What might a Luddite look like in the future? Possibly like Daniels Brüks, the central character in Peter Watts’ novel Echopraxia.
Brüks (not called a Luddite, but ‘baseline’) is a human who doesn’t enhance himself with a lot of technology, which is unusual in his time (and ours, really). Considered an odd throwback, Brüks is out in the desert of Oregon doing biological research to see if there is still evidence to non-technically advanced life in wildlife, or if everything has become infected with technology?
When a squad of zombies, led by a vampire general threaten Brüks, he takes refuge in a nearby monastery full of medically advanced humans that are super intelligent. So intelligent that they aren’t able to converse with others and need a translator. Brüks isn’t sure they comprehend the danger of the zombie/vampire assault, but the monks activate a tornado to push them back.
And then things get strange.
The zombies, vampires, and monks band together and head in to space, taking Brüks with them (fearing that those who they are fleeing from would interrogate Brüks in not so pleasant ways). But in space, Brüks has no skills to offer but becomes our observer, despite not being able to understand all that is going on around him. What he observes is that his odd crew of human-like shipmates are in search of a god-like alien life form. The existence of these ‘gods’ are deduced from scientific interpretation. A once-great race that may have spread the seeds of humanity. But the odd juxtaposition here is that the humans have altered their own being in such ways to hardly be recognizable as human. The zombies are intentionally modified military to be turned on and off and to lose any sense of humanity when fighting. Our vampires and monks are likewise intentionally enhanced.
This is not a simple, easy read. Brüks, our guide on this adventure, is like us… a moderately intelligent human with no technical, modified enhancements. But Brüks doesn’t completely understand what is happening around him, and therefore, we don’t either. We take the journey and trust that we’ll survive it, just as Brüks does. But that doesn’t mean we get to participate. We are only observers.
Watts tackles some age-old sci-fi themes of searching for god and what it means to be human, but he does it in a hyper-advanced way, using a lot of science that is available today. (His end notes are a book unto themselves!) Imagine combining the works of Philip K. Dick and James Morrow and Theodore Sturgeon with the science of Larry Niven and Isaac Asimov and then swirl it around a little and paint it as a black-light poster from the 1960’s, and you get an idea of what it’s like to read this book.
It’s really a wonderful read, though a little confusing at times, and getting lost at the story, like Brüks, is sometimes unsatisfying. But the general concept and the envisioned world make it worthwhile.
Looking for a good book? This is science fiction on a grand scale that might confuse you at times, but will likely also make you want to read it a second and third time.
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author: Peter Watts
publisher: Tor Books
hardcover, 384 pages