MeFi etiquette apparently dictates that I start this thing with IamA. Let's start with an IamNot instead.

I am not Naomi Watts's dad. I was not Pink Floyd's road manager back in the sixties. I never had anything to do with Mott the Hoople. I am not the bald guy from Millenium. I am not the @peter_watts who's all over twitter from some secret base in London, or the other one who takes pictures. I do not make wine (although I convert more than my share to urine). If I were Peter Watts the biblical scholar I might possibly kill myself.

I am definitely not the Peter Watts from Upper Dicker, whose collection of child porn got him all over the news way back in 2004, on the very same day that I told all my friends to google my name because Wired.com quoted me at length in one of their articles that happened to go up on that date. Even though I am the same age as him. I am not that Peter Watts.

IamA science fiction writer and former biologist, is what I am. I am significantly more cheerful than most people seem to expect. I am here to answer your questions this very evening at 7pm EDT, but you may want to post now and avoid the rush (especially since some folks out there might still think I'm the pedophile from Upper Dicker).

I am also an announcer of sorts, here to tell you that the people going by the handles "/u/mrtherussian", "/u/cjv89", and "/u/TheGreat-Zarquon" have won signed copies of my latest novel, Echopraxia. (I suppose I should get going on that.) Echopraxia was released today, and the reviews so far have been pretty glowing; I expect them to get worse over time, though.

You could ask me about that, if you like.

(Oh, right. They demand "proof" that I'm who I say I am, so: proof.)

Comments: 246 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

LonelyMachines28 karma

I'll say it at the outset: Blindsight hit me on a gut level more than anything I've read in years. Yes, the characters and plotting were great, but that's not it.

The central thesis that consciousness is an aberration and evolutionary dead-end is what got to me. You argued the point very well.

So, my question is this: do you believe that? If so, could you expand on the idea? If not...well played!

If there's a similar central theme to Echopraxia, how could it be summed up?

The-Squidnapper41 karma

So, my question is this: do you believe that?

I didn't when I wrote the damn thing. I just couldn't think of anything that an intelligent agent needed consciousness for, and it finally occurred to me that the idea of consciousness as a maladaptive side-effect was an awesome punchline for an SF story. I pretty much knew that about two weeks after release, some actual neuroscientist would condescendingly point out something that had never occured to me (because I generally don't know what the fuck I'm talking about), and that would be that.

Since then, though, the evidence for the spandrel interpretation has only grown stronger. There are actual peer-reviewed papers out there arguing for the nonessentiality of consciousness. I may have blindly tossed a dart over my shoulder and, purely by accident, hit the bullseye.

If there's a similar central theme to Echopraxia, how could it be summed up?

Less than a day after release, and you're already asking for the Cliff's notes?

I think not.

Jordan11728 karma

Hi Dr. Watts -- big fan! I was the one who put together this in-depth guide to your work the other day for anybody unfamiliar -- thanks for dropping by in the comments!

I was curious about the names you chose in Blindsight -- they seem split between the fairly ordinary (Susan James, Amanda Bates, Jim Moore) and the unconventional (Siri Keeton, Isaac Szpindel, Jukka Sarasti). What made you decide on these names? Do they have any deeper meaning?

edit: Heh -- for anybody wondering, the "MeFi" in Dr. Watts' OP is referring to MetaFilter, the community blog I posted that guide to and invited him to visit yesterday. This is Reddit, man -- don't cross the streams!

The-Squidnapper38 karma

Hey Jordan.

You get dibs because of all the work you did on that link farm. I especially liked the juxtaposition of "fasciitis" and "fascist".

I tuckerise a lot of characters. I take people out for beer and pick their brains, and then stick them into the novel they've informed to die a horrible death. Susan James is a real person, with a background in linguistics. Isaac Szpindel is a real neuroscientist. Jim Moore was some dude who won a contest-- I've never met him, but he still exists.

Siri Keeton, OTOH, came to me in a dream. And Jukka was the name of a friend of my first known overseas fan, in Finland; I was looking for a name with overtones of icy albino psychopathy, so who better than the Finns? (Actually, the Norwegians-- but I didn't have any Norwegian connections back then.) Little did I know that every third male in that blasted country is named "Jukka". When I did my book signings, I ran into so many Jukkas in the first five minutes that I thought either a) the whole damn con was yanking my chain, or b) Blindsight had been so influential that half the male population had had their names legally changed.

Rule of thumb, if the name seems unremarkable, it's probably the name of an actually human being. Otherwise I hallucinated it.

LlamaNL26 karma

Hi! I've read Blindsight about 3 or 4 times and there's still one thing i'm not completely clear on. How do the scramblers relate to Rorschach ? Is the 'ship' the alien organism and are the scramblers a sort of hyper intelligent white blood cells. Or are the scramblers the aliens and Rorschach is their space ship. Or are they all one big greasy ecosystem extending their slimy tendrils across the stars ?

The-Squidnapper64 karma

Imagine you are Siri Keeton: Imagine I am Robert Cunningham.

It's a meaningless question. Were do you draw the line between organism and environment? The thousands of mitochondria paying rent in the least of your cells are arguably organisms in their own right; they just need the intracellular environment to survive. Your mammalian body is the same; it's "self-contained", has its own replicative machinery (although not nearly so self-sufficient as the replicative machinery of your mitochondria), but requires an external biosphere to survive. How do we justify calling ourselves "individuals", while reducing our mitochondria to "organelles"?

It's nesting Russian dolls all the way out. Any internally-consistent definition of "individual" recedes toward the horizon until you basically have to call the whole biosphere a single entity (not that I buy into that Gaia Earth-mother bullshit, mind you). And Rorschach? It was mere kilometers across.

Scramblers are every bit as much "individuals" as you are. As mitochondria are.

When you can snatch this pebble from my hand, it will be time for you to leave.

The-Squidnapper24 karma

Okay people, I'm out of here. Thanks for the questions: I'll try to get to the unanswered ones over the next few days. Assuming the admins haven't banned me by then.

It was fun.

Chtorrr19 karma

I've noticed that you give away several of your novels and many short stories on your website. Has that helped your career? Would you recommend that other writers do the same?

I got Echopraxia as an advance form Netgalley and it was great!

I've posted a link to your free books over in /r/freeEBOOKS I'll be leaving the post at the top there for a few days :)

The-Squidnapper61 karma

I've noticed that you give away several of your novels and many short stories on your website. Has that helped your career?

It bloody well saved my career. Blindsight was tanking-- one of the major US distributors had skipped on the preorders, Tor gave it a really crappy cover layout (although the artist, Thomas Pringle, does great work) and put out an initial print run of about half a dozen copies-- so that when the buzz started to build, nobody could find a copy of the damn thing to buy. There were a couple of specialty store out on the west coast that had Blindsight listed as their #1 seller without ever selling a single physical copy-- based entirely on back-orders-- because they simply had no stock to sell. And for some reason, even after the demand started building, Tor seemed reluctant to do another print run.

So I saw two options. 1: Book tanks, nobody can read it; or 2) book tanks, anyone can read it. I saw no option where Blindsight would ever make money. So what the hell, thought I-- I may die poor, but maybe I won't die completely obscure. Told my editor I was going to set everything free under a Creative Commons license-- it would have broken the contract, but Cory Doctorow had been getting away with it for years and besides, I figured my writing career was pretty much kaput anyway. Editor asked me to wait a month, to see if things turned around. I waited. They didn't. Finis.

The week after I started giving Blindsight away, sales tripled. The rest is history.

Would you recommend that other writers do the same?

Not necessarily. The reason Blindsight did okay (and only okay-- it was never any kind of Scalziesque bestseller) was not because people had been dying to read it but didn't want to fork out the cash; it was more along the lines of, nobody knew who the fuck I was in the first place. But when you give a novel away mere weeks after its official release date, that gets noticed. Cory boing-boinged it. Scalzi blogged it. Even my editor's (then) wife did some free promo on her website, and suddenly it was on the radar. It didn't succeed because I gave it away. It succeeded because I did something newsworthy.

Of course, the more people who go that route, the less newsworthy it becomes. As a strategy, it's kind of like sociopathy; works fine so long as a very few people are doing it, but when everyone adopts the strategy the payoff dwindles to zero.

JHunz6 karma

As a follow-up question: I just got into your work when I picked up Beyond the Rift on Kindle (I think it was a daily deal). Is there any chance of you taking the work that you've made free elsewhere and turning it into a single nicely formatted ebook for free on Amazon? I can (and will, if you have no plans) download them all individually but the convenience of whispernet is hard to overstate.

The-Squidnapper8 karma

If you'd asked me this last year I would've said, sure. Now, maybe not so much.

I'm still not sure why the good folks at Tachyon wanted to try and sell a collection of stories I'd already set free on the CC; when they approached me, I felt a little like I was taking advantage of them. But the one thing that collection has going for it is, it is a collection-- as you say, a single nicely formatted book. It's more convenient to download one file than twenty.

So I would hesitate to undercut them on that convenience front, given that they've already got an uphill battle trying to sell stories tat are freely available elsewhere.

mage2k19 karma

While your professional scientific background is as a biologist your works are still very hard-scifi, technical, and deep in a cross-disciplinary way. So, do you get your ideas for your works and then do the necessary research to support them or are you constantly reading science journals and taking inspiration from them. A mix of the two? Something else entirely, like a custom magic 8-ball?

Also, much of your work tends to be rather cynical in a bleak, existential way. After your time spent working in biology and then researching other disciplines for your books and/or self-interest do you really look at things that way or do you just get off on instilling that kind of existential dread in people?

The-Squidnapper52 karma

So, do you get your ideas for your works and then do the necessary research to support them or are you constantly reading science journals and taking inspiration from them. A mix of the two? Something else entirely, like a custom magic 8-ball?

A mix of the two, really-- although no matter were the idea comes from initially, research virtually guarantees that you'll uncover cool new angles you'd never have discovered otherwise.

A magic 8-ball would be awesome, though.

After your time spent working in biology and then researching other disciplines for your books and/or self-interest do you really look at things that way or do you just get off on instilling that kind of existential dread in people?

