In a world where we are forced to rely on a baseline narrator to perceive a non-baseline world, this does make things harder for the reader.

    I’m not saying you *should* make things easier for the reader; and of course the book deals with alienation, so it is appropriate (if uncomfortable) that the reader feel alienated even from the protagonist. But if you’re looking for greater accessibility, I’d venture to suggest that having a protagonist who is actually likeable is a pretty key. Especially when a book does such a good job of demolishing such treasured concepts and assumptions as self-awareness and free will…!

  36. outeast:
    …Bruks was more of an antihero – I just didn’t want him to be my POV because I really disliked him (especially earlier in the book). In a world where we are forced to rely on a baseline narrator to perceive a non-baseline world, this does make things harder for the reader.

    Kind of HPL in that regard. Humanity in way over their head with the elder gods. Much like the Superman/Clark Kent monologue at the end of Kill Bill: superior beings are going to see us as slugs.

    But really I see a form of hope at the end. Bruks gave them, best as he could, the middle finger. There’s something human about that IMO. That may be also undercut by trying to figure out what was done on behalf of who and when. I’m even wondering if Bruks left that back door open “by accident” or if the game ran even deeper and longer than expected somehow. But they can somehow be complementary or at least not mutually exclusive. Somwtimes parasite and host work together for mutual benefit, sometimes at cross purposes.

  37. Speaking of Asimov, there it is: Commercial success OR Pulitzer. He chose the former.

    https://cknall.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/wpid-img_20141226_135203.jpg

  38. whoever,

    And he sounds mildly apologetic / slightly sour-grapesy about it all… :-/
    Write how you feel like writing!

  39. I’ll quote and amplify Corey here, since what he said expresses my position so well:

    From the look of this blog post, it seems that your third book seeks to expand upon the “evolution” of Zombies, Vamps and humans. I think what your fans want, though, is more horror, more minimalism, more philosophy and more set-ups which allow you to explore the horrors of “what consciousness really is”, “what constitutes human subjectivity” etc. Kill us with some neuro-nihilism, bring back the aliens, and try to keep them beyond comprehension.

    I read Blindsight a couple of years ago, and it remains my favourite science fiction novel. My wife just gave me Echopraxia for Christmas; I’m eagerly getting ready to dive into it after a challenging few months of self-denial.

    To the extent that you’re planning to do more explanation in your newer work, I’d encourage you to resist the temptation. What I like about your writing is precisely the lack of answers, meaning and explanation – there’s no letup from the pointless bleakness of your setting. Just like life, everything is ultimately pointless, and only the suffering gradient distinguishes the winners from the losers. With your novels, like those of McCarthy, Ben Winters, Jeff Vandermeer and Blake Butler, I can be assured that while there won’t be any concessions made to the reader in the form of happy endings or satisfying resolutions, at least I won’t be lied to.

    As for your commercial success musings, forgive me but I see this as part of your oddly naive blogger persona, which seems so at odds with your substantially more grounded authorial perspective.

    – You wrote a profoundly anti-consumer novel, and seem surprised and upset that it wasn’t a consumer success. I’m not sure why. That’s how consumerism works.

    – At the border, you questioned someone with a gun when you didn’t have one. You seemed surprised and upset that you were beaten. I’m not sure why. That’s how power works.

    In both cases, your blogging voice seems in denial about truths that your authorial persona recognizes. Again, you recognize these truths – your characters explicitly proclaim them. But online there’s this more wounded message. I’m not sure what to advise, but it does confuse me. Perhaps discussing it with someone would help.

    Anyway, thanks for your terrific work – again I’m looking forward to your new book!

  40. ken: If you’re worried about tone and communicating to your audience, perhaps involving a few trusted members of your Squid Army could help in reviewing a chapter or two.

    Yeah, I actually tried that with Echopraxia. Didn’t work. The feedback was negligible (I think people just didn’t want to hurt my feelings, or were intimidated, or something), so I ended up inflicting my a rough draft on my betas without getting much insight as to how to fix the rough spots. And no matter how much I edited it between then and the final draft, I bet it was hard for those folks to get the taste out of their mouths.

    Mr Non-Entity: Maybe you could add more emphasis … with more viewpoint changes?

    Interesting you should mention that. I was originally going to have a number of sections in EP told from Valerie’sM POV— and since vampires have parallel simultaneous threads, I’d present the Valerie POV sections as a series of parallel columns, sde by side, each stream-of-consciousnessing a completely different narrative.

    I ultimately decided that would be too confusing, more of a gimmick than a device. Given the puzzled frowns over part of the actual book, I think that was probably the right decision, but who knows; maybe I’ll use that trick in Omniscience.

    ebie: You know what I liked? Your novelization of Crysis: Legion. You were just having fun and it was great.

    I was having fun. It was frustrating as hell, dealing with the office politics of the gaming industry— it always is— but the book part was a blast. I’m glad it showed.

    Rhaomi: I really wouldn’t pay too much attention to the Amazon/Goodreads reviews, at least not to the point of calculating p-values. It is *so* not a scientific sample — a black box, with a self-selected audience, from different years, different contexts, and judging on a completely subjective basis.

    Yeah, but I’m guessing the biases are consistent; there’s gotta be a huge overlap between the population that read BS and the one that read EP. And subjectivity is the whole point; I wanna figure out who like what better.

    You’re right, I shouldn’t overstate the importance of those scores. But I do think there’s a significant difference between the Amazon and the GR reviews that can’t be explained by N or by t, and I think that’s interesting.

    whoever: Do a quick book. Make it an expanded short story. A short novel. Make it more like the open window.

    That’s the plan.

    Greggles: WTF was the snake about?

    The snake was one of the few pieces of nonfiction in that whole book.

    Llama: I think my main problem is with Bruks. He’s just too normal.

    Okay, a million people have said something like this. I deliberately normalized Bruks in an attempt to make him more relatable to the reader, since one of the things people didn’t like about Blindsight was that Siri was too alien and unrelatable.

    Lesson learned. Lesson being: you can please everyone, so you might as well do what feels good.

  41. No, the whole point is that Brucks is “normal” and totally out of his depth. That’s the shocking thing about the book; all those cutting edge guys get left behind, but baseline boy is still standing.

