I’m not normally a huge fan of hard science fiction. Conceptually it is fine, but realistic spaceship stuff can be pretty sterile. The problem with spaceships is that they’re just not nearly as interesting as they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Back then it was clear from the exponential growth in space travel that by 2017 we’d all regularly travel to space for holidays. As a kid I personally had absolutely no doubt that my profession would be astronaut. But the funny thing about exponential progress in an area of technology is that it doesn’t necessarily go on like that forever (ahem AI enthusiasts).

Far worse than spaceships for me are stories with zombies. Zombies are a stupid trope that has been quite overused in the last decade or so. And if you tell me a story has vampires, I flat out won’t even look at it. Vampires are just too camp. I can only tolerate vampire mockery. If you told me a book has spaceships, vampires, and zombies, well, no, that’s just of no interest to me.

And yet I really liked Echopraxia by Peter Watts which indeed had all of the above. The key to the book’s success with me, I think, was that it was modern. It’s harder to maintain enthusiasm for books by smart people like Asimov saying 1960s stuff that was no doubt fascinating then, but less compelling today. The author claims in the end notes (n.b. there are end notes) that he really tried to reach for something different and I think he fully succeeded.

I’m still working on my fiction grading criteria, but I’ll go through what I’ve got so far.

  • Style - A lot of panache. Quite complex but not soporific. Clean grammar. Solid readable prose for someone with a PhD.

  • Organization - Good. No 80 page chapters. Creative and functional divisions.

  • Character names - Ok. Mostly not irritating or incomprehensible.

  • Believable characters - Good. No problems. Even with advanced, modified, and alien intellects.

  • Natural dialog - Worked. Seemed believable, even for advanced intelligence characters which can be very tricky.

  • Plot complexity - Excellent. Uses some hard philosophy to make some really tricky plot devices. Cerebral but superb.

  • Plot resolution - Excellent. The bar is low here. Like a Tolkien book, this is an out and back story. That’s good enough, but it’s more subtle than that too. Some of it I don’t think I really even understood through no fault of the author.

  • Erudition - World class. Amazing. A huge depth and breadth.

  • Gems - Fair. Watts' entire style is so energized that punctuating it with special flair may not be practical.

  • Immersion/world building - Very good. It was all a little flashy, but there was a lot of it. It is hard science fiction because there was attention to detail and plausibility.

  • Believable tech - Good. It was pretty outlandish, but all vaguely plausible. I’m sure Watts would say specifically plausible, hence the serious end notes.

  • Imagination/creativity - Superb. Bringing the aforementioned vampires and zombies out of the stupor of their tropes was masterful. If anything, I would almost say it was too imaginative.

I first checked out this author by reading some of the work he has publicly available on his web site. I was impressed enough to read more. He sounds like a cool guy too. "He spent ten years getting a bunch of degrees in the ecophysiology of marine mammals and another ten trying make a living on those qualifications without becoming a whore for special-interest groups." Bravo.