I really look at things "that way"-- but look, "that way" is not nearly as nihilistic as you all seem to think it is. I was trained as a biologist. Humans are vertebrates, humans are mammals, and when you take a clade-wide perspective you can't not notice that we're all connected by far more than that which separates us. People are so used to exalting themselves as the pinnacle of goddamn creation that they assume that anyone who regards us as just another mammal must be a cynic, must be doing it for shock value or trendy points. But I remember whole buildings where everyone had that perspective, and it wasn't considered grim or nihilistic. It was cool; we were discovering patterns, we were seeing commonalities in the precopulatory bribes of mating spiders and the spousal assaults of three-spined sticklebacks and the male harems of phalaopes and all those human behaviors that everyone thought were so unique. We were connecting the dots in a global puzzle. It wasn't depressing. It was exciting.

Sometimes I miss those days.

IheartFerg17 karma

In light of your unfortunate encounter with US authorities, do you have any advice for those of us in Ferguson? (Isn't it nice? I don't have to explain where Ferguson is any more.)

The-Squidnapper74 karma

Okay, this is good one to finish the night off with. Because it's gonna go over like a lead balloon.

I don't know if I'd call this "advice" so much as a thought experiment-- but it occurs to me that cops (from whatever jurisdiction) can afford to be pretty blase about killing us civilians because they are so rarely held to any serious account. Put simply, they don't pay much of a price for murder.

Suppose they did?

It's well-known among the game-theory crowd that the most effective long-term strategy is simple tit-for-tat: give the other payer the benefit of the doubt in transactions until the other player screws you, then screw them back. It's the Old Testament edict of an eye for an eye, but with SCIENCE!

Apply that to Ferguson. Hell, apply it to Toronto or Vancouver. Suppose that every time a cop killed one of us, one of us killed a cop. Not the cop, not the shooter, but some other cop, at random. Suddenly, all their shouting about "due process" (which never seems to apply when they're gunning kids down in the street, but which always seems to get raised at strident deciblage when the next-of-kin have the temerity to get outraged at said shooting) means nothing. Suddenly, every time one of yours kills one of ours, you could be next.

The ol' Blue Wall of Silence might crumble pretty fast when every time your partner kills someone, you might have to pay with your life. In a world of optimal tit-for-tat, unthinking loyalty to the badge isn't the thing that keeps you unaccountable: it's the thing that could get you killed. Why, the police might even start policing themselves faced with such a prospect.

Of course it's not fair. You're denying due process. You're killing an innocent human being who, in all likelihood, had nothing to do with the murder you're reacting to. (You have to: the actual shooter will be too well-protected.) It's not justice-- but then, it's not meant to be. And it's not like we have any kind of justice now.

Sure, it's a revenge fantasy. But it's more than that. It's operant conditioning.

And if we scrupulously abided by the algorithm, I'd say the odds are good it would save lives in the long run.

Good night.

The-Squidnapper14 karma

Twenty-minute Warning here, folks: I'll be signing off at 9:30 (so, yes, 20 minutes for those of you in different time-zones) to have dinner and get caught up on back episodes of "The Strain" and "Extant". So there's obviously no way I'm gonna get through all these questions tonight.

But if I don't get around to answering yours by then, take heart. I'll come back here over the next few days and try and answer the rest. So unless I've already answered a similar question from someone else (or unless you just ask a real goofball question), I will get around to you. Just not tonight. Be patient.

Okay. Time for a few more...

feint_of_heart13 karma

[deleted]

Jordan1175 karma

You could always donate to his Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund.

debiatan4 karma

The donation link not working for me:

Error Detected:

We were unable to decrypt the certificate id.

The-Squidnapper8 karma

Oooh, thanks for pointing that out.

Fixed now. Links on Backlist and Kibble Fund pages should both be functional.

Maccas7513 karma

Hi Peter! What is your favourite marine mammal and what things do you think humans could learn from these animals?

The-Squidnapper19 karma

Killer whale, I'd have to say. Those guys are not only smart-- they utilize coordinate diving to generate directed waves that tip seals off of ice floes-- but they're culturally diverse, to boot.

I don't know what we could learn from them, beyond the awesome insights you can glean from studying any species. Our morphologies are so different that any insights considered profound or essential to one species would probably be utterly irrelevant to the other.

If I could, though, I'd ask them what's up with that cultural antagonism between the transients and the residents off the Pacific Northwest.

TepidToiletSeat12 karma

Hello, Mr Watts.

What made you choose the nature of consciousness as a focal point in the BlindSight universe? You can see your biology influence, specifically marine, in the crafting of the aliens, but what made you delve into the mind?

And this isn't a question, but just wanted to say I've been recommending your books to friends of mine who enjoy hard sci fi. I hope your audience grows.

The-Squidnapper20 karma

What made you choose the nature of consciousness as a focal point in the BlindSight universe? You can see your biology influence, specifically marine, in the crafting of the aliens, but what made you delve into the mind?

Back in the early nineties I read an essay by Dawkins-- it was actually the afterword to a collection of essays on evolutionary ecology whose name I've forgotten-- in which he mentioned, almost offhandedly, that the functional utility of consciousness was one of the great outstanding biological mysteries, that it was trivially easy to imagine an intelligent agent that could do everything we could without being conscious so what was consciousness good for, in the evolutionary sense?

He obviously wasn't the first person to ask that question, but he was the first person to ask it within my eyeshot-- and once posed, I felt embarrassed that that question had never occurred to me before then. It seemed obvious, a huge dark mystery at the center of our very existence. I wouldn't say I started obsessing on it necessarily, but from then on the question was always there, niggling away in the back of my mind.

Eventually I got off my ass and wrote a book about it.

HectorHardMode11 karma

Hi Pete,

Two questions:

1) You are broke and have been offered a wheelbarrow full of cash for the rights to make a 'Blindsight' movie. How would it work? Casting? Budget? Hollywood film or a 3-part telemovie on Syfy? Pacing? Cuts/edits? I've always imagined the torture of Stretch/Clench being great material for a powerful movie scene.

2) You are still broke and have been offered a fedora full of cash for the rights to make a videogame version of 'Blindsight'. How would that work? Genre? Compromises to the plot to incorporate more action and puzzle-solving? VR/Oculus Rift technothriller spin-off game set in 'Heaven'??

I first read Blindsight several years ago when I was still in university. At that point I'd stopped reading science fiction for quite a while and 'Blindsight' and 'Accelerando' were two books that I'd decided to give a go. I was absolutely blown away by both. I'm a busy voodoo practitioner now (uhh... psychologist)... but I still find time to re-read Blindsight at least once every year. Really really looking forward to reading Echopraxia!!!

The-Squidnapper35 karma

You are broke and have been offered a wheelbarrow full of cash for the rights to make a 'Blindsight' movie. How would it work? Casting? Budget? Hollywood film or a 3-part telemovie on Syfy? Pacing? Cuts/edits? I've always imagined the torture of Stretch/Clench being great material for a powerful movie scene.

First of all, I am broke. What part of "midlist science ficton writer" don't you understand?

Miniseries, but not Syfy: HBO. If we're lucky we could get the guys who did the Sharknado movies (although personally I thought "Sharktopus" had greater verisimilitude), but those guys are in such high demand we'd probably have to settle for the "True Detective" crew.

Pacing, cuts and edits. Yes. There would be all of those things.

You are still broke

What, The Asylum didn't turn the movie into a hit? Impossible!

and have been offered a fedora full of cash for the rights to make a videogame version of 'Blindsight'. How would that work? Genre? Compromises to the plot to incorporate more action and puzzle-solving? VR/Oculus Rift technothriller spin-off game set in 'Heaven'??

No, the Oculus-Rift tech would be essential for the main Blindsight game-- but only the next-gen iteration, the one with the bolt-gun attachment that's capable of mulching your frontal lobes in 200msec. You win by destroying the centers of consciousness in your own brain, thus freeing up your true intellect for world domination.

Or the rutabaga ward. Once you've won, you really won't know the difference.

starpilotsix9 karma

Big fan. I haven't ordered Echopraxia yet, but I will very soon.

So, some semi-random questions for you are, answer one or all or none if they strike your fancy.

1) Do you ever feel the dark allure of succumbing to market research and writing a YA-targetted dystopic SF in the hopes of turning it around into a blockbuster movie series?

2) Where do you see Canada in the next few decades?

3) You're granted the power to make or remove one law for the betterment of mankind, as you see it, that will remain in effect (to the abilities of the legal system to enforce it) for at least the next 50 years. What's your pitch?

4) Do more Toronto cons! I suppose that's not a question so much as a hope. But I'd like to see you.

5) Oh, speaking of Toronto cons reminded me, as one this week is celebrating the 25th anniversary, and you're a Canadian author, did you ever watch Prisoners of Gravity and imagine yourself being interviewed (or were you and I just never noticed)?

The-Squidnapper8 karma

*Do you ever feel the dark allure of succumbing to market research and writing a YA-targetted dystopic SF in the hopes of turning it around into a blockbuster movie series? *

I already write Young Adult. At least, the stuff I write is no more challenging John Brunner or Stanislaw Lem, and I started reading both of those in my teens. Surely teens haven't got dumber since then?

Where do you see Canada in the next few decades?

Still somewhere north of the 49th parallel. And possibly engulfed by the US, once they run out of water and decide to "spread democracy" to we oppressed folks up by the pole.

You're granted the power to make or remove one law for the betterment of mankind, as you see it, that will remain in effect (to the abilities of the legal system to enforce it) for at least the next 50 years. What's your pitch?

All future industrial and urban developments mandated to be carbon neutral. (Either that or a global one-child policy, because it worked so well in China. Maybe even a half-child policy, because it worked so well for Solomon.)

Do more Toronto cons! I suppose that's not a question so much as a hope. But I'd like to see you.

I dunno. I didn't have much fun at the last couple of Ad Astras I've been at, and last time I checked SFContario not only charged their panelists for the privilege of putting in time and effort, they weren't even equipped to take that money in any form other than straight cash. Polaris is way the fuck out in the boonies, and besides, they haven't invited me back since I refused to stop saying "fuck" on panels even after a particularly prudish woman objected.

Are there any other local cons out there I should know about?

did you ever watch Prisoners of Gravity and imagine yourself being interviewed?

Why, yes. Yes I did.

d5dq9 karma

Peter, thanks so much for doing this AMA! By the way, I love your new website.

First of all, what made you decide to return to the Blindsight plot/universe for Echopraxia?

Also, I love the darker side of your stories--they're almost like scifi horror. Were there any authors/movies/etc that influenced this aspect of your fiction?

The-Squidnapper21 karma

Peter, thanks so much for doing this AMA! By the way, I love your new website.

It is nice, isn't it? Just wish we'd got the new gallery up and running. September, at this point.