  42. Sheila: on the other hand, I don’t want to read what I would write. I want to read what you would write.

    I’m different. I generally write the kind of thing I want to read. At least, I try to.

    Brian: This, maybe, answers the single-most burning question I had after reading Echopraxia.

    I bet it doesn’t. In fact, the sudden resolution to that question in my own head is probably the thing that tipped the whole writing-a-followup issue over from maybe to definitely. All the pieces are there, but if I understand your comment correctly, you’re not even close.

    Paul R. Potts: I have a copy of _Ten Monkeys_ waiting on my to-read shelf, and also _Beyond the Rift_.

    Damn. Too much overlap between those two, plus TMTM is rife with typos and is just not very well put together as a physical artefact. Would suggest you stick with BtR, then go to my backlist page to make up anything you might have missed…

    Leona: Does the writer (as an artist, not as a communicator of fact) not have the right to express themselves and paint with words however they might need to, at the time of writing?

    Well, yeah, of course. And the reader has the right to go ewwww, gross and turn away if they don’t like that. Which is great in terms of freedom of choice, but it can be a bit problematic when the author’s trying to make a living at the expense of the reader. ‘Twas even thus.

    Matt: On a purely cynical level; if “Omniscience” brought together Siri and the Colonel, you’ll have us all bawling in the aisles. I mean a good tearjerker scene has to be worth a dozen pages of demanding prose.

    I gotta say, the Colonel is kinda my favorite character in the series. Probably because he’s a mix of my dad, and Adama from the BSG reboot.

    Eukie: I feel a growing shame very time you allude to the harsh first-impressions review I sent you some time ago

    I promise, I never alluded to you in the singular; there were always people who had problems. You were just one of the very few to write me directly about them; usually I just stumble across critiques on people’s blogs or twitter feeds, while ego-surfing.

    And hey, the data are useful. Sure it took the wind out of my sails for a while, but like I said in the N&R: if you don’t risk a faceplant, you’re not trying hard enough. I need to know what works and what doesn’t. If it wasn’t for people like you I’d never get any better.

    The corollary, of course, is that if the next book sucks, it’ll be because of your input.

    Corey: From the look of this blog post, it seems that your third book seeks to expand upon the “evolution” of Zombies, Vamps and humans.

    Rest easy; that’s actually not where I’m going. Although of course, all those things will still be part of the mix.

    Corey: Mr Watts, you call yourself a “stained-glass-window prose kinda guy”. I think you’re the opposite. You prose is blunt, clipped, has a staccato quality, is hard edged and angular.

    I guess I didn’t mean “stain-glass” in terms of flowery so much as just opaque. I tend to describe things in terms of symbols or metaphors without, perhaps, making it clear that they are symbols or metaphors, so readers sometimes don’t know whether they should take my words literally or figuratively. At least, that’s the way Caitlin explains it to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her be wrong with these kinds of insights.

    S. Holloway: Oddly, I came to this same realisation the other day, watching a horror film by the name of The Babadook.

    I liked the Badadook! Although it’s not really a horror film in the conventional sense. It just acts like one. (As the BUG said when the credits rolled, “Okay, that was pure metaphor, top to bottom”.)

    David Clark: – You wrote a profoundly anti-consumer novel, and seem surprised and upset that it wasn’t a consumer success. I’m not sure why. That’s how consumerism works.

    I actually don’t know how successful EP has been in the commercial sense. The only data I have is for Amazon sales; my advance would already be three-quarters recouped from those alone, if I was getting industry-standard royalties on e-books. Since I’m getting less than half of industry standard, I’m doing nowhere near that well personally; but in terms of how Tor is doing, it seems to be performing pretty well for a midlist title.

    David Clark: At the border, you questioned someone with a gun when you didn’t have one. You seemed surprised and upset that you were beaten. I’m not sure why. That’s how power works.

    I’m not especially surprised, I guess. Intellectually. I kinda knew it was coming. But the fact is, I wasn’t doing anything wrong, so there was kind of a matter of principle there to not back down. I like to think that, under the same circumstances, I’d do it again.

  43. Peter Watts: Interesting you should mention that. I was originally going to have a number of sections in EP told from Valerie’sM POV— and since vampires have parallel simultaneous threads, I’d present the Valerie POV sections as a series of parallel columns, sde by side, each stream-of-consciousnessing a completely different narrative.

    I ultimately decided that would be too confusing, more of a gimmick than a device. Given the puzzled frowns over part of the actual book, I think that was probably the right decision, but who knows; maybe I’ll use that trick in Omniscience.

    For what it’s worth, I think that’s a really cool idea (you could even make one of the parallel streams a relevant flashback, since you mentioned in Blindsight that they experience the past as just another stream), and would love to see if (assuming it works into the plot). And I think that IS the kind of thing (or one of the kinds of things) your audience in particular craves and especially enjoys in your work, a peek not only into different minds, but into different TYPES of minds. Though I wonder, structurally, how you’d handle message-passing of information/insights between threads (which I assume does happen, somehow). Heck, even if the COLUMN thing is a a bit of agimmick you could retell the same events with different ‘threads’ in a series, or using different typefaces (with an intrusion of a different typeface indication an intrusion from another thread, which might also answer my question in the column area). .

  44. Peter Watts:
    I guess I didn’t mean “stain-glass” in terms of flowery so much as just opaque.I tend to describe things in terms of symbols or metaphors without, perhaps, making it clear that they are symbols or metaphors, so readers sometimes don’t know whether they should take my words literally or figuratively.At least, that’s the way Caitlin explains it to me, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her be wrong with these kinds of insights.

    That’s talking to the unconscious, I think. Very sneaky.

    Why a clearly defined goal is important. On the other hand, you are one of those authors who seems to be able to walk and chew gum and juggle at the same time without apparent expenditure of effort {unless of course we use the time frame as measure, which had other projects and things inserted into it.}

    I try not to disagree with CS…she *knows* things, I swear. :)

  45. It would be interesting to know if the changing ways people are consuming books is also altering the types of works they are able to enjoy.

