the Little Red Reviewer

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

Posted on: August 2, 2017

Echopraxia, by Peter Watts

published in 2014

Where I got it: I don’t remember

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Echopraxia, from dictionary.com:

  1. the abnormal repetition of the actions of another person.
  2. the involuntary imitation of the actions of others

 

Daniel Bruks is a regular human.  Living out in the desert after committing career suicide, Bruks is just a regular guy. And by regular, I mean he has no augments and his DNA and brain haven’t been mucked around with. By regular, I mean humanity is, in general, leaving him behind. But so long as they leave him alone, he’s fine with that.

 

Bruks keeps saying he doesn’t understand what’s happening, or why the Bicamerals even took him along on their mission when it would have been much easier to leave him behind. He’s not alone, as for the first half of this book, I had no idea what was happening either.  Watts certainly throws the reader into the deep end, and it was a frustrating first hundred pages.  Luckily, about a third of the way in, there are some conversational infodumps that tell you exactly what all these augmented humans are, and what Bruks is not.  And maybe  Bruks will eventually come to realize all the mean names the augments call him, names like roach and baseline, aren’t insults at all.

 

Echopraxia takes place in the same universe as Blindsight, and if you haven’t read Blindsight it is 1) one of the most incredible hard scifi novels ever written, and 2) won’t much prepare you for Echopraxia, as these two novels are those distant cousins who see each other at weddings and funerals, but can’t think of a reason to speak to each other.  That said, I couldn’t stop thinking about Blindsight while reading this novel. There is so much discussion in Echopraxia about how you can’t trust your own brain, you can’t trust your own perception. Blindsight was ALL ABOUT perception, and we see that story from Siri’s point of view, and of course he trusts his perception.  It makes for a fascinating dichotomy between the two novels!

 

Plotwise, I’m not 100% sure what is going on in Echopraxia. Bruk’s desert home is under attack by zombie drones, so he takes refuge at the nearby monastery of Bicamerals.  The Bicamerals are a sort of hive mind type thing, they have souped up synapses spiked with genetics from our ancient ancestors, genetics homo sapiens evolved away from because we “didn’t need that stuff anymore”.  Turns out, it isn’t Bruks the zombies are attacking, but the monastery. When the Bicams escape, they take Bruks and their “pet” vampire, Valerie, along with. What the hell do they need Bruks for? For that matter, what the hell do they need a god damn Vampire for?  Once out in space, the story takes a turn for the visceral horror, because Valerie is the smartest predator the Earth has ever seen.  (What are vampires doing in a hard scifi novel, you ask? Fantastic question!  And the answer is in Blindsight, and also in that novel’s appendix, where Watts brilliantly discusses how Vampires are genetically viable and possible on Earth, and why it was a really terrible idea for us to bring their genetics back)

With time on their hands (while they are hiding from Valerie), Bruks and the rest of the escaped Bicamerals have some pretty fascinating discussions about how our brains work, perception, why we like to see faces and animals in clouds, and that maybe physics is the just the operating system for the galaxy, and the belief in god is just a virus running on that operating system. Cold and brutal, yes. But also mathematically beautiful.  Their chit-chat helps them almost forget that not only are they sharing a spaceship with an apex predator, but they are also on their way to a station that might be holding something even more deadly.

 

Bruks is quite literally, along for the ride, and while he tried to find his place, I enjoyed watching how his perceptions of the people around him change. For instance, take Rakshi Sengupta, who has a rather odd speech pattern. The more Bruks gets to know her, the more normal her speech patterns become. Which begs the question – is she talking more normally because she’s getting more comfortable around him, or is she talking the same way she did before but Bruks is having an easier time perceiving what she’s saying? That question is never asked outright, nor is it answered. But it sure is fun to think about.

 

While reading this book, I went back and forth between thinking “This is fucking awesome!” and “What the fuck am I reading??”.    This book is chock full of cool  ideas, but the prose is so dense and visceral that at times it is a chore to read.  The ending of the book came as more of a relief rather than a climax.  The last twenty pages or so are “Notes and References”, which reads more like a series of blog posts than a dry “references” or bibliography. While this section has a few spoilers, it would have been useful to have this at the beginning of the novel, so as to make the whole “thrown in the deep end” not feel quite so deep.

 

If you have never read Peter Watts, I do not recommend starting with Echopraxia.  Start with either Blindsight or his short story collection Beyond the Rift. The short stories are, by design, easier to get through, but Blindsight truly is a masterpeice. If you get through all of that, and want more vampires and heavier hard scifi ideas that will knock you on your ass and then help you up by offering a cold undead hand, by all means, pick up Echopraxia.

 

I’m okay with the fact that I didn’t understand everything that happened Echopraxia. The first time I read Blindsight, I was so sure I understood what was going on, and then when I read it again I realized how wrong I was and how what was actually going on was so much more fascinating than I thought. And we won’t even go into what I thought of Starfish the first time I read that.  All that to say, Echopraxia is weird as fuck, and even if it isn’t Watts’ best work, I’ll still reread it sometime. There’s a lot to unpack in this novel, and I know it’s going to take me a few times through to pull it all out.

 

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5 Responses to "Echopraxia, by Peter Watts"

I loved Blindsight, but with Echopraxia I didn’t understand what was happening half of the time. I really need to reread this.

Liked by 1 person

let me know if it makes better sense the 2nd time through! 🙂

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That was my experience also!

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Blindsight is my favorite book. I couldn’t tell what the frak was happening in Echopraxia while reading. However, when I finished the appendix I was in a totally different dimension. I was walking around in a daze for at least a couple of weeks. That appendix caused me to see everyone around me as a split personality and I could actually SEE the split and how it worked. I love Peter Watt’s brain.

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Happy to hear I’m not alone! I do want to read Echopraxia again eventually, but I think I’m going to start with rereading the Appendices again first, let my mind be blown again by them. because yes, Peter Watts’ brain is amazing!!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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