BlindsightBlindsight by Peter Watts

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Peter Watts himself intuits the main problem of this ambitious but uneven novel in his end notes when he ponders how “shitloads of essential theory threatened to overwhelm the story, not to mention the problem of generating reader investment in a cast of characters who were less cuddlesome than usual.”

That this “shitloads of essential theory” comes to a head in an ending that is part philosophical conundrum and part desperate space battle is quite staggering, not to mention that Watts achieves an impressively open cliffhanger that one can only hope is addressed in Echopraxia.

My biggest problem with Blindsight is the limited context of the mission to investigate the Roscharch. We get fascinating glimpses into how our world has fragmented and evolved as Siri in particular has flashbacks to his childhood, but this is not enough to ground the story.

Another major problem is that the novel takes a dip into icky Lovecraftian type horror at one point – a dip that just keeps on going until the reader cannot figure out if he or she is more grossed out or discomfited.

The most fun part of the book is the section at the end where Watts riffs on everything from putative vampire biology to the sentience versus intelligence debate. Here Watts is erudite, conversational and occasionally very funny, which reminded me how bleak and humourless Blindsight really is.

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By Blood We Live

By Blood We LiveBy Blood We Live by Glen Duncan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Transcendent, gore-soaked third volume in Glen Duncan’s werewolf/vampire series is a magnificent conclusion, but also takes the series to a whole new level. Duncan takes a bit of a risk here in that he slows his breakneck plot down with the introduction of the 20 000-year on-again, off-again love affair between Remshi and Vali, and the couple’s mysterious link to Talulla.

However, it is a risk that pays off handsomely, with Duncan pouring some of his most incandescent writing into the tale of these star-crossed lovers. Twilight, True Blood, Anne Rice, all take note: this is how you do inter-species romance properly, with sufficient gravitas and eroticism, but also a healthy meta-appreciation of the absurdity of the genre’s constraints, so you are able to transcend them.

We also have the successor to the World Organisation for the Control of Occult Phenomena (WOCOP), the Catholic Church’s Militi Christi vigilante hit squad thrown into the heady brew of the plot, plus the mysterious Olek secreted away in a converted ashram in India, convinced he has found the ultimate cure for what ails a fallen world.

If you have not read Duncan before, this is definitely not the place to start – best begin with The Last Werewolf. For the up-to-date reader, Duncan does subtly reiterate some plot arcs of the preceding two novels at crucial points. Given the gonzo, Grand Guignol way the plot erupted in Talulla Rising, I left scratching my head as to how Duncan would resolve the mess in the third volume. Suffice it to say, he is in total control of his material here.

Technically, Duncan is a master of both splatter and psychological horror. There are jaw-dropping set pieces here of quite stunning depravity, and then long lyrical stretches of painful beauty. I especially loved the way he works Robert Browning into the plot, which of course will be familiar to fans of Stephen King, but Duncan’s take on the Childe Roland story is much deeper that what King attempted with his Dark Tower series.

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