    I ‘read’ almost all of my books via the audiobook format, as they are playing in the background whilst I work. I find that working whilst listening to a book leaves me enough mental capacity to process new and interesting ideas, but not enough to parse an opaque narrative structure. Stained-glass-window prose usually ends up with me realising I’ve spent the last five minutes disengaged from the story, and needing to hit the rewind button to work out what’s happening. Then, almost always, that same chunk of text will unhook me again and it’s back to the rewind. At some point along this path I just give up and move onto the next book. Your prose can have this effect (although not to the same extent as some), but I push on through it because the ideas are so strong and rewarding.

    I know it’s not an ideal way to read books, and I am doing the author (at least partially) an injustice, but the hours I work are so long that I have no other method for reading. I’d be interested to know how much of an aberration my particular scenario is, I suspect it might be becoming more common.

  46. Peter Watts: Interesting you should mention that. I was originally going to have a number of sections in EP told from Valerie’sM POV— and since vampires have parallel simultaneous threads, I’d present the Valerie POV sections as a series of parallel columns, sde by side, each stream-of-consciousnessing a completely different narrative.

    I ultimately decided that would be too confusing, more of a gimmick than a device. Given the puzzled frowns over part of the actual book, I think that was probably the right decision, but who knows; maybe I’ll use that trick in Omniscience.

    Your current day readers probably don’t have the required enhancements to properly appreciate it.

    CJ Cherryh tried some short matrix text blocks in a couple of her Chanur books. It worked, but even as short as they were (around 8 x 8 words IIRC) I was always conscious that my reading flow had been broken while I tried to work it out.

    KS Robinson had a few pages in 2312 that were the stream of consciousness of a quantum AI. These were mixed words and phrases in a single stream of text. Less disruptive and very effective in conveying the impression of a different mentality, but I’m glad there weren’t any important plot points in them.

    And on the boring pragmatic level, your publishers would absolutely hate you if the columns have to more or less line up side by side. Asking for two column layout in a regular book might work. eBooks, though, often are awful at laying out single column text; they’d probably choke on parallel text and be incomprehensible.

  47. Don’t over analyze it and don’t try to fix everything other people think is wrong. You can’t possibly be what everyone else wants you to be, and if you try too hard, you may lose yourself. And, call me cynical, but any bozo can spew whatever their pathetic minds can muster in an amazon review.

    Personally, I didn’t find either book hard to understand. I actually enjoyed looking up stuff I was unfamiliar with and and seeing where Wikipedia or google took me. Often, these only scratched the surface. You certainly know your field and I especially appreciated it NOT being dumbed down. It gives your concepts and ideas more weight and plausibility.

    So long as you’re comparing apples and oranges, I’ll take a shot at Blindsight vs Echopraxia. The former had a singular focus. It was constrained in both time and space taking place primarily aboard the floating tin can that is Theseus. Very straight forward story arc: figure out what the frack is out there. Then blow people’s minds with what evolution really means. Wrap it in metaphysical view point that makes us question who we really are and realize that what we hold dear is just so much BS. Pinnacle of evolution? More like a mutation that needs to be selected out.

    Echopraxia is good. The storyline has more dimension. More freedom. And you use it well. Lots of thought provoking concepts and ideas. You have to because we’re still just an evolutionary sideshow. It’s not that the message is any less disturbing. Rather, it’s because the genesis of the idea occured in Blindsight. That idea WAS Blindsight. The story supported the message and the message had balls. In Echopraxia, the message supports the story and no matter how good the story, the stimulus path to the endorphins and neurotransmitters has already been desensitized.

    I look forward to your next book. In fact I came here to get any news in that regard. It’s good hear you talking about it and that you have a beginning and endpoint in mind. I bet it will be a good story. But I’m hoping you’ll find another message to blow my mind again. No pressure.

  48. […] you for that as things unravel. There may be a problem with that, however – some people, apparently the author included, believe that the book is too clever for its own good, and Watts may aim to simplify (nooo!) the […]

  49. Peter Watts,
    I gotta say, the Colonel is kinda my favorite character in the series. Probably
    because he’s a mix of my dad, and Adama from the BSG reboot.

    I’m more of a (rebooted) Gaius Baltar fan. All that moral cowardice wrapped up in an entertaining character was pretty compelling for me.

    I gotta say, I’m looking forward to the reunion scene. Especially if the Colonel has reason to doubt Siri’s bone fides since he’s been ‘humanised.’ I’m sure it will be as maudlin and full of pathos as the rest of your writing.

    I hope OmniScience hit’s on themes of trust. It’s one of the deepest issues in human relationships, full of ambiguity and a wonderful counterpoint to the psychopathic institutions that dominate our lives.

  50. Loving this discussion – though I’m guessing it must be making you (Peter) despair! There are so many diametrically opposed views, desires, wants…. So to add one more to the mix, I personally would not want viewpoints from (far) non-baseline narrators. Siri was fine, as he was near-baseline (essentially akin to a neuro-atypical human of today); but I’d just not find narration by a vampire, say, to be credible. After all, if they’re so impenetrable to us baselines, there’s no way you could truly write from their perspective. (Unless it was somehow framed as a report drafted for baselines or something – a kind of deliberate attempt to write down to our level.)

  51. You mention that you want to make a living from writing your novels, yet the issue of your consumer/anti-consumer approach has come up once or twice in this discussion.

    Maybe the solution isn’t in a post-mortem of EP; deconstructing the prose of the novel or jiggering the points of view or peppering the chapters with less technical language (my favorite part, btw).

    Maybe what you need is better marketing.

    If you’re looking to reel in new readers by the bucket-load, then maybe you need to think of a new way to SELL your work, rather than changing the product to accommodate a more general audience. Selling a book like Echopraxia requires a little more guile and a stronger act of persuasion than you would with a book like the Davinci Code or Fifty Shades of Grey.

    Forget about your publisher doing this for you. Although, I’m sure they’d love to see your books become both a critical and financial success, my gut tells me that they’re not going to be spending a lot of time in brainstorming meetings trying to find a new angle to make your next book attractive to a wider audience. You’re going to have to take the reins on this one. I’m not suggesting that you become a snake-oil salesman or one of those TV Infomercial guys that yell all the time, but you might need to get out there a little more.

