Highlights from Peter Watts’ Reddit AMA

Echopraxia by Peter Watts
In case you missed it, Echopraxia author Peter Watts did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) earlier this week. Here are the highlights from it.

Do you believe the central thesis of Blindsight, that consciousness is an aberration and evolutionary dead-end? Is there a similar theme to Echopraxia?

First question: 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.

Second question: Less than a day after release, and you’re already asking for the Cliff’s notes? I think not.

You are broke and have been offered a wheelbarrow full of cash for the rights to make a Blindsight movie. How would it work?

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.

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.

What made you decide to return to the Blindsight 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.

What authors/movies/etc. influenced the horror aspects of your fiction?

The mandatory 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.

For the rest of Peter’s AMA, head to Reddit.