In the year 2082, the Earth witnesses an event that can only be of extraterrestrial origin. Something or someone appears to have taken a survey of the planet using 65,536 spherical objects arranged in a precise grid which has descended through the upper atmosphere. Before burning up, these objects emitted radio signals. Another alien object appears to be communicating through radio signals as well. A comet in the Kuiper Belt sends a beam through space to some unknown destination; it is not communicating with Earth. There appears to be an intelligent alien presence in the solar system, and a ship has been sent to find it, the Theseus.
On board is a crew of highly trained but incredibly bizarre people. Leading the team is a vampire - turns out they truly existed. Extinct for hundreds of thousands of years, they have been brought back for their highly intelligent and analytical minds. Narrating the story is Siri Keeton, a synthesist, the only type of human who can report with complete objectivity. He is able to imagine he is anyone just by observing their behavior. The squad is completed by a multiple personality linguist, a military advisor, and an exobiologist. Together they are nearly as alien as the life they are sent to find.
Blindsight begins as a very traditional first-contact story: the aliens reveal themselves, and a crew is sent to communicate. But things become quite different when it appears the aliens did not want to be found - they are unprepared for an encounter. Theseus arrives at its destination to find a huge circular object described as a crown of thorns. After communication is established, it is clear that whatever intelligence resides there does not wish to meet. The humans decide to push the issue by closing with the object and forcing entry. They are not prepared for what they encounter, and at this point the novel becomes much like a horror story.
This mash-up of first contact with horror makes Blindsight an intriguing read. It also takes the non-traditional approach of making the aliens reluctant to meet. Peter Watts has combined these twists on science fiction to create an unpredictable story, and these elements keep the reader turning pages. He could have failed in a number of ways, by making the story too stereotypical or producing an ill-conceived gimmick. Fortunately, he avoids both of these pitfalls. The most contrived component is the vampire commander, but Watts makes it work by using him as the antithesis of the alien intelligence, almost a secret weapon. Siri, with his ability to put himself in the shoes of anyone he observes, is also a distinctive personality, which keeps the narrative interesting throughout.
The most glaring weakness in Blindsight is its occasional almost cryptic complexity. There are times when the story becomes quite difficult to follow. Watts alludes to story elements which can be obscure, causing the storyline to become unbalanced and dimming the readerís fascination. Despite this pitfall the story, as a whole does not lose its way. The ending of the book may also be seen as a flaw by some. Those looking for a neatly wrapped package will not find it here; best be prepared to use some imagination.
On the whole, Blindsight is a treat for science fiction fans. It does not fall into the same traps to which more conventional first-contact stories succumb, retaining the sense of wonder that readers have come to expect from the genre, keeping you guessing to the end and pondering the meaning of intelligence. Blindsight is a thoughtful novel and recommended to any science fiction enthusiast.