    Your AMA on reddit was a good start, but you should build on social media platforms like that. Grassroots movements are good and you might have to act as the Johnny Appleseed to get some of those started.

    Reach out to those friendly to your cause, like Cory Doctorow. BoingBoing.net is still a leading blog of note – I’m sure a little exposure on that website would grease more than a few eyeballs in your direction.

    Get on discussion panels, become a guest blogger on influential sites, see if you can do some author appearances throughout Canada (make your denial of entry to the US somehow part of this tour. Hell, Salomon Rushdie had a price on his head for years and he still promoted the shit out of his books).

    Anyway, I hope you see my point. It’s not enough to simply write an excellent novel these days and just put it out there. You need to take an active role in getting your words into the hands of new readers. Make them think that they’re in on a secret. Make them think your level of smart, technical writing elevates them above the masses (people LOVE to think that they’re better than others just because of the simple choices they make). Convince people that Peter Watts is the next voice that needs to be listened to.

    It sounds a little greasy, I know. But I’m NOT suggesting that you’re going to be passing off a substandard product as anything but. You simply need to make folks aware that you’re out there and your product is worth a look.

  52. My 2 cents (and given the exchange rate these days, don’t expect face value on them) is that you’re wrong about the problem with Echopraxia.

    Let me stop there for just a moment and state, categorically, that I loved both books and if you don’t write the conclusion, I’m going to have to cry into a lot of beer.

    But you’re looking for a problem and there was one that sortof presented itself I think, and it’s this – Blindsight gave us the first truly alien aliens in a long time. A tool-using spacefaring species that had no consciousness and not only didn’t miss it but operated better because of it? An actual look at how our own brains work – not how we think they ought to or some wavy-handy malarky, but how they *actually* work, what we *actually* are, delivered in classic science fiction style by looking at it from the outside and using a comparison against something truly not human for contrast?

    Dude.

    Mind.
    Blown.

    That one idea is why I read everything else you wrote and put your name on the “X wrote this, therefore read it” list (which is a rather short list).

    That’s not only a tough act to follow, it felt like you didn’t try. Yeah, the vampires are a nice take on a classic theme, and the zombies the same (though I wonder how long human eyeballs could stand that kind of operating mode before something tore in the musculature and integrating that much visual data seems like it wouldn’t speed things up so much as slow them down, giving you – metaphorically – a slower overall refresh rate on your visual field). The BiCams were an interesting enough idea as well. But “interesting enough” and “nice take on a classic” versus “the most original alien species in the last twenty years and a paradigm-shifting look at humanity” is not much of a contest.

    And it’s not that there wasn’t a point to the action in Echopraxia, there were more points than a hedgehog to it. Of course, that much detail, that many directions, and us poor humans stop noticing the overall structure. It’s like looking at baroque architecture – you’re so occupied parsing the detail that you kinda have a harder time telling load-bearing from cosmetic.

    Generally, Echopraxia felt a lot like I was reading the background material, right up till late in the book. I don’t mind that, myself. I’m one of the dweebs who went through Blindsight’s reference list and started reading some of that stuff. But I kept waiting for the main act to show up and when it finally did, it was more – SPOILER ALERT FOR THE SILLY FOLKS WHO’RE 50 COMMENTS IN AND HAVEN’T TWIGGED THAT THERE MAY BE SPOILERS HERE – like their butterfly net had shown up instead of the guys in the pith helmets, if you follow me.

    Anyway. Like I said, worth a bit less than 2c, but hey, bits and pixels are cheap 😀

    Looking forward to the next installment…

  53. @Peter Watts: Sorry to get stuck on the Wattsian Vampires, but they really do serve very well as a means to explore ideas in “non-neurotypical” or “alternative” cognition. The multiple-columns sounds really fun, like some of the stuff that Harlan Ellison was doing way back in the early days. But now that you’ve opened the subject a bit, there are a few things that have been scratching around at the back of my brain.

    Okay, we’ve established (I think) that the Wattsian Vampires (“WVs”) share a lot of cognitive style or neurological peculiarities with autists, as we now understand the spectrum. Yet one thing that they don’t seem to have too much problem with is “theory of mind”. Indeed, in a few places we see that Valerie at least seems to have such a good theory-of-mind that she can run really accurate predictive simulations of what people are thinking. I guess this all falls under the umbrella of “pattern matching”, and if you are going to try to write that, I definitely look forward to reading it. You might need special printing equipment to get it onto paper and even an all-digital version might push the limits. I envision multiple columns for that: starting, stopping, merging, branching, and all at incredible speed of course. I can imagine other threads, potentially all with totally-or-partly mutually-exclusive viewpoints, and always at least one thread on situational awareness and, well, dinner or at least fighting as if for dinner or for life. (You might have to write that one in Labanotation script. 😉 )

    But this brings me to another thing not overtly discussed (unless I am forgetting), which is the matter of Ambiguity. I’ve read that ambiguity is one of the hallmarks of schizophrenia, or at least a real problem with ambiguity is a hallmark[1]. With concurrent threads in viewpoints which might be fundamentally in opposition, there has to be a lot of ambiguity in there. How do the WVs resolve that? I theorize to myself while reading, that probably the multiple-worldview approach might be a way to resolve the ambiguities, with the WV mental processes playing games along the lines of Schrodinger’s Cat until they can remove enough ambiguity for the wave function to collapse, to take liberties with metaphor. I imagine they must always be trying to look inside the box, as it were. Immense curiosity might be expected to result. Wouldn’t that tend to push through the air of distraction you attribute to them? Or do they just seem the more distracted, the more cognitive process threads they spawn to sort out the ambiguities? And how do they think and behave once all of the ambiguities are resolved and the cognitive threads die down after task completion? What would a WV think about if it found itself in a state of single-threading (so to speak), assuming that it was already well-fed and had no other pressing concerns? If you can illuminate that with writing in columns that all manage to resolve and come together just in time for a plot-driving change in scene/viewpoint, well, I smell Nebula and probably many new disciples worshiping the ground where you walk.

    And BTW: seriously. Half of your blog post titles would be great pitch lines into Hollywood or the Commonwealth equivalents. Squids with Tasers, oh my! Damn sure better than giant tarantulas that puke lava (currently in production for SyFy).