First of all, what made you decide to return to the Blindsight plot/universe for Echopraxia?

My agent. I actually wanted to write a near-future techno-thriller about genetically-engineered giant squid, and in the wake of Behemoth's tankage I was especially leery of revisiting any well without enough time to recharge my creative batteries. But I laid out five potential projects for the man, and he opined that what-was-then-called "State of Grace" was head and shoulders above the others.

And here we are.

Also, I love the darker side of your stories--they're almost like scifi horror. Were there any authors/movies/etc that influenced this aspect of your fiction?

The manbdatory answer here is Lovecraft-- but honestly, I haven't read any Lovecraft since high school, and even then only a handful of stories. I liked the Alien movies well enough, but they weren't especially influential on my own writing. If I dig deep enough, and if I'm brutally honest, I'll admit that Rorschach may have had its genesis in the space-Rastaferian tree-ship from "Buckaroo Banzai: Adventures Across the Eighth Dimension".

No, really.

samineru9 karma

Hi there Dr. Watts! I have a few questions, all related to the following:

For me, one use of science fiction is as a kind of philosophical and technological journalism. I see you as diving deep into a field, be it philosophy of mind, manufacturing technologies, the structure of online communities, or anything else and digesting it. You explore these huge webs of ideas and knowledge, sift through what is and isn't valid, what is and isn't interesting, and then package it all into an openly fictional narrative that nonetheless contains very real ideas exportable to the world outside of your books.

  1. Is this something that you do intentionally, or is it just a tool for you to write compelling stories?
  2. Going to the example of Blindsight, there are many different perspectives conveyed by the characters and...forces within the book. From your perspective is this just a sampling that necessarily has to converge in one viewpoint due to the constraints of compelling narrative, or is that your purpose as an author as well?
  3. Like all journalism, it can fail to meet the needs I describe above, due to negligence, accident, malice, or simply different values. As a reader, do you have any suggestions for how to avoid that in a field that I am necessarily less informed of than the authors I read? The answer of "do the research yourself" is sort of unhelpful, as if I did the research it would defeat the point of reading the book.
  4. How do you discover the ideas that inspire your books primarily? Obviously it is going to be a mix of sources, but is it more like random wikipedia binges, personal recommendations from friends, strangers on twitter, following active scientific journals, or something else?
  5. Not a question, but your afterwords are AMAZING, just...so fantastic, particularly for someone who consumes sci-fi with the mindset I describe above. Thanks.

An unrelated extra question; what are some of the books, sci-fi or otherwise, that have provided the greatest challenges to your way of thought at the time of reading?

The-Squidnapper9 karma

Is this something that you do intentionally, or is it just a tool for you to write compelling stories?

Chicken-and-egg, really. My stock answer is that I regard my stories as thought experiments, and that's true as far as it goes-- but it also connotes a sense of dryness to the process. What really happens is that I'll read about some scientific or technological issue-- say, the idea that military mind-predicting software might actually blur the distinction between "war crimes" and "industrial accident", because who can really say whether it was the soldier or her augments that opened up on that village of innocent civilians?-- and some kind of dramatic or interesting consequence pops into my head (Hey, what if armies deliberately augged all their soldiers just to immunize them against war crimes charges?). So it starts with the science, but the seeds of story are already embedded in the Eureka moment.

Going to the example of Blindsight, there are many different perspectives conveyed by the characters and...forces within the book. From your perspective is this just a sampling that necessarily has to converge in one viewpoint due to the constraints of compelling narrative, or is that your purpose as an author as well?

Not sure I understand this question. There's really only one perspective throughout Blindsight, that of its narrator-- and as narrators go, he's pathologically unreliable. He parses many of the other characters' motives completely the wrong way (his belief that Bates was planning a mutiny, for example, when in fact it was something in Susan James doing that). I might also point out that of all Siri's "imagine you are" interludes, the one that was far and away the most vibrant, the most joyous, the most alive, was when he was identifying with an automated space probe.

Like all journalism, it can fail to meet the needs I describe above, due to negligence, accident, malice, or simply different values. As a reader, do you have any suggestions for how to avoid that in a field that I am necessarily less informed of than the authors I read? The answer of "do the research yourself" is sort of unhelpful, as if I did the research it would defeat the point of reading the book.

Why would you want to avoid writing that contained "different values"? Some of that stuff can be quite enlightening-- and at the very least, there's the "know you enemy" angle.

As for negligence, accidence, or malice, I don't know what to say. I know of the odd SF writer who trumpets the hardness and the realism of their science to the heavens every chance they get-- and whose science absolutely sucks when you read it. (I may well be guilty of this myself more often than I know, when I stray outside biology.) But how would a non-expert be able to tell, without "doing the research"? I dunno. Read reviews by more-informed individuals?

Or perhaps we could just enjoy the story as a story, instead of holding it to standards of scientific journalism. After all, SF has never existed to say "this is the truth of the world"; rather, it says "Suppose this were the truth of the world-- what would the logical consequences of that be?" And you don't need any advanced degrees to follow that plotline; once you accept the premise as given, all you need to assess is whether the rest of the story is consistent with it.

How do you discover the ideas that inspire your books primarily? Obviously it is going to be a mix of sources, but is it more like random wikipedia binges, personal recommendations from friends, strangers on twitter, following active scientific journals, or something else?

All of that. None of that. Sometimes, just looking into a tidal pool can give you ideas. (Back when I was 11 years old, I looked into a tidal pool and thought Whoa, what if all that plankton was, like, connected somehow like neurons, and what if that meant the whole ocean was, like, a single thinking being?. I even wrote a few pages, but they never went anywhere.)

(Just as well, too. A couple of years after that I discovered "Solaris".)

WilltoTruth9 karma

Hi Dr. Watts. What would you call the most likely, and/or most personally interesting candidate for the Great Filter?

The-Squidnapper20 karma

Tough one. Being all tough-guy nihilist, it's tempting to say self-extermination is likely to be the most ubiquitous candidate. Assuming Darwin's rules apply throughout the cosmos, then natural selection will always promote what works in the moment with no thought to the future-- so any evolved intelligent species will be burdened with a legacy of self-gratification and selfish-gene baggage.

On the other hand, even the most far-sighted and ecologically sane species is gonna go down in an instant if a big enough comet hits their homeworld. And rocks and ice seem pretty ubiquitous out there too.

arifterdarkly8 karma

Hello Dr. watts! two questions:

what was the biggest challenge you faced when writing Echopraxia?

the cover art for your books, are you involved in that at all? choosing artists, choosing motif, how involved are you in the process?

(also, i need you to notice my username. i have waited three years. notice it.)

The-Squidnapper19 karma

(also, i need you to notice my username. i have waited three years. notice it.)

Not only do I notice it here, but I have noticed it elsewhere around the internet. You are truly a staunch advocate. But I tend not to interact with my people in public, preferring to mingle incognito. Also there's the whole observer-effect/douchy-touchy author thing to worry about.)

The-Squidnapper17 karma

what was the biggest challenge you faced when writing Echopraxia?

Not having it wither and disappear in Blindsight's shadow. I still don't know if I've met it or not.

the cover art for your books, are you involved in that at all? choosing artists, choosing motif, how involved are you in the process?

Depends on the publisher. Tor has a pretty explicit policy of excluding us mid-listers from every aspect of production after we hand in the manuscript--basically, if you do anything beyond shutting up and going away you run the risk of being a "difficult author"-- and that extends to the cover art as much as the trailers or the promotion. I was very lucky with the cover art for the rifters books (although the jacket text was another issue), but with Blindsight they showed me a series of sketches, one of which I chose-- and then they changed that art into something entirely different (and to my mind, much suckier). Nobody from Tor has ever offered me any input into choosing the actual artist.

Then again, neither have any of the other publishers I've dealt with (and I'm out in 18 languages, so I've dealt with a few). However, in my experience overseas publishers have been far more willing to include the author in cover-art decisions than Tor ever was. They've routinely based their cover art on my own ship designs, for example. I don't know if the difference is national or corporate, but that's what I've observed. And you know what they say about a prophet in his own country.

Hey! The raccoons are here, demanding to be fed! (I'm typing this on our front porch. This tough gang of raccoons shakes us down for kibble every night around this time. Last night, at 2am, we found one of them in our living room.)

Eternally658 karma

Loved the story about asking your friends to google your name. I imagine them saying, "So old Peter is suddenly internet famous, eh?... WTF!?!"

What happened with that really nasty flesh eating disease?

The-Squidnapper21 karma

What happened with that really nasty flesh eating disease?

It's dead. I'm alive. To quote Walter White, I won.

I've got a vagina-shaped scar the size of fucking Australia on my right calf, though. Sometimes I tell people it was from a shark attack.

qforpw3 karma

Do you think the googly thing was coincidence? And (since Eternally65 asked two questions, which is precedent) do you think we have other global puzzles to connect the dots for?

Eternally657 karma

I... I... I don't know!

qforpw3 karma

The questions were for PW, but thank you for replying.

The-Squidnapper4 karma

That's okay. I don't know either.

IBlameHisMother8 karma

Do scramblers make good pets?

The-Squidnapper16 karma

Adequate pets. But they make better masters.

cornponious7 karma

How many Rush albums do you own?

The-Squidnapper16 karma

5 CD, 7 vinyl. Or 8 if you count Clockwork Angels as two.

Haven't really got into that one yet, though. Not a big steampunk fan.

LordBahumat5 karma

[deleted]

The-Squidnapper4 karma

None.

Let me say that again: None.

Why isn't anyone asking me about Jethro Tull?

l-Ashery-l2 karma

Why isn't anyone asking me about Jethro Tull?

So I take it you've quoted their lyrics in another book? :p

The-Squidnapper2 karma

Not yet. Had to pay Chrysalis out of my own pocket for the use of the lyric last time.

I wanted to use a Rush lyric in Echopraxia (from "Free Will"-- it would have been ironic), but whoever runs Neil Peart's website never got back to me.

l-Ashery-l2 karma

...pay Chrysalis...

That was...unexpected. While it doesn't sound completely absurd the more I think about it, it still seems rather excessive. Then again, I'm not the part of a legal team for something with a large degree of popularity and so I've never dealt with people trying to piggy back off of said popularity (ie what said seemingly excessive legalities are designed to prevent/minimize).

The-Squidnapper3 karma

Ian Anderson told me he'd be happy to let me use the quote for free, but apparently he doesn't own the rights to his own words...

