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Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient TumourSome books you pick by their cover, and some for their author, or their topic. This one, even if I wouldn't automatically reach for it anyway due to it being by Peter Watts, I would have picked up for its eyebrow-raising title... which, apparently, is a pull quote by Annalee Newitz about the author. And no, I have so far failed to establish the circumstances or context for it. Hints on a postcard appreciated.

Peter Watts is an award-winning Canadian hard SF author and “reformed marine biologist” (his own words), with 5 published Novels (one of them published in two volumes for ‘commercial considerations’) and 2 collections of short stories (including 'Ten Monkeys Ten Minutes' - IMHO the greatest book title ever) to his name. Plus, now this, of course.
He has been labelled a “sociological futurist Lovecraft” in a discussion on Charlie Stross’ blog, just to throw in another cracking quote; and is the go-to author for a number of people when their outlook on life, our society, and our future becomes a little too positive. Yes, you can surely call him a realist, but I can assure you he doesn't sugarcoat his predictions or pull his punches; he has not been called a “science fiction writer and worst-case scenarist” for nothing!

Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor, the book at hand, is essentially non-fiction; it is sourced form 'The Crawl' as he calls his blog on rifters.com ('No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons') from where he and the editor culled 80k words from the 660k of available ramblings; plus from his regular column in the Polish magazine Nowa Fantastika – more on his popularity in these parts of the world below.
The blog posts in the book are dated, which is helpful if you want an idea of when things were written in terms of global events, or if you want to go and track them down on his blog. They are not arranged chronologically, and neither are they ordered entirely by topic; I have summarily failed to determine what the logic is in the arrangement.

“In love with the moment. Scared shitless of the future”

The book is subtitled as 'revenge fantasies and essays', and claims to contain 'over 50 collected essays' (err, there's 51, plus a 'From The Author' chapter. Hello marketing, good to see you're keeping up!). I have no intention to review every individual entry, so I'll list some highlights of what you'll read and learn about below, so you can confirm for yourself that this really is a book for you!

So, we learn about

  • his waxing and waning popularity; and why he is more popular in countries with a history of Soviet occupation than in countries occupied by the US
  • porn-mediated time-travelling ESP (sorry, not telling, read for yourself!)
  • why families suck, doubly so at Christmas time

“I do not expect to die peacefully and I not expect to die in any jurisdiction with a stable infrastructure”

  • his uneasy relationship with local law enforcement (he lives in Toronto), and his musings on political power and on the uses of political and military force, and on how that game is rigged
  • his thoughts on his deceased brother in his Eulogy
  • the story of the teacher in the Bible Belt who wanted her class to read his book Blindsight, minus the 'fucks'. Not her, it was the parents with the problem, in effect. The exchange is fascinating.
  • On the shooting of innocent black civilians, and a game theory approach that would stop it.
  • On his career-defining (ok, initially) belief/dream of cetacean intelligence and speech, and of its representation in his fiction

And we have foot notes, of course! This is Peter Watts, the Credible Hulk, after all. Still very much the scientist at heart.

  • about Star Trek Beyond, with which he, as an old Star Trek fan across the iterations, is not particularly impressed
  • his relationship with Banana, the rescue cat he took in. Well, one of them... Alien to me, as a non-cat person not infected with the oxoplasma gondii parasite which apparently alters the human brain to make it like cats
  • his fascination with hydrocephalus – people with 5% of a normal brain, leading normal lifes and holding Honours Degrees in Advanced Math – and what this might imply
  • reasons to feel optimistic. Yes, even Peter Watts looks for silver linings at times – before telling us why they are bogus.
  • His near-fatal brush with flesh-eating desease:

“Not lucky. But I’ve got to be one of the least unlucky bastards alive.”

  • Multiple entries play on or describe part of his Baptist upbringing. Having been brought up Methodist this did not not ring any bells, not at all ...
  • Prometheus review – OMFG, I howled. And it deserves every single barb.
  • “[...] which logically means that parents are less human than the rest of us”
    Even ignoring the rather funny argumentation – his points re. parents and their cognitive impairment don't really hold water after reading several entries concerning his cats, and the lengths he's willing to go for them.
  • There are several discussions and dissections of scientific papers discussing the scenarios for the collapse of civilisation. People (and especially now also scientists) are taking what used to be purely SF scenarios much more serious these days.

I've read some of this before, of course, as a follower of Peter for quite some time now.
Other bits, though, especially the Nowa Fantaskyka stuff, is entirely new to me. Not that either spoiled my enjoyment, this material bears re-reading.

  • Also: severe cognitive impairment by tribalism. Proven and accepted science. Ouch. Consciousness, one of his hobby horses. Uses still unclear. Thanks.
  • His take on Cambridge Analytics and what it means for us, our future. Ooh...
  • on the rather imminent collaps of the ecosystem, and of what we might preserve. Or of the next mass extinction event with life springing back in a few million years. Hopefully without humans next time!
  • Arrival. Good. Very. Better than story/book!
  • He has a major beef with believers, especially Christians. And especially Dr. Francis Collins, from what used to be the Human Genome Project.

He's willfully contrary at times. Looking to provoke, both thought and reaction. Get a raise out of us, his readers. Maybe get us to raise?

  • The ethics of killer robots. Just go and read Malak...
  • Martin Luther King and the Vampire Rights Leage. Even just for the title...

“After all, only a small proportion of sociopaths are actually criminals; most of them operate entirely within the limits of established legal, religious, and political systems”

Not an easy book to read quickly – for all Peter Watts being an erudite and fun-to-read writer. Both the structure and a lot of the subject matter and topics make skimming hard, I found.

But full of intelligent, and frequently original discourse and though, very much worth reading and getting entertained (and challenged) by. Go get yours, now!


More Peter Watts

Title: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor
Author: Peter Watts
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Tachyon
Publisher URL: http://www.tachyonpublications.com
Publication Date: 2019
Review Date: 191216
ISBN: 9781616963200
Pages: 318
Format: ePub
Topic: Blog Posts
Topic: Articles

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

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