    As for the whole Stained Glass thing: No doubt you’ve read “Sound and Fury” by Faulkner. For years I never got around to it and finally I launched into it. It was a slog. I almost threw down the tome on several occasions. Talk about stained glass prose! Even the idiot’s viewpoint was that. The so-called normal people made even less sense or at least IMO their concerns and actions mostly didn’t warrant that many keystrokes. It was only in the last few pages that all of those piles of stained glass were assembled and stood up in such a way as to create one of the finest cathedrals to the language ever written. The moral being: stained glass prose is just fine, so long as you put it all together so that when the sun shines through it is a perfect illumination that you can’t get anywhere else. Regards,

    Ref:
    1. High Order Linguistic Features Such as Ambiguity Processing as Relevant Diagnostic Markers for Schizophrenia. Ketteler et al. Schizophrenia Research and Treatment Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 825050, 7 pages

  54. @Mr. Nonentity

    If you incinerate or permanently seal the box, doesn’t matter if it was empty or full.

    But I think that fails to capture the WV way of thinking. Simulate in your head multiple views/realities and then do the actions that further your goals in *ALL* of them. I think that’s it, or in the neighborhood.

    Loving this thread. One kind of under-discussed topic is I think the infection of Icarus from a distance. Though the topic is kind of old in a sense, ST teleporter and wherever it was they borrowed that from, kind of makes Kirk look lkle even more of a cad thinking of him, when one goes down that alpha male road, as a parasite infecting planets he travels to and attempting to procreate.

    Underlying question, though, what is life? What is ‘alive?’ If it comes from a newfangled 3D printer, does it qualify? Not exactly a new question, living things as data, but a still intriguing one.

    I think one of the interesting things about EP is that it can be summed up in so many different ways. The one that came to mind reading the comments above, “Superior human intelligence invites alien species to take over because it mistook them for God.” Doesn’t get it all, though does it?

    …since man first looked up at the star…

  55. What I couldn’t figure out is why vamps aren’t “under stringent selective pressure to be as dumb as they can get away with” like we are. The quote I paraphrase is right there at the start of the book, so it’s obviously significant.

  56. Longtime reader, first time caller, etc. Not sure I can add much to what has been said advice or consolation-wise but I do want to point out two things. One – I’m not sure a review comparison to Blindsight and Echopraxia is really helpful if only for the reason that I know some – if not many – came to Blindsight through you posting it for free on the Web. How many reviewers picked up a hardcopy knowing exactly what they were going to get, or on the word of mouth buzz the web release provided? Even best case you’re not going to be looking at like-to-like readership comparisons so be wary of confirmation bias when you look at the numbers.

    Two – I’ll join the chorus of write what you want to write and that I’m a fan of your stained glass prose, and I’ll join in the acknowledgement that at the end of the day you’re the author of your own career and can sets your sights accordingly. I do want to say though that given your career, given the nature of this pupative trilogy mass-market appeal might not be the best way to leverage your brand, if you forgive the corp speak. Your short fiction, Starfish et. have a well earned rep for tightly written, whipsmart sci-fi with plots and characters to match. Blindsight and Echopraxia? They have a rep in review and in your fans – at least if this thread is any indication – of being challenging. Intellectually, narratively and conceptually. That’s what I want from Omniscience as a reader; I love your other stuff, read it, collect it, recommend it to friends, but Blindsight and Echopraxia are what I suggest when I want to spark a discussion or get someone interested in hard science. They’re the books I give to my friends who are smarter than me and they’re the books I reread to get my neurons smoldering with ideas I never knew I could have. And I’d wager I’m not alone. There might be something to having the Trilogy be your Big Idea series that generates critical buzz and draws people into looking at the rest of your back catalog . . .

    Then again, I’m not making a living off of this so it’s very easy to be precious and demanding about the entire thing. I am Reader, hear me roar or somesuch nonsense.

    @Mark Dennehy
    Don’t mean to single you out here but I think you hit on something closest to the core discrepancy between the two books with Blindsight being mindblowing and Echopraxia not. Thing is I feel that the difference is not just incidental but intentional in that the core ideas driving the books are different. Blindsight is built around the one, singular reveal, the moment where our preconceptions shatter and we have to LOOK at everything that’s been laid out for us. From the start we’re ehorted, demanded to imagine that we’re Siri Keeton, and that demand the book places on us lasts up until the moment he/we are slammed up against the wall by Jukka and eviscerated, until we are forced to imagine something else – intelligence without consciousness, not just in the abstract thought problem of a Chinese Room but to viscerally. We ride Siri’s PoV throughout the novel, just as Jukka’s priming him we’re being primed for the reveal by Watts and when it hits it is brutal and remorseless; it’s a silver bullet to the back of the skull forcing us to admit that the monsters might be real. It’s One Big Idea and it’s an effin’ doozy.

    Echopraxia has a big – bigger, maybe – idea but we’re never given that same “come-to-Jesus” moment because Bruks never has it. Which is kinda the point, because even in his final act of defiance he gets it wrong. He forgets the first thing he learned – WE learned – in the desert, he forgets the miracle of the snake. He forgets that the first trick life learns is making dead flesh move.

    Which, again, is the point. If Blindsight is about consciousness and Echopraxia about determinism then it needs to be laid bare that Bruks’ choices don’t matter, that they’re not -even- choices. And that’s not a singular event like Siri’s revelation, that’s a slow grind, a continual erosion of agency or the presumption of agency in the book. If Blindsight is shot to the head then Echopraxia is a cut to the wrist, one where our prior-assumptions bleed out slowly ’till it’s too late and only then, long after the initial damage is done do we realize we’re going into existential shock. It’s not that Echopraxia didn’t try to be a followup, it’s that it tried something different – almost antithetically so – to the first book.

    . . . which, now that I think about it could lend an interesting thesis – > antithesis -> synthesis quality to the entire narrative once Omniscience comes down the pipeline.