SerRyswell7 karma

Which of your books or stories would you be most interested to see adapted as a film or miniseries? Are there any particular directors or film styles that you think would fit your style of philosophical SF?

The-Squidnapper24 karma

I think the rifters books would make decent movies. They're shallower than the Consciousnundrum books, but by that very token they'd be easier to adapt without screwing up completely. The only way Blindsight would ever get adapted by Hollywood is if you cut out all the function-of-consciousness stuff-- and then you've basically got Alien, except all the crew members are Ash.

I think my Sunflower Cycle stories would make for an awesome video game franchise. In fact, that's how I originally conceived them.

mubukugrappa7 karma

I have three questions, Dr. Watts:

  1. In an alternative universe, if required by law, and given only two choices, would you prefer to be Naomi Watts's dad, or Pink Floyd's road manager? And why?

  2. If you have to choose a new name for science fiction (as some people are offended because science is no fiction, and another group of people ridicule it by saying, - all science is fiction- in the same way as saying - evolution is just a theory), what would it be?

  3. Do you think that Upper Dicker should change its name to something else, now that it is made infamous by that pedophile? Something sophisticated, such as, say, for example, Phallic Erectum, perhaps?

The-Squidnapper14 karma

In an alternative universe, if required by law, and given only two choices, would you prefer to be Naomi Watts's dad, or Pink Floyd's road manager? And why?

That's a trick question, right? Because you can't have one without the other.

If you have to choose a new name for science fiction (as some people are offended because science is no fiction, and another group of people ridicule it by saying, - all science is fiction- in the same way as saying - evolution is just a theory), what would it be?

Atwoodlit. MaggiLit to its friends.

Do you think that Upper Dicker should change its name to something else, now that it is made infamous by that pedophile? Something sophisticated, such as, say, for example, Phallic Erectum, perhaps?

Is "Biggus dickus" taken?

Pierre_bleue7 karma

Hello mr Watts! New fan here! I discovered your work by downloading Starfish” (a very bold move, to leave your books available for free!), that I devoured, in a poorly-lit and murmur-filled cabin, during the short course of an idle boat trip. -A setting that was wonderfully fit for this kind of lecture!- I was instantly won over and bought the paperback version (as well as all of your books !), out of enthusiasm, as soon as I went back ashore. I found it mind blowing, with a very shaking and vivid rendition of the point of view of people with mental traumas, all grounded in a solid plot and astonishingly full of technical details.

To the questions: -You mentioned (in the beginning of Starfish, notably) that you seek advice from friends and the internet in order to get the science right for some of the trickiest part of your stories. But your books are chock-full of scientific references, usually very sharp, thrown casually, sometimes not to be seen again or used as a vital plot device. Do you have an army of PhD laureates from multiple fields that give you suggestions as you are writing? Or do you write your story around fields you thoroughly researched beforehand and constellate your books with thought-provoking lateral discoveries that you found along the way? I mean… The spaceship in Blindsight” is not only among the painfully rare ones to have a plausible design: Incredibly, it manages to have a very creative one! And all of this, thrown in a couple of lines around the first chapters, with a story that doesn't even revolves around precise orbital physics or rocket science. It’s amazing!

-In terms of sci-fi literature, who are your models? The ones that made you think “whoa! That’s the kind of piece of literature I want to write!”.

-Still in Sci-fi: Do you have any old-time classic favorite of the moment? And any modern (say.. last 15 years) favorite of the moment?

-Your characters are very memorable. Do you have any details you could give us, about the way you picture some of them, that wasn't explicitly indicated in the stories? Like: Are Szpindel (from Blindsight) prosthetics’ entirely subcutaneous and/or hidden behind simili-skin (Ghost-in-the-Shell style) or does he have some exterior visible ones, like a more classical cyborg? What does Siri Keeton looks like, in your mind? Stuff like this..

Thank you for everything! As a non-native English speaker, our books are a very challenging read, but a very rewarding and worthy one. I have been an avid reader of sci-fi, for years and yours immediately stood out among my favorites. Exceeding expectations I didn't even knew I could have. Keep on the good work!

The-Squidnapper5 karma

Do you have an army of PhD laureates from multiple fields that give you suggestions as you are writing?

Increasingly, yes. Whenever I get fan mail from an expert in something, I ask them if I can keep them on file in case I need to pick their brains in future.

Back when I was starting out, though, I had to make do with library searches and the folks I already knew from grad school.

*The spaceship in Blindsight” is not only among the painfully rare ones to have a plausible design: Incredibly, it manages to have a very creative one! *

Maybe a bit too creative. I've been told my understanding of telematter principals was a bit, well, naive.

In terms of sci-fi literature, who are your models? The ones that made you think “whoa! That’s the kind of piece of literature I want to write!”.

Brunner, (early) Gibson, Delany, (non-fantasy) Silverberg, to name but a few. I admire many others, but those were the guys that I most wanted to imitate, stylistically. (Also Alan Dean Foster's animated Star Trek adaptations. I was young., I needed the money.)

Do you have any old-time classic favorite of the moment?

The Stars My Destination, by Bester. Brunner's The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar. Silverberg's Dying Inside; Dhalgren, by Delany. Neuromancer. And I suppose someone will hit me if I don't mention Dune.

There are others, but that should get you started.

And any modern (say.. last 15 years) favorite of the moment?

That's tougher, because the more involved I became in writing, paradoxically (and infuriatingly) the less time I had for reading-- so my knowledge of the current field is pathetic, and skewed towards friends. (I've only just started Revelation Space, for example, and still haven't read The Wind-Up Girl.) Of that impoverished subset that I have read? Perdido Street Station, by Mieville. Dave Nickle's Eutopia. Black Man, by Richard Morgan. Maybe Bear's Jenny Casey trilogy (I understand much of her later stuff is better, but once again, haven't had a chance to read it yet.)

That said, I have literally two solid bookshelves of dead-tree editions waiting in the queue. Everything is subject to change without notice. Revelation Space is starting to grab me.

Jordan1178 karma

And any modern (say.. last 15 years) favorite of the moment?

That's tougher, because the more involved I became in writing, paradoxically (and infuriatingly) the less time I had for reading-- so my knowledge of the current field is pathetic, and skewed towards friends.

Have you read any of Ted Chiang's work? You're my favorite long-form science fiction author, but Chiang is an absolute master of the short story. His style is much more subdued and not nearly as "hard" on the SF scale -- at times he approaches magical realism -- but his stories are rich with ideas.

Here are some links+descriptions for his best stories, from a post I did about him on MeFi:

  • "Story of Your Life" - A talented linguist reflects on the life of her daughter as she struggles to grasp the meaning of an alien language. [Probably my favorite SF short story of all time.]

  • "Hell is the Absence of God" [full .mp3] - An unbeliever struggles with the question of faith when God is scientific fact and angels routinely visit the earth. [A very close second.]

  • "What's Expected of Us" [full .mp3] - A simple time machine undermines the concept of free will, with disastrous consequences. [Super-short, but in the same wheelhouse as Blindsight.]

  • "Exhalation" [full .mp3] - A non-human scholar relates the dissection of his own brain, and the implications his discoveries hold for his curious clockwork universe.

  • "Tower of Babylon" - A Bronze Age laborer joins the construction of an impossibly high structure on a mission to breach the vaults of Heaven.

  • "Division by Zero" - A brilliant mathematician wrestles with the consequences of her earthshattering proof.

  • "Understand" [.mp3 1 2 3 4] - An experimental treatment bestows a regular person with superintelligence, propelling him into a dangerous series of mindgames.

  • "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" [full .mp3] - An ancient alchemist introduces a traveling merchant to a mysterious time-traveling gateway.

  • "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" - The relationship between people and their creations are explored in a near-future world of sentient AI.

The-Squidnapper4 karma

Big fan of Ted Chiang. Isn't everyone?

He wrote the intro to he Japanese edition of Blindsight, btw. Even though completely disagrees with its premise.

Pierre_bleue2 karma

Thank you very much! (Sh*t. I came up with a good question, but you answered the post before I had the time to edit..)(Well.. Here it is anyway)

Related to Blindsight: How do you think the idea of intelligence without consciousness relate to the concept of selflessness an the abandonment of the ego you found in Buddhist theology?

The-Squidnapper8 karma

To be honest, I didn't find that in Buddhist theology. I kinda extrapolated out from what neuroscience seems to be telling us, realized that my oh-so-original insights had a certain, well, familiarity to them, remembered my World Religions class from the University of Guelph and went to Wikipedia. And discovered that Buddhism, Hinduism-- all the Dharmic systems, really-- had pretty much beat Metzinger to the punch by a couple thousand years.

So my insights into those faiths, such as they are, are shallow parallels far more than informed opinions. I would only embarrass myself if I tried to act as if they were anything more.

Yangel6 karma

Hi Mr. Watts, massive fan of yours. :) Got a few:

1) Are you familiar with Nick Land? For some reason he popped into my head while I was reading Echopraxia.

2) Did you get to work with the captive orcas at Vancouver Aquarium back in the day?

3) Any chance of rural Saskatchewan as a setting? :p

The-Squidnapper9 karma

Are you familiar with Nick Land?

I am not. Which seems to put me in the minority here, apparently.

Did you get to work with the captive orcas at Vancouver Aquarium back in the day?

Nah, I was working on Steller sea lions. Although, once I quit the consortium, I did write and present an intervenor report on phasing out the captive cetacean displays at the Aquarium. Had a Jethro Tull quote on the front page and everything.

It went as well as could be expected. The headline in the Vancouver Sun the next day read "Marine Mammal Expert Recommends Euthenising Killer Whales". The reporter-- Peg Fong-- called me up to apologize, said that her editor had rewritten her story and imposed that headline for political purposes. Promised to make it up to me. She never did, though.

Any chance of rural Saskatchewan as a setting?

I dunno. That's a little too alien even for me.

Friblisher5 karma

Do you think there could be people that seem normal, yet are functioning without consciousness?

Was going to correct "that" to "who" but it's creepier if I leave it.

The-Squidnapper3 karma

Depending on how you define "consciousness", I know there are. One of them, who lives right here in Toronto, drove across town and killed someone while he was asleep. Someone else fucked a series of complete strangers while in the same state.

It's pretty rare, though, and I don't know if there are any humans who are functional p-zombies 24-7. Consciousness seems to come standard on our species.

