By Peter Watts
Firefall is a collected duology and includes the previously released novel Blindsight along with the new sequel Echopraxia. Firefall is hard science fiction which places a firm grip on high-concept science.
While many hard-science fiction novels can tend to exclude the casual reader, Watt's writes well enough to appeal anyone with an interest in the genre. It's a remarkably well paced, considered and intelligent story. It's also one of those books that opens your imagination with excellent examples of just how alien aliens can be. Not only that but he features alien-like intelligences much closer to home too. Borrowed from fantasy, Watt's introduces us to a more scientifically plausible creature born from humanities nightmare. Ressurected for thier superior, clinically cold intelligence it's an idea that could have so easily proved to be the books demise and yet the author makes it work perfectly.
The book begins with an event that seems more and more inevitable for anyone keeping abreast of events outside our little blue / green planet. That is of course first contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence. While this scenario has played out in countless stories I have not seen or read one that has managed to evoke such a feeling of an intelligence so diffferent to our own. The author manages to describe the indescribable, almost re-defining the concept of "alien". It's not even clear if this appearance of the alien craft is hostile or friendly as it heads on an intercept course with Earth.
There is however so much more to the book than this. The characters are varied and imaginative, each distinct and highly individual or in one case four individuals inhabiting the same space. The main protagonist is in many ways an observer, following a re-write of his brain at an early age he works as a human version of a "chinese room". A hastily if carefully assembled group chosen to intercept this alien craft results means no-one really trusts anyone else and each seem to have their own agenda. We spend the majority of the journey looking through his eyes as he tries to make sense of whats going on.
This is a future where most of humanity has been augmented in some way and parts of society are very different to our present day. The author highlights these differences with the occasional flashback of the protagonists earlier life, describing "old fashioned" concepts such as actual physical sex which has become largely discarded. Use of technology is handled in a plausible and effective manner, including the downloading of consiousness into new bodies and that of artificial intelligences. Intelligence, counsousness and phycology take center stages in this book and it's a remarkably thought-provoking reflection.
As far as the plot is concerned, it takes little time for the tension to build and once it has doesn't let up for the whole 700+ pages. It's a plot that continues to build on the basic first contact idea and gets more and more involved as the book progresses. It kept me gripped from start to finish and left me almost breathless at the end. Firefall is quite remarkable in it's vision, it's a hard-science story that equals those written by Reynolds, Hamilton Clarke and anyone else who has written in the genre. It's fresh and overflowing with original touches that all add to the story. I loved the way that the author manages to introduce something that is considered fantasy and not only gets away with it but makes it an integral part of his Universe.
Firefall encapsulates the very best of hard-science fiction. It's bold, uncomprimising in vision but with a remarkable clarity of execution. Perfect for any fan of space opera or hard science fiction.
Written on 7th November 2014 by Ant .