Peter Watts, author of the recently published novel Echopraxia, is one of the luminaries of modern hard science fiction. Drawing on an educational foundation that includes both a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Science as well as a PhD in Zoology and Resource Ecology, Watts has paired his scientific knowledge and creative talents to produce a number of award winning novels and short stories.
His novels have a reputation for being bleak and nihilistic; although, in a recent reddit Q&A session, Watts argues that it isn’t a nihilistic viewpoint so much as one that is informed by his background as a biologist:
I was trained as a biologist. Humans are vertebrates, humans are mammals, and when you take a clade-wide perspective you can’t not notice that we’re all connected by far more than that which separates us. People…assume that anyone who regards us as just another mammal must be a cynic, must be doing it for shock value or trendy points. But I remember whole buildings where everyone had that perspective, and it wasn’t considered grim or nihilistic. It was cool; we were discovering patterns… We were connecting the dots in a global puzzle. It wasn’t depressing. It was exciting.
Echopraxia is the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2006 novel Blindsight. Like Echopraxia, it takes its title from a neurological condition which serves as a motif for the events of the novel. In Blindsight, Watts takes both common (alien first contact) and uncommon (vampires in space!) science fiction tropes and weaves them into one of the most brilliant hard science fiction novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, a tour de force exploration of the nature of consciousness and its utility for intelligent life.
For those unfamiliar with Watts, or in need of a refresher, I recommend checking out this in-depth guide compiled by a fan. Watts’s website is also worth taking a peek at. Watts has released much of his shorter material for free; I recommended starting with The Island, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 2010.