Which is not, of course, to say it has to come standard on someone else's...

mjfgates5 karma

Does "midlist sf writer" actually generate enough money to live on, or have you got some sort of day job? Or, failing that, have you had to take up shoplifting ramen to survive?

The-Squidnapper6 karma

Been doing this full time for a number of years now. No actual day job since before the turn of the century. From '96 on or so I did a significant amount of free-lance biostats work to pay the bills, but that dwindled over the years. Now it's just writing.

I'm nowhere near rich, but I'm doing okay. The problem is the compete lack of security; no matter how well I do one year, I could be dumpster-diving the next if the latest book tanks and the occasional game gigs dry up. So in that sense it's always been hand to mouth.

milligramsnite5 karma

Do you believe humans have free will?

The-Squidnapper14 karma

Not in the classic sense, no. Our behavior may be unpredictable complex (or not), but that's not the same thing. The physical universe seems to be a mix of determinism and randomness. A lot of free-will advocates like to point to quantum uncertainty to defend their position, but as far as I can tell having your behavior determined by a dice roll doesn't give you any more "freedom" than having it determined by a flowchart. The fact that something is unpredictable does not make it autonomous. Given what we know about the physical makeup of the universe, the whole idea of "free will" as commonly understood is fundamentally supernatural and logically incoherent.

I could always be wrong, of course. But I'd be in a lot of extremely smart company.

tongmengjia2 karma

Hi Mr. Watts. Thanks so much for doing this AMA. I really enjoyed your book- not just the ideas in it, but I thought the writing itself was really well done.

I know I'm a little late to the party so I understand if you don't get around to this, but I also had a few questions about your thoughts on free will. How would you define it? What do you think is the most compelling argument FOR free will? What evidence would you need to see to convince you that free will DOES exist?

Thanks!

The-Squidnapper3 karma

How would you define it?

Classic free will? The idea that our minds can take actions that aren't in response to any previous event; that there is such a thing as a "causeless effect".

What do you think is the most compelling argument FOR free will?

"Compelling" in the sense that it convinces everyone that it exists? Just the gut-level intuition, the feeling that we are in control. But that's not the same as logically compelling.

What evidence would you need to see to convince you that free will DOES exist?

A neuron firing in the absence of any stimulus.

Blackboard_Monitor5 karma

Hi! I was just wondering if you had any plans for a book/signing tour (Minneapolis is absolutely perfect weather wise right now, plus there are like 8 great breweries just in NE Minneapolis, its kind of amazing) And if not are there any super secret ways to get signed copies of Echopraxia?

The-Squidnapper23 karma

Dude, I'm not even allowed into the US. Turns out it's a felony in Michigan to ask what's going on after you've been repeatedly punched in the face by border guards for no good reason. So, no US book tour (not that I've got anywhere near sufficient stature for my publisher to fund such a jaunt anyway, of course).

As for supersecret alternatives, just track me down outside reddit and we can arrange a mail drop. I'm not proud, just as long as you pick up the postage tab.

arstin5 karma

I've never been able to sort out how the gene whose mutation caused the dependency on a hominid food source in Blindsight could be located exclusively on the Y chromosome - which would mean that all female humans are dependent on a hominid food source for the gene. Assuming this wasn't a subtle joke about all women being blood-suckers, is it just a flub, or am I missing some nuance? Thanks!

The-Squidnapper5 karma

'Twas a flub. In-universe, though, I retconned it. From Echopraxia's endnotes:

I’m not going to revisit that here (you can check out FizerPharm’s stockholder presentation if you need a refresher), except for the citation in Blindsight implying that female vampires were impossible (the gene responsible for their obligate primatovory being located on the Y chromosome ). More recent work by Cheberda et al have established a more general protocadherin dysfunction on both X and Y chromosomes, resolving this inadvertent paradox.

And the reference is:

Alexey Cheberda, Janna Randina, and J. Random, “Coincident Autapomorphies in the γ-PCDHX γ-PCDHY Gene Complexes, and Their Role in Vampire Hominovory,” Vampire Genetics and Epigenetics 24, no. 1 (2072): 435–460.

I played with making it an actual plot point, but the book was already too damn talky as it was.

LordBahumat4 karma

[deleted]

The-Squidnapper4 karma

I remember you. Alberta, right? There was this bar. It was autumn.

Actually, I was back running three months after the operation (although for shorter distances, and the movement of my leg sometimes ripped away the seal over the wound which cause gore to spew along the trail). I was back to my full route at the 6-month mark.

I haven't gone running for the past few weeks, thanks to traveling and all the midnight oil involved in getting the new site up. I am actually looking forward to starting up again later today.

klaus19864 karma

As far as the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, how do you think we should go about it? Should we broadcast our location to the universe or should we be as quiet as possible, or somewhere in the middle?

Do you believe that it is likely that we will not be able to communicate with ETs because we would be fundamentally different?

The-Squidnapper11 karma

I have no data on this, so I'm not competent to answer the question. Which doesn't mean, of course, that I won't.

I'm tempted to advocate a cautious/optimistic approach-- listen at first, call out if we hear anything-- because conventional wisdom says that the interstellar gulf is so vast that we're all probably limited by lightspeed transmissions anyway, and its hard to imagine anything we might have that's so valuable that it couldn't be acquired less far less expensively than launching an invasion/eradication fleet across that gulf. Even if someone did go to such horrendous expense-- say, for some religious "cleanse the universe of infidels" reason-- we'd have centuries to put up the mosquito netting before they got here.

But then this little voice in the back of my head says that it's pretty arrogant to assume that our conventional wisdom is an accurate reflection of reality, that (to paraphrase J. Allen Hynek) the thing about 21rst century science is that it sometimes forgets there's going to be a 22nd century science, and that for all I know, you could make a hyperspace jump drive out of two coat hanger and an alarm clock but nobody in this backwater has figured out how to string them together the right way. Which gets us back to incompetence to answer the question.

So I'm just gonna jump in with both feet and say, what the hell: let's shout to the heavens and see if anything shouts back. Because let's face it, even if someone does decide to travel a hundred light years to eat us or something, the chances are pretty damn good we'll have killed ourselves off before then anyway. And I would really, really like to know.

not_yet_named4 karma

Where does the darkness in your stories come from? I love it, but I'm curious.

And for an easier one: What can we do to save our society, in your view?

The-Squidnapper7 karma

Where does the darkness in your stories come from? I love it, but I'm curious.

I don't think I am necessarily all that dark. My view of human nature may be reductionist, but that's just a reflection of the available data. In fact, I'm fond of pointing out that my portrayal of human nature is actually naively optimistic; you won't find any religious wing-nuts whose invisible sky-fairy tells them to massacre the infidels or bomb abortion clinics, for one thing. You won't find any corrupt politicians who start unnecessary wars to line the pockets of their buddies in the oil industry. You won't find climate-change deniers or creationists. My characters sometimes do awful things, but generally those actions are forced on them; they're killing a thousand to save a million, trying to do the least harm. My fictional characters, generally speaking, are far too noble and decent for the real world.

I do put them into dystopic settings, of course, but again that's not really a choice if you want to follow where the data are pointing. We are fucking up the planet at breakneck speed; even if we stopped tomorrow, the time lags and aftershocks of crimes already committed would be enough to throw the world on its side. I don't know if you can write a plausible story set within the next fifty years in which the world isn't a significantly shittier place, environmentally, than it is now.

I suppose that's a challenge. I suppose I could try.

And for an easier one: What can we do to save our society, in your view?

I don't know. Maybe put me in charge?

BaphClass4 karma

What happens to the missionary after it goes to sleep in "The Things"?

Oh, and how much ass did that prequel film suck?

The-Squidnapper4 karma

What happens to the missionary after it goes to sleep in "The Things"?

I dunno. Maybe I should write a sequel.

Oh, and how much ass did that prequel film suck?

It sucked so much ass that I actually devoted a blog post to the subject.

wheretofall4 karma

Although I’m more likely to end up as an Amanda Bates rather than a Susan James, I’m curious as to how you came up with the method of, uh, translation that James uses to communicate with the scramblers. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that just anyone would think of.

Also, it seems that your recent writing has dealt more and more with military themes—is this just a sign of the times, or is there something else about war/the military that captured your attention? In a related vein, how did you approach the characterization of Jim Moore and Amanda Bates? Did you have any exposure to military culture, or were you building something up from biological first principles?

Anyway, thanks for being awesome. I’m pretty stoked to finally read Echopraxia.

The-Squidnapper3 karma

I’m curious as to how you came up with the method of, uh, translation that James uses to communicate with the scramblers. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that just anyone would think of.

Believe it or not, I got that from an eighties-era PBS documentary on dolphins (I think it may have been an episode of "Nova"). There were these dolphins that only got a treat if they performed some trick-- any trick-- that they'd never performed before. They figured out in short order that if they wanted those butterfish, they'd have to be creative.

Crank that up to eleven and you've got James's translation strategy. It's a small, easily-understood step, right? Right?

Or am I just a sociopath?

Also, it seems that your recent writing has dealt more and more with military themes—is this just a sign of the times, or is there something else about war/the military that captured your attention?

I'd deny this outright, except that I've got a story coming out this month (in a cyborg-themed anthology called "Upgraded", edited by Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld) about cyborgs in the military. So, hmmm.

The only thing that captured my attention was a couple of articles in legal journals-- back in 2010, 2011, when I wrote "Malak"-- that raised some really interesting ethical issues on the subject of military cyborgization, and the question of culpability when the thing making the kill decision is a machine. It's a fascinating area, and one I guess I've been mining recently even if it took your impertinent question to make me realize just how much.

Don't worry, though. I'm not about to sign up with Baen.

In a related vein, how did you approach the characterization of Jim Moore and Amanda Bates?

Amanda Bates, believe it or not, was based a little bit on my colleague and friend (and awesome prose stylist) Elizabeth Bear. Jim Moore is half my dad and half William Adama, from Ron Moore's reboot of "Battlestar Galactica".

gripto4 karma

Hi Peter. Just wanted to say that I love your work, especially "Starfish", "Blindsight" and "The Things". Love that you set "Starfish" off the coast of British Columbia too fistbump between Canadians

Your aliens, be they modified humans or ETs, seem to be wonderfully and refreshingly truly alien, something that doesn't seem to get enough play in even hard SF books. What are the top alien aliens that you've read/watched in fiction, and what would your best case scenario be for first contact between humanity and a very alien intelligence?