  57. Ursula LeGuin’s viral video mentions art v commerce being at times in conflict:

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/28252-ursula-le-guin-s-viral-video-we-will-need-writers-who-can-remember-freedom

  58. First pass I didn’t follow at all what the various transhuman agencies were doing in the book, though I’ll apply the caveat that my initial read was starting at 1 am until about 3:30 am after the ebook dropped on amazon, then furtively on my phone’s kindle app in my cubicle at work. Not particularly conducive to indepth analysis of the story, actors, and their agendas and plots. :)

  59. I’ll just chime in.

    Echopraxia – pretty good book, but too terse. A more verbose style would be fine, of course no need to go full Lovecraft there.

    It does seem kinda unfair pitting humanity against ancient and highly evolved alien life.

    I’m pretty sure overconfident but eager bright bulbs are going to be eventually get to evolve artificial intelligent life in order to obtain competitive advantage. And to get bonuses from their overconfident but ignorant and self-absorbed idiot bosses.

    I’m thinking that sort of thing is more likely to end humanity as we know it..

    Is there a book in which something like that results in runaway AI evolution towards incomprehensible nameless weakly-godlike monstrosities, utter societal and technological collapse, the end of human civilization and so on?

    I only know of “Scratch Monkey” by Stross, and that’s more optimistic – the humans get to survive however they have to spend the eternity running away from various levels of godlike AIs whose sole interest is getting more resources and most of whom only communicate with meatbags via high-energy weaponry. The nicer ones talk to people and eat their souls though..

  60. @Y: Re: Echopraxia… was just paging through it looking for something and had to stop myself from posting here about what I considered maybe the most important topic brought up in there, because of spoiler considerations. But a clue may be had to that topic and also an answer to your question.

    If you like Vernor Vinge, he has an excellent and award-winning novel that deeply touches on the subject of AI takeovers and really bad stuff in the follow-ons, in “A Fire Upon the Deep”. Just be warned that the AIs there aren’t just weakly godlike. And when they’re good, they’re very very good, but when they’re bad, they’re rotten.

    Meanwhile: a Happy New Year to all!

  61. Y.,

    Blood Music by Greg Bear fits that qualification.

  62. Just finished Echopraxia and wanted to leave praise somewhere it might be seen by the author…

    In the interests of spoilers I will leave the story itself and say that the references were just as interesting as the story itself in this as it was for Blindsight.

    I very much enjoyed seeing some of the thought processes in the making of the story as the story itself.

    As to people complaining, it might be the disconnection from regular people in the story coupled with the lack of resolution or closure of some of the action scenes.

    Leaving hanging threads just irks some people, they like a beginning a middle and an end, a Chekhovs gun displayed then left unused or ignored is a subconscious irritation.

    edited for misspell of Chekhov

  63. Just echoing (hah) praise for Echopraxia – and also echoing that I’m putting it on the Hugo nominations (though I suspect the first part in a fantasy series (which has serious editing and pacing issues) will win, due to externalities).

    “I will admit that it won’t be quite as upbeat as my other endings.” Interesting and slightly scary

    I went back to Blindsight afterwards, and the Alien vs Aliens comparison works to some extent – in that the human side was outclassed in both films, despite the second go round supposedly knowing what was going on. As well as more explosions.

    As for Bruks as a flawed narrator with limited agency, I think it worked for me – it made him more relatable in his flaws. The Bicamerals I had difficulties with, mainly because I’m baseline.

    I did see some mirroring in the formally Bruks meat at the end reflecting Behemoth a little.

    Long winded way of saying, please keep writing “difficult” books – a challenge is what I read SF for, and there is far too little of it around, so please keep producing some of the best examples.

    I have no idea why the MRA lot think you are a flagwaver for them, though. And I do find the scenario of nothing happening due to political gridlock as we sink beneath the waves depressingly likely.

    Chris

  64. Anonymous:
    Y.,

    Blood Music by Greg Bear fits that qualification.

    Yup. Read that, it was a satisfyingly grim piece of existential horror. Forgot to mention that though.

  65. “This should not be necessary.”

    Dammit, please, please, please don’t make an obvious book! I *like* that I have to go back a second or a third time or even a fourth to get it all! As long as there is something really solid there to *get*, it just adds to my enjoyment! And yes, I liked Echopraxia better than Blindsight.

  66. Having discovered Blindsight rather unintentionally; I felt compelled to reread it before starting Echopraxia.

    Since I simply regurgitated several others sentiments in the above, rather than continue, I’ll just add that mine strongly echo those of Brian.

    However, I would offer perhaps another aspect to Amazon’s rating. If Amazon’s inane “rate this” emails annoy others as much as it does me, then there is likely a measurable contingent which flatly refuses to participate — if only in protest. (And yes, I fully realize just how futile such an act is.)

  67. I just noticed that Siri in Blindsight states that there were 65,536 probes that burned up in the atmosphere. In the beginning of Echopraxia, Bruks remembers it as 62,000.

    Is there some significance to this?

    Currently on the 3rd Echopraxia re-read in the hopes I’ll finally figure out what the hell is going on! I’ll also post a review on Amazon and Goodreads when I’m done!

  68. Day late. Dollar short. Or many days, to be precise. And probably many dollars short!

    Peter, you wrote:
    “Even many of those who absolutely adore Echopraxia admit that it is a “difficult” book, that they frequently had to reread certain passages, that they’ll probably need to read the whole book again— perhaps after revisiting Blindsight— to really understand what happened. This should not be necessary.”

    I heartily disagree. In fact, I love Echopraxia – even more than Blindsight! – precisely because it is difficult. Not that Blindsight was easy, mind you. But Echopraxia was more ambiguous. And that’s a good thing. Every author has a point of view, to be sure. But the literature that lasts doesn’t just give you a pretty painting of that point of view; it gives you a lens through which to see the world anew.

    And fuck, if you’re writing about the posthuman future – and how a roach would perceive posthuman motivations (for all us pre-post-human readers) – of course it’s going to be fucking ambiguous. And difficult. And perhaps, it might require an extra read or two.

    Again, the extra read is a good thing. In fact, I’m struck by how many of my the other commenters in this thread have read Echopraxia multiple times. That, in and of itself, is a testament to EP.

