Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Neuropath

I've just finished reading a draft of R. Scott Bakker's soon-to-be-released Neuropath. Holy shit.

The neurology of consciousness. The advantages of nonsentience. People neurologically stripped of their behavioral constraints so that they can make the necessary Big Decisions of life and death without getting caught up in touchy-feeling shackles like conscience and morality. All the major themes of Blindsight and a bunch of those from the rifters trilogy thrown in for good measure...

And does he stick them in a hard-sf spaceships-and-aliens chassis that only hardcore skiffy geeks will read? Does he locate his story in a future so close to the Singularity's event horizon that society itself has grown strange and forbidding to the average reader? Does he present his arguments through characters so twisted and specialised that most readers have no choice but to regard them as more alien than the aliens they encounter?

No. He sets it a mere decade into the future, in the context of a serial killer police procedural. Instead of aliens and freaks he uses sexy FBI agents and divorced psychologists. This guy is basically writing about Blindsight-type issues, but is aiming them squarely at a da Vinci Code audience. He is dealing with the same existential questions, but has rendered them accessible for beach readers. He has done exactly what I would have done, if only I'd been smart enough.

At least Blindsight came out first. I can cling to that. Because trust me: when Neuropath hits the shelves, it's gonna be "Peter who?"

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18 Comments:

Blogger AR said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 8, 2007 at 11:01 PM  
Blogger AR said...

But does it have vampires?

In any case, when you consider that when someone says, "This story will only appeal to a particular hard sci-fi niche," I'm generally in that niche (hell, I'm on my way to becoming an actual scientist), I might end up liking Blindsight more anyway, if I read that other story at all. Hell, I liked Blindsight enough to buy 7 copies. Though, I'm probably not who you should be listening to if your idea is to have mass appeal.

But when I get the idea to talk about the latest in neurology, I'll always come here. I take entirely too much pleasure is messing up your No Cutesy Fucking Icons aesthetic to do otherwise.

May 8, 2007 at 11:09 PM  
Blogger TheRat said...

Blindsight is CC, Blindsight has gone where no author had ever dared to go before, and finally Blindsight is pure awesome.
Would I read yet another police-serial-killer book, or bask in the glowth of the truly bleeding edge? No contest there.
Let's just say I'm not thinking of importing it.

May 9, 2007 at 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Mark Pontin said...

I just bought and read BLINDSIGHT, and commend it hightly -- gave me the same sort of kick that Sterling's "Swarm" and Ian Watson's THE EMBEDDING did in their different times. That said -- and also thanking you for the heads-up about NEUROPATH, which sounds promising -- your theme of consciousness being a detrimental evolutionary outlier doesn't quite hold up for me. If you think about it, you'll see that biologically-based computation cannot produce an effective organism without consciousness. (Our kind of meat-based neurons and synapses can't, anyway; obviously, this isn't true for computation running on silicon, so maybe that kind of brain could evolve somewhere else in the galaxy, though I cannot imagine how.)

Workarounds to let us achieve "the advantages of non-sentience" as with the DARPA "binoculars" effort definitely seem possible in principal. But you'd still need consciousness "running in the background" to have an effectively functioning organism.

May 9, 2007 at 3:01 AM  
Anonymous Mark Pontin said...

I'll be a little less oblique. What's consciousness necessary for? There's a line of explanatory reasoning here that begins with an organism that, as a marine biologist, you'll be quite familiar with: the humble sea squirt.

May 9, 2007 at 3:18 AM  
Blogger Scott C. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

May 9, 2007 at 5:04 AM  
Blogger Brett D said...

Well, just to be a genre snob, Neuropath doesn't appeal so much to me either, even if I haven't even read the Amazon blurb.

The essential, unique thrill, the frisson, of hard sf is the no excuses, no-place-to-hide relentlessness of its implict and lately explicit posthumanism. A detective story, no matter how challenging, is still going to end with the accepted order restored de facto, no matter how precariously - if there's any radical change supposed or implied, then it becomes by definition sf.