Edit: also wanted to add that your version of vampires is magnificent. I spent an hour listening/watching to the background video on your Rifters website. Love the thought that you put into how your vampires work, especially how right angles played into the development of cities to protect humans from their predators.

The-Squidnapper4 karma

What are the top alien aliens that you've read/watched in fiction, and what would your best case scenario be for first contact between humanity and a very alien Ointelligence?

Old-school aliens, gotta be the menagerie from Larry Niven's "Known Space" books. The dude got so many biological details wrong (genes that code for luck, Humans as a lost colony of aliens), and yet he seemed to internalize Darwinian principles better than any of his contemporaries. Niven's aliens were both alien and biologically sensible for the most part, at least in broad strokes.

Contemporary aliens-- let me just point out yet again that my familiarity with the current generation of SF authors could charitably be called "inadequate", so I'm doubtless ignorant of many contenders-- but it's hard to imagine more alien aliens than the one's in China Mieville's Embassytown. Not only are they anatomically bizarre (although never comprehensively described-- the bits that get dropped into the casual first-person narrative are like some unholy lovechild of Lovecraft and Dawkins)-- but the mindset of these creatures is both incomprehensible and completely consistent. There's no handwaving in a "oooh, they're aliens, so they don't have to make sense" kinda way; they do make sense, but in a bizarre and fascinating way I'd never encountered before, and which took real effort to get my head around.

Or maybe that was just me. My wife has a Humanities background, and she grokked it more easily than I. Said that Embassytown's aliens almost read as a kind of lit-crit thesis. I think she may have cited a couple of dudes named Derrida and Ricoeur.

starpilotsix2 karma

While I liked Embassytown a lot, I thought the whole "they have to listen to two voices speaking at once in order to understand and it has to be two real voices saying them at the same time and mentally linked... recordings/transmission are fine but as long as they're recordings of them doing that in exactly that way, not artificially generated! They can't listen to androids!" bit to be handwavy pseudo-fantasy that makes no real sense, about on the same level as "genes that code for luck." I mean, I can get past it, because, again, story was great, but it really hurt believability for me.

But then, I'm not a scientist, so maybe I just missed something subtle that makes it makes more sense.

The-Squidnapper6 karma

recordings/transmission are fine but as long as they're recordings of them doing that in exactly that way, not artificially generated! They can't listen to androids!" bit to be handwavy pseudo-fantasy that makes no real sense,

Fair point, but I give China credit for having his characters recognize the absurdity of that; it's a real WTF moment for them. (Similarly, I almost cheered aloud when the CDC guy in this week's episode of "The Strain" reacted with utter incredulity to the idea that if you kill "The Master" all the vampires he's turned will magically die: "You kill one organism and all the others die? That makes no biological sense! How does that even work?")

Maybe my expectations have just been hammered to a pathetically low level by years of brain-dead SF. But I'm willing to cut a lot more slack to a story which explicitly acknowledges that a particular element violates current scientific understanding, than one in which that violation isn't even mentioned. It shows, at the very least, that the writer knows he's breaking the rules-- and there's always recourse to the "After all, Horatio, there are things on heaven and earth..." defense...

Blackjack1483 karma

There seems to be a lot of people who share your name. Do you get a lot of questions from people who don't know about that when they hear your name?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

Not really. Aren't too many SF writers called Peter Watts out there.

fahzbehn3 karma

I hate to admit I've never heard of you, but definitely will at least be looking into your novels. My question is this: What three novels do you feel are "must read" books?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

What is it with lists of three on this thing?

There are far more than three must-read books, of course. Keeping it to three pretty much limits us to legacy books-- parts of the canon that have been around for a while and occupy a central place in the firmament-- and excludes recent/current titles simply because history hasn't had a chance to judge them yet. OTOH, if you didn't limit me to three I'd probably be here all day.

Okay, then.

The Stars My Destination, by Alfred Bester. Fifties era, short quick read, packs more ideas into a chapter than most whole novels contain. Possibly the least-read of the undisputed classics.

Dune, by Frank Herbert. Because, Dune.

Neuromancer, because, same as for Dune.

I'm also gong to throw in a bonus short story here: "The Screwfly Solution", by James Tiptree Jr. Not the best prose in the world, but probably the best biologically-based SF story I've ever read. Profoundly feminist without being the slightest bit grating or preachy. And scary as shit.

mpdehnel3 karma

Hi Dr. Watts,

Loved Blindsight, but I confess I haven't read any other books of yours yet, so this question maybe irrelevant: would you consider writing some non-hard SciFi novels, and if so, why, & which bits of physics would be most interesting to you to break?

The-Squidnapper6 karma

Don't know if I buy the whole "hard-sf" thing in principle, actually. It seems at least as much a function of the reader's background as the rigor of the author's science. Case in point, Larry Niven: held up by no less than Arthur C. Clarke as worthy inheritor of the hard-sf mantle, but his stories deal with psionics and ftl and-- most egregiously-- genes that somehow code for luck, which is pure fantasy. I loved Niven's stuff back in high school (and I still really admire him for his aliens), but the more I learned about actual science, the less "hard" his SF became.

You may think my own SF is pretty hard (a recent grumpy review of Echopraxia over at The Register listed it as "diamond cutter" on the hardness scale), but I can guarantee you that there are people in labs and universities all over the world who'd look at the hand-waving in my books and see SF that was about as hard as hobbits.

I guess what I'm saying is, I already write non-hard SF. It just depends on who's reading it.

Jenssen773 karma

Hello, sir!

Would you please share three sci-fi writers that you particularly love? Thank you.

The-Squidnapper5 karma

Only three?

John Brunner. Robert Silverberg. Samuel Delany.

These are three authors I imprinted on in an early age-- way back in the seventies-- so my opinion is based on their work from that era (I didn't really follow Silverberg into the fantasy stuff, for example). And there are many others, and I am shafting the current generation entirely. But you said three.

ZorroMeansFox3 karma

What are your favorite recent Science Fiction films?

The-Squidnapper4 karma

Primer, for one. Both installments of the "Planet of the Apes" reboot have been superb, IMO. "Europa Report" was pretty good, although the ending was kinda flat.

My gut likes "Snowpiercer" a lot, but my brain dismisses it as incoherent arthouse idiocy that can't manage internal consistency even if you do accept its ridiculous premise. Still, the gut likes what the gut likes.

Loved "Guardians of the Galaxy", but that's not really science fiction. It's goofy delerious raccoon porn. And that's just fine by me.

PresidentEvil1333 karma

Hi Dr. Watts! I had a question about your Rifters trilogy.

One of the key points of the first book (spoilers, I guess) was that the Grid Authority had specifically selected their first batch of rifters from abuse and trauma victims because they'd be better able to tolerate chronic stress and danger better. Was that entirely your idea, or did it have some basis in reality?

Thanks!

The-Squidnapper2 karma

It was actually based on research suggesting that people with fucked-up backgrounds might develop an addiction to stressful environments. I don't have access to the specific citation (I'm typing this in a bar after a consuming a bottle of wine), but it must be in the References section of Starfish.

Remember that Starfish was written in the late nineties, and the short story that kicked it off was written almost decade before that. "Post-traumatic stress" was a freshly-minted term that few had heard of back then. So was "trauma addiction", the adrenaline junkie's cousin by marriage. I got a leg up because I was dating someone who worked at UBC's domestic violence lab; she pointed me to a book whose name I forget right now, but it's cited in Starfish's endnotes. That was where I first learned about trauma addiction.

The rest was history. Obscure, trivial, midlist history.

Adorable_Octopus3 karma

Weren't you that guy who got detained at the border and then got flesh eating disease?

Has those experiences changed how you write? what you write?

The-Squidnapper2 karma

Weren't you that guy who got detained at the border and then got flesh eating disease?

That's me.

Has those experiences changed how you write? what you write?

Hasn't really changed my writing outlook at all. Merely confirmed it.

elgosu3 karma

Hi Peter, having finished Echopraxia hours after it was released, I find myself wanting much more of the universe, and with so many unanswered questions, like what Valerie wanted out of it, what happened to Siri, and so on. Is this sense of mystery, incomprehensibility, and paranoia something you intended for us to feel with this novel, with unfathomable superintelligences and manipulative orchestrators?

The-Squidnapper4 karma

Is this sense of mystery, incomprehensibility, and paranoia something you intended for us to feel with this novel, with unfathomable superintelligences and manipulative orchestrators?

Uh, yeah. Let's go with that.

It's a fine line. You can't spend a whole book talking about how far ahead of us the postals are, how utterly alien and godlike their intellect, only to reveal plans as mundane and comprehensible as those of any James Bond supervillian. If we can understand them, they can't be that much smarter than us, right?

But atr the same time, you can't just throw a bunch of random dream images at the wall and expect to get away with "Of course it makes no sense to you. Would a gerbil be able to understand Game of Thrones?" It may be true but it's unsatisfying, and it makes your audience deeply suspicious that you, the author, don't know what's going on any more than they do.

I tried to tread the middle ground. Bruks divines the best-laid plans in broad strokes, finally figures out what his role is at least, although he's starting to get amped himself by that time. By the time the novel ends, we know what the short game is. The long game of these giants remains open to speculation-- although even there, I made sure to mention plausible possible interpretations and alternatives, even if we don't know which (if any) turn out to be true.

Don't know if I've pulled it off, though. The early "official" reviews have virtually all been rhapsodic, but I'm starting to see grumbles on Goodreads to the effect that Echopraxia was all over the place, and not as good as Blindsight. Which is exactly what I was afraid people would say.

So far they're a minority. We'll see if it stays that way.

FoozMuz3 karma

Blindsight & Rifter series spolilers in this post:

Hello, I am a fan.

Blindsight and the Rifters series have vast overlap in terms of concepts and their exploration, such as neurochemical drugs and suppressors, virtual sex, induced multiple personalities, important decisions left to computerized minds, and the line about the signal already in the arm by the time a decision is made is in both Blindsight and Maelstrom.

When writing Blindsight, did you have this in mind? Do you have any insight into any significance of this overlap? Were you writing predominantly for readers who had or had not read your earlier books (or neither)?

I and a friend read Blindsight, and I took away that Vampires were without consciousness, though he thought that they were conscious. Are either, neither, or both of us coming to worthwhile conclusions?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

Drugs, neurochemistry, virtual sex-- are these "concepts", "themes"? Or just context. Would you argue that "The Sopranos", "Seinfeld", and "Hannibal" overlap vastly because every last one of them has cars, and cell phones, and sunsets?