    A week ago, the New York Times Book Review printed something on some recent translations of “War and Peace.” You’re no Tolstoy – nor, I’m pretty sure, do you want to be. But it’s weirdly apropos to your recent post (and my roundabout point):

    “This is an exercise [is Vronsky “repelled,” “disgusted,” or “offended”?] millions of native Russian readers of the novel perform several times in a lifetime. Teenage girls read the novel as melodramatic; adult readers of both genders begin to perceive irony — its amount seems to vary from reading to reading.”

    EP isn’t unclear. It’s ambiguous. As such, it will repel, disgust, and maybe even offend a certain type of reader. Especially the types that love infodumps. But you should be very happy in the knowledge that you’ve created something that people want to read and re-read until they “understand” it. Count me in.

  69. Jeremy Geddes: I ‘read’ almost all of my books via the audiobook format, as they are playing in the background whilst I work. I find that working whilst listening to a book leaves me enough mental capacity to process new and interesting ideas, but not enough to parse an opaque narrative structure.

    I had not thought of that. It’s a really good point— and if it applies widely I’m screwed, because I have no desire to write like Rob Sawyer (for example). Prose, to me, is part of the joy of the process. I like turns of phrase. Maybe there’s a visual component to that appreciation that gets lost in audio books, in which case my niche has just got somewhat smaller.

    Hugh: And on the boring pragmatic level, your publishers would absolutely hate you if the columns have to more or less line up side by side

    I can only dream about mattering enough to my publishers to inspire actual hatred. So far I don’t think I’ve managed to provoke more than the usual midlister’s contempt, leavened wth occasional irritation.

    ken: Your AMA on reddit was a good start, but you should build on social media platforms like that… Reach out to those friendly to your cause, like Cory Doctorow. BoingBoing.net is still a leading blog of note – I’m sure a little exposure on that website would grease more than a few eyeballs in your direction … become a guest blogger on influential sites … It sounds a little greasy, I know.

    The problem is, I have an almost visceral aversion to this kind of behavior. I don’t want to be that kind of tub-thumping relentless self-promoter who can’t stop talking about himself at parties. I don’t even want to start down a road in that general direction.

    I know Cory could do wonders for me; hell, he already has, on several occasions. My hits always spike when I get boinged. But I never actually approached Cory on those occasions, someone else always brought me to his attention. Scalzi’s another case in point. He regularly opens his massively-successful blog to other authors with his “Big Idea” and award-pimping entries, and I think that’s hugely gracious of the man. He’s a good dude. But I’ve never submitted to those either, because it seems self-aggrandizing. I stay away from twitter; I’m not enough of an egotist to think that thousands are holding their breath wondering what I had for breakfast, and I’ve no patience for the trolls and warriors who whip up shitstorms on that platform every time someone twits something they disapprove of. This time of year you’ll see various authors in full-puffery mode on their websites, doing the whole “Awards-eligible” thing. You will not find me doing that.

    Don’t misunderstand: I’m as much of a glory hog as anyone. I want to be rich and famous and beloved by all. But I sure as shit aren’t going to get needy or pushy about it in public, and you know what? It’s not the place of the artist to trumpet how great their art is anyway. We’re too close to it. We can’t be trusted.

    Now, if some third party weighs in, I’ll certainly pass that along. I’ll gleefully cite good reviews. If someone asks me onto reddit I’ll happily say yes. I’ll weigh in with environmental predictions or essays on hive minds if someone else asks me too, and if I have the time. But that’s in response to other people thinking I’m cool. That’s not waving my arms and telling everyone how cool I think I am. If I’m the only one praising my work, maybe my work isn’t all that praiseworthy.

    There’s also the question of ethical gonads. It’s a very short hop from self-promotion to self-censorship. I’ve seen more than one author trumpet their own bona fides, strutting around the web like the fucking Batman speaking truth to power, only to slink away in the face of controversy because As an author I have to stay on good terms with the wider world, or I’ve got a book to hustle. Those people turn my stomach, and one way to avoid being them is to invest less in the Brand and more in the product.

    Anyway. If people are interested in what I have to say, they know where to find me. And if they don’t, well, you lot can spread the word, if you think it’s worth spreading.

  70. I emailed the guy who does The Setup a year or so ago suggesting you for the blog, and he thought it would be interesting. I don’t know if he ever bugged you. (I like it when people talk about the logistics of what they do)

    a few comments up thread someone mentioned rereading as a good thing. hell yeah. It’s not a bad sign. Take Gene Wolfe for example. We obsessively reread him.

    btw, have you listened to your audiobook narrator? I have an audiobook version of Blindsight, and will probably pick up Echopraxia too. I like the narrator, but was wondering about your take on him and how you’d imagine the perfect narrator for an audio book.

    I have a hell of time trying to listen to audio books. My eyes feel weird, my mind wanders. I can’t pay attention like I do with a book, but I enjoy hearing things. I play some mindless game like 2048 to ocuppy my busy brain and eyes while I listen (high score 133K, I finally got to a 2^13 tile). but I have a better idea lately — turn on the narraator and read the words at the same time. This isn’t perfect, I have to speed up the narration or it’s jarring.

  71. I think a general rule of writing is…know who your intended audience is. One (valid) criticism of Hemingway was that no one ever had to run to a dictionary while reading one of his books. I think you are running up against a couple of countervailing desires – one to beautiful prose that tackles meaningful questions (despite nihilism running deep throughout the answers) while having mass market success…and doing this while writing sci-fi (a genre that’s not exactly replete with beautiful prose or mass market success…it’s considered pulp fiction for a reason).

    That’s where a good editor comes in. “Peter, I’m not as smart as you, what exactly did you mean here?” I suspect the challenge is getting a good editor before you’ve achieved mass market success. You need someone dumb enough to not get everything you are writing (or at least pretend that they don’t get it), and smart and confident enough to challenge you where you go off the literary rails with respect to being able to market your work to a wide(r) audience.

    So, it comes back to know who your audience is. If the audience is really smart, well educated people who like dystopian science fiction, I’m afraid your attempt at wider commercial success (pre-movie option at least) is going to be an uphill climb. You’ll be selling to people like me (not that I’m all that smart or educated, but I’ve looked at the Science covers in the periodical section once or twice) and the other low tens of thousands of people like us. You’re best bet under that scenario is to get a movie option and let Hollywood turn your work into another Event Horizon. Just don’t sign the movie deal that Winston Groom did for Forrest Gump.