Serial killers don't scare me - they always kill other people and in the end, they either get caught or die of old age. Blindsight scared me the way that Wells' The War of the Worlds and Lem's The Invincible scared me - not because the aliens were grotesque (hell, you can buy Cthulhu plush dolls), but because the Martians, the black flies and the vampires were plausibly shown to be better than me. Nothing could ever be the same again if any of them showed up.

That's what Suvin's "cognitive estrangement" is and that's what sf is for as far as I'm concerned.

May 9, 2007 at 7:25 AM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

mark pontin says, intriguingly,

"If you think about it, you'll see that biologically-based computation cannot produce an effective organism without consciousness."

And later,

"What's consciousness necessary for? There's a line of explanatory reasoning here that begins with an organism that, as a marine biologist, you'll be quite familiar with: the humble sea squirt."

Mark, could you elaborate on this? I'm not following (or if I am, I'm not agreeing, unless you and I define "biologically-based computation" differently).

May 9, 2007 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

"But...but... I like spaceships and aliens...and space vampires..."

Yeah, I do too-- but my point is, there's only about six of us! And there's like, millions that read police procedurals!

"I'll read Mr.Bakker's book. I'm sure its good. I'll hate it for you anyways. I can read between the lines...I can tell that's what you want"

Yes, yes. Hate the man, by all means. Appreciate the book, though.

Just don't buy too many copies for your friends.

May 9, 2007 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger razorsmile said...

I've been looking forward to Neuropath ever since I read Bakker's fantasy books. Been pondering exactly where Kellhus falls on the consciousness spectrum (in my post-Blindsight opinion, wouldncha know? :D)

Any ballpark figures on when Neuropath becomes commercially available?

As for you worrying about how great it is, just remember: his sales will be all the more because of all the people who bought Blindsight wanting their fix. You may just have created the next cottage-industry in fiction (see: Da Vinci Code and the entire fang-fucker genre).

Oh wait ...

May 9, 2007 at 8:29 PM  
Blogger Mac said...

Oh, I'll always have a soft spot for "Blindsight." BTW, I *did* find Siri cuddly, probably because we're not terribly dissimilar.

May 9, 2007 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Fraxas said...

Bakker's doctorate is in philosophy; yours is in biology. You both wrote books about the intersection of the two, with training in one side and an intense, though informal, interest in the other.

/Blindsight/ and /Neuropath/ don't compete, they complement; and holy shit would I ever like to be there if/when you two sit down over a pint or 6 and hash the ideas out.

May 10, 2007 at 12:52 PM  
Anonymous david ellis said...


gave me the same sort of kick that Sterling's "Swarm" and Ian Watson's THE EMBEDDING did in their different times.


Ah, "Swarm". That story is one of my alltime favorites.

May 10, 2007 at 6:23 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

razorsmile asks,

"Any ballpark figures on when Neuropath becomes commercially available?"

And I don't have a clue, beyond sometime this year. (I take it you've checked out his website already?)

May 10, 2007 at 10:16 PM  
Blogger Peter Watts said...

fraxas remarked

"/Blindsight/ and /Neuropath/ don't compete, they complement; and holy shit would I ever like to be there if/when you two sit down over a pint or 6 and hash the ideas out."

We kind of did already — with Karl Schroeder and Deanna Hoak and Allan Steele and — some guy, think his name was Scalzi something? — but somehow it degenerated into a drunken cell-phone/camera headbutting contest. Deanna actually documented it, but that particular July-23 entry on her blog has gone mysteriously missing, so I can only link to Google's cache, here.

May 10, 2007 at 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes. I frequent the forums too. Nothing concrete there either. I was gambling on author-exclusive inside info :D

- razorsmile anonypost

May 11, 2007 at 1:12 AM  
Blogger Deanna Hoak said...

LOL! Sorry, Peter; I was getting some...weird hits to a lot of the pics on my blog and locked a lot of them for the time being. :-)

That was ever such a fun conversation and con. :-)

May 11, 2007 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger chelsea.polk said...

Deanna you must come up to boston if you can! really.

May 19, 2007 at 3:38 AM  

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