I think you may be confusing theme with background here. Many of the things you mention are the equivalent of cells and laptops; they appear in all my stories, but only as plausible background element. They're contextual. The story isn't about them, necessarily. So I'd argue that while the sandboxes containing rifters and jargonauts may have a lot of similarities, the games being played therein are significantly different.

To be fair, though, you're far from the only person to mistake worldview for story in my stuff. I've long since lost count of the number of people who complain about how I only ever tell the same stupid story over and over, how all I ever talk about is how people suck and psychopaths rock and the World Is A Tough Place, Get It?

Idiots. That's not the point of any of my stories. That's just the backdrop they're set against.

I and a friend read Blindsight, and I took away that Vampires were without consciousness, though he thought that they were conscious. Are either, neither, or both of us coming to worthwhile conclusions?

You're both slightly right. Vampires have multiple threads of consciousness running in parallel, but each is way less focused than ours, more like a dream state than a waking one. There's this model of consciousness that describes the brain as a parliament of babbling voices, and the one that shouts loudest is the one that gets to be "consciousness" at any given time. With vampires it's not so all-or-nothing; they grant many of their voices a smidgen of awareness.

If that makes any sense.

mouthbabies3 karma

Would music affect a non-conscious intelligent agent? If so, in what way? I think it would be interesting if consciousness could impose itself somehow on non-consciousness through the patterns of music, maybe even to the point of engendering something completely different. Thank you for simultaneously entertaining me while making me think, Dr. Watts! I've been a fan since Starfish and just re-read my 1st edition Tor hardback in preparation for Echopraxia.

The-Squidnapper3 karma

I think a nonconscious intelligent agent would be able to sense and parse music as well as any other acoustic input. It would even be able to analyze what characteristics of that sequence were responsible for inducing the pleasurable reaction in the non-zombie agents around it, and discourse learnedly on time signatures and syncopation if its fitness were served by blending in with the crowd.

But it would have no concept at all of what the experience of music feels like.

DefinitelyNotAGrue3 karma

Dr. Watts, I have a question which I hope you might answer.

Do you believe differences between human populations which have been breeding apart for millenia and subjected to wildly different environments have resulted in, at most, superficial differences, and people who claim otherwise ought to shut up?

On one side, I'm told race is an invalid concept because we're all basically the same because evolution has been slowing down since mid pleistocene..

On the other side, thought criminals claim genetic distance between certain human populations is larger than say between bonobo and vanilla chimps, which are of course considered different species.

Which position is closer to reality?

The-Squidnapper9 karma

There's no reason, in principle, why evolution would shape skin color and fat distribution and the immune system, but magically not affect anything to do with the central nervous system. If a phenotypic expression of the genotype interacts with the environment, it is subject to natural selection. To be in-your-face provocative about it, I know of no biological reason why different "races"-- whatever those are-- might not differ in their cognitive processes.

Then again, there's no biological reason why evolution couldn't have created a race of color-blind people with purple skin. The question is, is there any evidence that that is, in fact, what has happened?

There's undeniable evidence that different human lineages differ significantly in any number of minor anatomical, biochemical, and immunological ways. I know of no scientific evidence for any significant differences beyond the purely superficial.

Not that it couldn't be, in theory. Just that it didn't turn out that way.

arzvi3 karma

Would we get spaceships in this lifetime?(I'm 30 yo)

The-Squidnapper7 karma

We've had spaceships for over half a century. Just not very good ones, for the most part.

TheGreat-Zarquon3 karma

Hey Mr Watts, I know its early days in relation to the release of Echopraxia, but I am just wondering if you have any details about possible future stories that are in the works, or any other ideas that you would wish to explore?

PS. Cheers for the signed copy, can't wait to read it.

The-Squidnapper5 karma

I think I mentioned this somewhere else on the AMA, but Blindsight and Echopraxia each end on trajectories that seem bound to intersect, decades down the road. At some point I may have the gonads to try and tell that story, although it would take place in a world very, very different from anything I've ever played with before. At this point I don't even know where I'd begin.

Closer in, near-future technothriller. Arctic warming, sentient money, genetically engineered giant squid. Don't have a contract, haven't even pitched it, but as things stand that's gonna be my next novel-length project.

naura3 karma

while waiting for Echopraxia in the mail, let me ask you about this quote from Blindsight:

Your circuitry hums with strategies for survival and persistence, flexible, intelligent, even technological—but no other circuitry monitors it. You can think of anything, yet are conscious of nothing.

As far as I can tell, monitoring would include any form of error-correction that is not triggered by feedback from the environment. So a response from outside the system saying "no, you fucked that up" prompting changes in strategy would not count as "monitoring", but anything based on modeling the process itself, independent of outside cues, would be "monitoring". How had you envisioned the word?

Also, how plausible do you think it is really that a species could evolve to the level of Scramblers without monitoring/consciousness?

Huge fan of your work, I have repeatedly described Blindsight to my friends as "the best SF novel of the 21st century"

The-Squidnapper9 karma

Okay, what you're doing here is forcing me to confront an issue I kept as far away from as I possible in Blindsight, and I am not happy about it. You've started talking not about what consciousness is good for, but what it actually is. How computation running through meat just the right way can wake up as it does.

And I don't have a clue. I don't think anyone does. You could study every ion hopping across every synaptic junction in every brain from here until heat death, and there'd be nothing in any of that data to lead you to expect the emergence of coherent self-awareness. It's ions bumping around in fluid. It's computation. How can it, how can we, possibly be self-aware? It's enough to make you find God.

Self-modelling does seem to have something to do with the conscious state, so I threw that in-- but I don't know how it works. You're quite right, internal monitoring should count. And if that's all it took, then a thermostat would be conscious. We don't know definitively that thermostats aren't conscious, of course, but I remain skeptical.

There's gotta be something else, but I don't know what it is, so there's a big honking conceptual hole in passages like the one you just quoted. I can try to paper them over, but I cannot fill them. If I could, I wouldn't be wasting my time languishing in the mid-list ghetto-- I'd be packing for Stockholm to accept my Nobel.

Either that, or figuring out how to use my insights into the Nature of Consciousness to rob banks.

just_comments3 karma

With something as easy to get upset about as consciousness I'd bet you get a fair share of hatemail. What is the thing they usually say you're wrong about in blindsight?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

I've received the occasional bit of hate-mail. Not about Blindsight, though.

Lots of folk disagree with me about Blindsight, but they write to argue, not to sling shit. And I try to argue back, when I have the time.

Actually, that's one of the best parts of this gig. I just wish I didn't have so many other things getting in the way.

elgosu3 karma

Still enthralled by Blindsight every time I reread it. How did you come up with the idea of the synthesist, and could you go into a bit more detail about how they do what they do, information topologies and all?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

The idea of the synthesist was pretty much forced on me. By you readers, no less.

I mean I'm writing about a bunch of augmented superhumans with late-twentieth-century backgrounds, so smart they can't even limit themselves to a single language on those occasions when language even suffices to carry the concepts they're playing with. They would be utterly incomprehensible to baselines like you or me.

So I had a choice. I could either show them speaking in apparent gibberish, which would be realistic but would make for a really shitty book. I could portray them as jes' plain folks, which would make them relatable and cuddly but how long would it be before it dawned on the reader that Hey, these bozos aren't any different than me-- post-human superbeings, my ass... Or, I could leave them free to be superbrains, but filter them through an intermediary whose job is was to reduce the transcendent to the mundane, to help us comprehend the incomprehensible. I could both have the cake, and eat it.

Thus was Siri Keeton born. Really, I still can't think of any other solution.

As for how they do all that stuff, beyond what's already laid out in the book? Beats me. I've been told that my use of "topology" in that context is utter bullshit, though.

sanic1233 karma

What sort of advice would you give to an aspiring fantasy / scifi writer? I've only written some short stories (which however all received great praise from family and friends) I'm really looking for info on where to start publishing (to gain some sort of fame), how to gather an audience, and how to (eventually) approach publishers.

Thanks in advance.

The-Squidnapper3 karma

I guess the first bit of advice that springs to mind is, don't trust great praise from family and friends. Only accept criticism; they're biased in your favor, so the good things they say about your writing are not to be trusted. Only the bad.

As for the rest, you're basically asking me to write a book on how to get published; I wouldn't have time for that even if I were competent to write it (and I'm not; I'm still not entirely sure how I broke in, back in the nineties, and the landscape has changed so radically since then that I'm not at all sure I'd be able to break in today).

One thing I have discovered is that quality of prose doesn't matter. Internal plot consistency doesn't matter-- or if it matters, it's not a deal-breaker. I know absolutely awesome stylists and storytellers whom I hold in awe, yet they can't seem to break out for all the quality of their work; and I know authors who couldn't write fortune cookie without embarrassing themselves, who write best-sellers and make more money in a year than I'll ever see in several lifetimes. As with most things cultural, quality isn't so important as public taste.

So I guess what I'm saying is, even if you're a crappy writer, don't give up hope. That doesn't seem to matter as much as you might think. It seems to come down to the spin of a roulette as often as not.

KeKeKe_L4G3 karma

Just a small "hi" from France, tell you how awesome you and your stories are. I saw you at Utopiales 2014, Nantes. Signed me a copy of Maelstrom. Didn't talk much. Too impressed. Wanted to ask you if that "Coecalanth" snippet on your site was part of Echopraxia, and if I could see this scars of yours.

Anyway, this is question time, not creepy fanboy remembrance time.

• I never found enough info on this stuff, and maybe it's been asked a trillion times and you're sick of it and I fail at Google forever, but exactly how far did your involvement in Homeworld 2 went?

• Is this Sunflower novel documented on Wikipedia still relevant, or was it just a working name for Echopraxia?

• And finally, a big, boring, numbingly down-to-earth question. The entertainment industry make such a whipping boy (thank god for Google Translate) of piracy, bootlegging and so on, multiplying copyright strikes and DRMs. But you released your books for free on your webzone, even giving advice on how to properly print physical copies. This might done in a time when there was no other way to be read, but now that your publishers have picked up the pace, do you think it's still a valid alternative, a viable one? If people are handed stuff for free, is a sizeable part of them still willing to pay?

Enfin bref, continuez à poutrer sa race, monsieur Watts.

The-Squidnapper2 karma

Wanted to ask you if that "Coecalanth" snippet on your site was part of Echopraxia, and if I could see this scars of yours.