    One possible approach and one it sounds like you are exploring, is to write a more conventional novel, one that is “reachable” by the Reader’s Digest+ level public, and use a side character or plot to explore some of the darker, less approachable aspects of your art. It’s dirty and selling out, and I wouldn’t suggest you do it except as a way to keep you writing and not have to resort to teaching high school biology like Walter White.

  72. Hi Peter, I would love, love, LOVE to commission a short story by you at pretty much any rate you want. Could you please PM me if it’s something you’d consider?

  73. Sheila:
    btw, have you listened to your audiobook narrator? I have an audiobook version of Blindsight, and will probably pick up Echopraxia too. I like the narrator, but was wondering about your take on him and how you’d imagine the perfect narrator for an audio book.

    Not asking me and haven’t heard his reading of Blindsight, but he’s one of the most imaginative, creative, and smart actors I ever had the pleasure of working with. Learned a lot from him.

  74. Sheila: I emailed the guy who does The Setup a year or so ago suggesting you for the blog, and he thought it would be interesting. I don’t know if he ever bugged you.

    Rings no bells with me.

    Sheila: btw, have you listened to your audiobook narrator?

    For a few minutes, in the free sample part of the Amazon page. Seems find. He speaks slowly and carefully, which probably adds a few megabytes to the overall sound file. But what I’d really like to check out is the sound of him reading all those references at the end. (He does recite the references, yes? After all, the audiobook is described as “unabridged”…)

    Lane: That’s where a good editor comes in.

    Yeah, I think you’re right. I need a more ruthless editor. Or maybe a more invested one— I think I remember reading somewhere that David Hartwell claimed to spend around 6 hours on each novel he edited, which strikes me as a bit on the low side (especially when you look at some of the results…)

  75. re: Audiobook

    Yeah, the last 30 minutes are the references, they flow really well on the audiobook. The slowness of narrators can grate a little, thankfully there are speed options.

  76. Peter Watts,

    You aren’t given the audiobook versions of your books? :/ That’s dorky.

    Listen to the sample of the Blindsight guy too. He’s got nice gravel in his voice.

  77. Also voices in the Venture Bros, Bioshock Infinite game, and is the monster in Brainscan.

  78. Peter Watts: Rings no bells with me.

    Yeah, I think you’re right.I need a more ruthless editor.Or maybe a more invested one— I think I remember reading somewhere that David Hartwell claimed to spend around 6 hours on each novel he edited, which strikes me as a bit on the low side (especially when you look at some of the results…)

    6 hours seems absurdly low, even just assuming basic proof reading for grammatical errors. Another possibility – and one probably more economical than an editor in the hundreds of billable hours is a focus group (or even just a single person) that’s not composed of your peers or ex-peers (e.g., PhD+ level biologists) or your current fan base or *their peers*. Of course, getting a soccer mom who isn’t into sci-fi to read a chapter might result in a high noise to signal ratio (apologies to any soccer moms reading this who feel insulted, but dystopian hard sci-fi isn’t their typical genre), but it could also give you data, cheaply, about portions of your work that might be more unapproachable for a more generalized audience. Might not work with a more demanding publishing schedule (e.g., a book or two a year, vs a book every 2 or three years).

    And just for the record, I have no bone in this fight other than wanting to see you continuing to publish since I selfishly enjoy reading your works (minus C:L).

  79. I would unhesitatingly contribute to any crowdfunded books you publish.

  80. I haven’t read Echopraxia but I’ve gotta say, I do like stained glass. In moderation.

    I love Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. There’s an indescribable feeling when I just finished reading it the first time. But it has enough stained glass and ambiguity that it pressures me to either flee for Google, or pause and ruminate on “what the hell is going on, why is he doing this, wtf is this, wtf is that?” It’s embarrassing, but I’m too lazy to re-read it.

    Wolfe has a different /type/ of opaqueness compared to the works of Peter Watts.

    But when comparing relative opaqueness, Watts works I’ve read are just barely opaque. They do require some thought, and the application of a bit of scientific thinking, but they are quite easily digestible. The opaqueness are probably science/sci-fi. The characters have understandable (or guessable) motives that drive their action. The sci-fi isn’t incomprehensibly far-out either.

    In the end, style serves vision.

    Rifters and Blindsight offer plenty of vision. I’ll have to read Echopraxia before I’ll say if it worked for the novel.

  81. I’ve had to devote time to other issues last couple of months, Mr W, so I have not read beyond the suitably gripping opening of ‘Echopraxia.’ However, I plan to give it close attention soon as I can and an Amazon UK review, and I am sure it will be a positive one. Plus, if it’s half as good as ‘Blindsight’ I’ll buy copies for friends like I did with that, I have mentioned ‘The Things’ about six times to my MA Creative Writing group but separately one of the tutors had said how much he admired it… your credit is very high with me, as it is with many of your mind-controlled robot hordes, keep on keeping on, you’re only going to get better. I do wish you’d knock out a potboiler to make some proper cash, but I think you are too much of a purist (hint: this is why God invented pseudonyms). It’s the mark of an artist to be self-critical but in the long run… before you say ‘we’re all dead,’ I was going to say ‘we get to improve.’ Yes?

  82. Here is a nice background piece on eye jiggling for any future zombie deployments you have planned. (I’m sorta fond of your zombies.) This guys makes a good argument that the oscillation gives us a fatter visual pipe and goes into some detail about how frame rates affect us.
    http://accidentalscientist.com/2014/12/why-movies-look-weird-at-48fps-and-games-are-better-at-60fps-and-the-uncanny-valley.html?

    Looks like your kind of nerd info.

  83. dhlight: Looks like your kind of nerd info.

    Completely is. Thanks for that link: I have stored it.

  84. Peter Watts,

    Also, I forgot to mention that I don’t think you should simplify or drop what you called your “stained glass windows” writing. I bet that I speak for a lot of your audience in saying that Gene Wolfe has had us running laps and slamming into tackling dummies for 30 years now. We expect that we’re gonna have to work up some sweat to stay in the game.