I should preface this review by confessing three things:
- I wrote it while listening to Drake, which could have contributed to my glamorous sense of honesty.
- Throughout most of Echopraxia, I was lost, perhaps due the level of description or just my lack of imagination.
- I firmly believe that above all a novel must represent the human drama at an emotional level even if it is an idea-driven novel.
Sci Fi writers may have the hardest burden of all- creating worlds that are simultaneously foreign but not strange enough to estrange the reader. Peter Watts creates a world that is both fascinating and pulpy. Vampires- yep, we got ‘em. Zombies (a more scientifically plausible kind)- why not. Hive minds- done.
The novel Echopraxia follows Bruks, a biologist, as he travels to another planet for unknown reasons. In the process, he encounters other life forms (cue in vampires and zombies and hive minds) that test and ultimately chip away at humanity’s superiority complex. The hive minds have the collective intelligence to consider humans roaches, for example.
It is a book sprinkled with good prose and thorough research, but I ask, what good is this if at the center the human drama is not fully realized?
Well, Ale, how do you expect Peter Watts to develop such a story if half the creatures in the novel are not human?
I would counter that that is exactly what science fiction must accomplish: the very human elements in some future.
Throughout the novel, we are introduced to various character of varies species, like Valerie the vampire, but I never felt that Bruks was attached to any of the other characters. They always felt like tools to serve the dialogues that explored what it would be like for humans to finally be inferior to others.
The one element that could have served as the emotional keystone- Bruk’s dead wife and his longing for her- is poorly handled and relegated to two spots, the beginning and end.
Though Peter Watts provides explanatory notes in interviews to some of the more confusing elements of his novel, I think a novel must be able to stand on its own ‘two feet.’ But maybe that is where I have erred as a reviewer- in thinking that Peter Watts intended the novel to have two feet. In imagining worlds where humanity confronts other forms of life far greater than itself, Watts does not want his novel to resemble other bimodal forms of storytelling. If you’re looking for an idea-based kind of read, this is it. But if you’re an old-fashioned soul that longs for humanity’s fickle and foolish emotions, then look elsewhere.
P.S. My two contributors may have different opinions and will post their opinions in subsequent posts. I am honored to have Jasmine and Saul, two doctoral students, opine on the matter.