Yes to the scar. Got no hits when I searched the 'crawl under "Coecalanth" (or even "Coelacanth", which would have been more likely), so can't answer that one.

• I never found enough info on this stuff, and maybe it's been asked a trillion times and you're sick of it and I fail at Google forever, but exactly how far did your involvement in Homeworld 2 went?

Went through a few story treatments, finally settled on one that everyone seemed to really like. I know I did. Somewhere during that interval the guy who'd originally brought me on board quit Relic because they'd promised him creative control and then kept interfering, which probably should have been a sign. Then Relic got into an ugly divorce with Sierra over rights, and cancelled the project. They rebooted it months later, but at that point they'd brought in a new Executive Producer from California whose girlfriend had always wanted to write, so they never brought me back in. One of the survivors from the old days did pass me a copy of the new script for critique as a personal favor; I had some problems with it, and wrote back with suggestions for fixing them, but I don't know if they were ever incorporated.

I never played the finished game, but believe me when I say it had no connection to anything I ever wrote for those guys. Apparently there was a lot of woo about prophecies and chosen ones.

From the sound of it, mine would have been a lot better.

• Is this Sunflower novel documented on Wikipedia still relevant, or was it just a working name for Echopraxia?

The "Sunflower cycle" is a series of connected stories which, together, describe the 11-billion-year voyage of a jumpgate-building slower-than-light asteroid ship called Eriophora. Three stories in that cycle have already been published (one of them won the Hugo), but there are more to come. At some point I'll collect them all into a single novel-like product.

Ironically, in light of your previous question, I originally envisioned the whole thing as a video game.

• And finally, a big, boring, numbingly down-to-earth question. The entertainment industry make such a whipping boy (thank god for Google Translate) of piracy, bootlegging and so on, multiplying copyright strikes and DRMs. But you released your books for free on your webzone, even giving advice on how to properly print physical copies. This might done in a time when there was no other way to be read, but now that your publishers have picked up the pace, do you think it's still a valid alternative, a viable one? If people are handed stuff for free, is a sizeable part of them still willing to pay?

I've addressed this elsewhere in the stream, but I think you're right: the more people get acclimated to free stuff, the less likely they'll be to pay. So going Creative Commons on everything might well be a self-defeating strategy over the long term. It worked for me, not because I was giving stuff away for free, but because doing that was newsworthy and newsworthy things attracted attention. More readers simply became aware of my existence through a publicity stunt. The more often you do that, though, the less newsworthy it becomes. So you have to come up with some new strategy to make people take notice again.

I was contemplating shooting members of Congress with a sniper rifle while yelling "Buy my book!" through a megaphone in my underwear, but that was before I was banned from entering the US.

Enfin bref, continuez à poutrer sa race, monsieur Watts.

Nobody here can figure out what "poutrer" means.

MaksymShostak3 karma

Hi Dr. Watts,

It appears that 'Heaven' will be here sooner than even Sci-Fi expects, and you touch upon the subject by introducing it as a side-story. What do you think will happen to mankind if that is THE story? It is only reasonable that we aim towards our own vision of perfection - will many really care if it's in the fragmented mind of a brilliant simulation? What will we do as a species when we actually get what we want?

The-Squidnapper8 karma

you touch upon the subject by introducing it as a side-story.

(Actually Heaven shows up pretty early on in Blindsight, too. Just for the record.)

I'm far from the first to take this position-- solipsistic withdrawal into VR has even been proposed as a likely candidate for the Great Filter-- but yeah, I think creatures raised on instant-gratification coupled with complete lack of foresight-- which is to say, pretty much any creatures who evolved via Darwinian processes-- could easily disappear into their own navels given half a chance. We're not programmed to survive, or reproduce, or persist, after all; we're programmed to like sugar, and sex, and healthy green fractal things. Evolution has no foresight, so nature bribes us with little dopamine rewards whenever we do something to increase our fitness. The problem is, somewhere along the line we got smart enough to figure out how to scam the reward without doing the work. 'Heaven' is the logical endpoint of that hack.

Hell, I could barely bring myself to leave Skyrim. Another ten years or so, I'll probably dive into an alternate world and just never come out again.

MadManWithACat2 karma

Okey, I've never read anything of you but your answers here are pretty awesome, I love you already. Would you advise me to start reading with your last novel? Or would you advise me to start discovering your work with something else? If yes, what?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

Why, thank you.

Definitely not the last novel. The last novel is Echopraxia, which follows on from Blindsight, and although you can certainly follow the tale without having read its predecessor you won't get nearly as much out of it.

Novel-length, you're looking at either Starfish or Blindsight. Blindsight seems to be the book that put me on the map, but I think Starfish is more accessible to casual readers (and it was a NYT Notable Book, so it's not like it's crap or anything). Still, you might want to try my shorter-length stuff first, get a feel for whether it's to your taste.

Why not go to my backlist page? Everything there is free.

readcard2 karma

Love your work because of the depth that lurks behind it in context, do you think it is a conscious decision in your writing or a consequence of your varied passions?

The appendix of Blindsight hinted at them and subsequent books I have hunted down seem to echo the idea.

Amazing writing thankyou for bringing it to the world.

The-Squidnapper2 karma

Love your work because of the depth that lurks behind it in context, do you think it is a conscious decision in your writing or a consequence of your varied passions?

I don't really know how to answer that. I'm not even sure I understand the question. If I look too closely, I might jinx the process.

Of course, if you're familiar with my writing you'll know I have grave reservatiopns about whether any of our decisions are conscious.

krelian2 karma

Do you have mapped out in your head some of the mysteries left in your books or do you leave them as mysteries for yourself as well, prefering to focus on what you decided was going to be the scope of story? In mysteries I'm thinking of things like

spoilers for Blindsight

what exactly is the nature of Rorschach and the what will be Siri's fate.

end spoilers


The-Squidnapper3 karma

Depends on the book. My original draft of Starfish ended with Lenie crawling up on the shores of North America and dying, so I obviously had no future plans for her until my editor insisted that such an ending was insufficiently triumphal for American audiences and she would have to live. As for Blindsight/Echopraxia, there is obvious potential for those two narrative streams to converge in a future work-- in fact, it's pretty much inevitable, albeit not for decades after the close of Echopraxia-- and I have some vague thoughts on how that might go. But only some. And they are vague.

RNAPII2 karma

Hey Mr. Watts, I'm also a biologist(micro) who got into the field via science fiction and the hope to study astrobiology, which, as things do, morph into a more specific discipline (studied eukaryotic extremophiles). I have always thought about writing science fiction.

My question: How did you get started? Were you into science fiction prior to getting your degrees? What advice would you give to someone thinking about competing with your work ;-)

The-Squidnapper3 karma

I was into science fiction long before getting my degrees-- from about the age of six, in fact (although the decision to go into marine biology followed close on the heels, at the age of seven). Didn't started submitting stories when I was in high school. Didn't sell anything until after I got all my degrees. Pretty long learning curve, actually.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about competing with your work?

Romance is where the money is. Sherlock slash fic especially. Focus on that, and you'll totally kick my ass.

teraflop2 karma

Hey, thanks for doing this AMA. (Don't know if you remember, but I was the one white guy who showed up at HAL-CON in April, thanks to a fortuitously-timed business trip.)

In the eight years between Blindsight and Echopraxia, you've written quite a few short stories. What are your thoughts on short fiction vs. novels? When you have a cool idea, how do you decide whether to write about it on its own, or weave it into a larger narrative?

As you mentioned, when Blindsight was published, it spent a while languishing in obscurity. Are there other SF works or authors who you think deserve a lot more exposure than they're currently getting?

The-Squidnapper3 karma

Hey, thanks for doing this AMA. (Don't know if you remember, but I was the one white guy who showed up at HAL-CON in April, thanks to a fortuitously-timed business trip.)

The blond dude pimping Bergen for Worldcon, am I right?

In the eight years between Blindsight and Echopraxia, you've written quite a few short stories. What are your thoughts on short fiction vs. novels? When you have a cool idea, how do you decide whether to write about it on its own, or weave it into a larger narrative?

Different niches, with some overlap. Short stories are great for one-liners, and for trying out ideas in the showroom to see how they might perform at novel length (that's what happened with Starfish. If the idea doesn't fit, go long.

Also, novel pay way better. Even on a per-word basis.

As you mentioned, when Blindsight was published, it spent a while languishing in obscurity. Are there other SF works or authors who you think deserve a lot more exposure than they're currently getting?

I keep mentioning Brunner, from the old guard. Two contemporaries whose writing I think deserves vastly greater exposure would be David Nickle and Caitlin Sweet. Both of them write better prose and better characters than I do, in my opinion.

Of course, one is a close friend and the other is my wife, so I can make no pretense of objectivity here. OTOH, the whole point of the question hinged on current obscurity, so odds are I wouldn't know about them myself if I didn't know them personally.

HuwThePoo2 karma

(Major Blindsight spoilers in this post)

Hi Peter. You may remember me from an embarrassingly gushing fanmail I sent you a while back!

I know that there doesn't have to be an answer to this question but I thought it would be fun to ask anyway: How do you imagine Rorschach is able to fire LADAR or that enormous plasma shot at the end of the story? Come to think of it, why did the scramblers bother to board Theseus when Rorschach was (presumably) able to just blow the ship out of the skies?

Oh, one more thing: was it a control panel in that nexus, as Siri theorised?

The-Squidnapper2 karma

Hi Peter. You may remember me from an embarrassingly gushing fanmail I sent you a while back!

Not by that name you didn't. I keep all my fan mail to keep me warm at night, and I got nothing in the archives from "HuwThePoo".

How do you imagine Rorschach is able to fire LADAR or that enormous plasma shot at the end of the story?

I imagine it could that because it was way more advanced than us.

Come to think of it, why did the scramblers bother to board Theseus when Rorschach was (presumably) able to just blow the ship out of the skies?

Ah, Sarasti already addressed that. They didn't want to blow Theseus out of the sky. They wanted to pin it like a butterfly and examine it.

Oh, one more thing: was it a control panel in that nexus, as Siri theorised?

I dunno. Would you regard an elbow joint as a control panel for your hand?

PeterStormare-5 karma

Loved you in Lost. What did you think when the producers/directors gave you the godawul run down for the last three seasons?

The-Squidnapper10 karma

I thought, it's time to show these idiots how to do real science fiction.

dilplunk-7 karma

Are you going to answer a question?

The-Squidnapper8 karma

No.