Speciation Ahoy!

Strange Horizons has just posted this bipartite piece on Scott Bakker’s Neuropath and my own Blindsight. It’s billed as a review, but it doesn’t read as one so much as a brief comparative essay on the thematic focii of the two novels. The reviewer— one Nader Elhefnawy, visiting professor of Literature out of U. Miami— regards the books as exemplars of sf’s “new direction”, a course also being plotted by the likes of Ted Chiang, Greg Egan, and Daryl Gregory as a kind of nihilistic counterpoint to the post-cyberpunk Singularity-huggers.

So I’m looking at this, and I’m thinking Hmmm… an academic comparing two related works in a burgeoning thematic niche. Or, more concisely: New Subgenre! All we really need to keep the marketers happy (and to keep the unicorn-huggers out of our shelf space at Barnes & Noble) is a name.

I call dibs on Neuropunk. Who’s with me?

Update 26/08/08 (in response to Ray’s well-taken comment): Ooh! Ooh! Even better:


Doesn’t it just roll off the tongue? It sounds like some kind of all-natural herbal remedy!
This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday August 25 2008at 07:08 am , filed under ink on art, writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

18 Responses to “Speciation Ahoy!”

  1. Sounds far too happy.

    How about “death neurometal”, by analogy with the death metal subgenre of music that seems to go so well with the insanely depressed moods I’ve been in lately after reading through your four online books in less than two weeks?

    Where’s that tip jar again?

  2. Or Psychopunk.

    Actually, you know, “-punk” is so overused and entirely overabused these days. Are we still feeding off the seventies? Find a new suffix to go with the footnotes and tech refs and ever-narrower event horizons.

  3. You're right about "-punk". And neither "Neuroyup" nor "neurogoth" work either. But I think I've come up with just the right word, and I've edited the main entry to put it front and center.

    And I've officially linked it to "Ray". Because, you know— spread the glory.

  4. neurotica – of or relating to the fucking of the mind.

    – bp

  5. Just finished Neuropath and IMO it rocked.

    I think Neuropunk's just fine. Think of the possibilities. I can see it now…wait…here it comes:

    Edited by Peter Watts & Scott Bakker

    Yes, I know the first line's a Ministry album title but what the hell…

    Bring it on! 😉


  6. It is interesting, but Neuropath is already in paperback in the U.K., but hasn’t been released yet in the U.S. Does anyone know why this is? No matter, one can order it from Amazon UK (Thanks Peter for the link), but com on, its called a global supply chain. Man, don’t bitch about piracy if you don’t do a global release! (Although to be fair, RS Bakker hasn’t bitched about piracy)…

  7. Evidently Bakker had real problems finding a US publisher; it came out in Canada and the UK, but most American houses shied away from the uncomfortable and challenging themes, fearing perhaps that hordes of beach-readers would rebel if they picked up a summer thriller and then ended up suicidally depressed by the sudden apprehension of their own worthlessness as human beings.

    But good news: Tor picked up the ball, and will be releasing Neuropath in March 2009. They even approached me for a blurb, which I was happy to provide (despite the irony inherent in a publisher who doesn’t think my name is strong enough to sell my own books, asking to use it to sell someone else’s…)

  8. Better still, an anthology of SF garbagemen: The Waste Is A Terrible Thing To Mind- the finest words in “neurocrusty”

  9. Why settle for a subgenre label? I haven’t read the other work but I found myself largely in disagreement with the Blindsight side of the article. Yes the book had some jagged edges but wasn’t that THE FUCKING POINT. You don’t cozy up to a book like blindsight you hold it at arms length and hope it doesn’t kill you in your sleep. If anything the roughness of the read was what made it so exhilarating. Literally every other page, sometimes multiple times per page I had to either stop and think about some obscure lesson from Biopsych or organic chem and revise my appreciation and/or revulsion of the human mind. The point is you don’t assassinate someone with a wiffle bat and you sure as shit don’t read Peter Watts expecting to put it down with the warm fuzzies afterward.

    I’m excited to add something new to my book list though.

  10. I think I’ve mentioned it, but the basic plot of Neuropath reminds me of the novel DARK MATTER by Gabriel Reeve-Stevens (I think). It’s a murder mystery thriller that has a quantum physicist performing experiments on living victim’s brains to augment his theories of reality in some way. To be honest, it’s clever but not a compelling read. I never have gotten all the way through it, and it doesn’t really stick, but it may fit in this fledgling sub-genre. It may be to “neuropunk” what the “alienist” is in relation to “steampunk.”

  11. ===PW—
    NeuroPunk it is.
    Both NEURO and PUNK are realms
    unknown…well, give PUNK 5%.
    —Come to Phoenix illegal Punk
    show. Punk never dies, critical
    masses do.

  12. Read this over the weekend, right after Starfish.

    Talk about a one-two punch.

  13. -Nazi sounds pretty old-fashioned. And I haven’t observed nationalism or ethnocentrism or fascism as major themes in anything I’ve read by you or Egan. I don’t think it works.

  14. I see “biopunk” already has a Wikipedia page, FWIW.

  15. I thought that particular sub-subgenre was called “ribofunk”.

    anonypost by razorsmile, who hates logging into Blogger these days

  16. Man I have missed stopping by this blog. I just wanted to say:

    1) ribopunk wins, and
    2) unicorn-huggers is my new favorite word and (bookstores =unicorn-hugger-huggers).

  17. Neo-gnosticism. Only in this case, the unconscious self is consubstantial with nature, not God, and the world alien to our true being is the world of love, morality, and meaning.

    Disney World.

    The meaningful protagonist searching for meaning in an apparently meaningless world, and usually finding it in love, has got to be THE dominant form of fiction in the last century. What we have here, I like to think, are two books that attempt to systematically dismantle that form without resorting to hackneyed po-mo tropes.

    Interesting review, but disappointing in that it took so much at face value. Thanks for the link Peter!

    Scott Bakker

  18. Just finished Neuropath. Had to order it from the UK, but it finally arrived. Good book, and a great read. I think a must read for all religious fundamentalists. Although, on second thought, I don’t want it banned (and I like Scott’s work, so I wouldn’t want a fatwa nor a crusade held against him) so never mind.

    What I think is a big glossing over though is the amount of engineering required to understand the brain on the level that Neil does in the book. It is one thing to probe and test “theories” like where vision is etc. but to induce known memories/feelings/etc. seems to be a complex system rivaled bar none…