Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Peter Watts' Echopraxia is not so much a sequel to Blindsight as a sequentially-timed companion piece. The characters and locations are all different; weirdly, the only constant is the aliens (kind of), and since they are not identifiably individual/group entities and don't speak, I don't think it/they really count for story continuity.

As a companion piece, Echopraxia does well --- it maintains the balance of cool and weird ideas* with an engaging and unpredictable plot. The structure was eerily similar: a slow build of action and ideas, turning in a widening gyre, punctuated by a sudden flurry of violence, trailing off into chaos as things fall apart and the book ends. Anarchy is, of course, loosed upon the world.

Again, many elements of the book were pure bait to me.
But she wasn't letting it go. "Everything's numbers you go down far enough don't you know?" She poked him, pinched his arm. "You think this is continuous? You think there's anything but math?"
He knew there wasn't. ... Numbers didn't just describe reality, numbers were reality, discrete step functions smoothing up across the Planck Length into an illusion of substance. (p. 166)
This quote flung me out of Echopraxia and back to my forever-sustained reread of A Compact History of Infinity, whose prose about the continuum is pure joy.

Echopraxia didn't really stick the landing for me. The main character was often off-balance and uncomfortable, but I felt sympathy neither with his feelings, nor his situation, nor his ignorance, nor him himself, even though he was the most relatably-like-modern-humans character, and recipient of the (reader-oriented) explanations and gradual reckoning of ideas.

The ending was incredibly bleak and pessimistic, a sort of anti-engaging wrapper around all the neat ideas. A bushel over the light. Blindsight was about consciousness and neurons, but Echopraxia seems to be about religion and neurons, which is just not as interesting to me.

This book made me feel retroactively obsolete from the vantage of future observers. Meh. I do not especially recommend it.

This post's theme word is casuistry, "deceptive or excessively subtle reasoning, especially on moral issues." Sufficiently advanced rhetoric is indistinguishable from casuistry; we're too dumb to understand the necessary nuanced reasoning.

*thoroughly-cited in Real Academic Literature, adding a huge chunk to my nonfiction reading queue

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