If I had to distill Blindsight down to a single, central theme, it would be that of self. What is the concept of self? How does it relate to the concept of what is human? What is the origin, function, and cost of self-awareness? How does it relate to free will, and does free will exist, or is it merely an illusion? Watts seems to have created the entire novel as a thought experiment to explore these concepts, and he leverages two lenses to accomplish that: the various neuro-atypicalities of his characters, and the distinctively intelligent but unaware aliens. Either of these ideas alone could have easily been the foundation of a compelling novel. Combining them together made this one both more compelling, and more challenging, and is in many ways at the core of my personal dichotomy over Blindsight.
Rather than lamenting the decline of science fiction, we should probably spend time talking about how wonderful Rocheworld is, and why you should absolutely go find a copy as soon as possible. Granted, that may be a little difficult, because it's no longer in print. However, I was able to find a lightly used copy without much difficulty, so I imagine you can, too. Just be sure you look for the complete Rocheworld, and not one of the earlier versions, sometimes titled Flight of the Dragonfly. The book is from back in the days when many science fiction novels were published in short, serialized form in magazines, so Flight of the Dragonfly is about a hundred thousand words shorter than the complete Rocheworld.
Every time I pick up one of these classic-style science fiction novel, like Ringworld or Double Star, I find myself saying that a) I should read these sorts of books more often, and b) I wish that books like these were still written today.
Creative writing, or the speculative fiction genre, has long leveraged something called the MICE quotient. I first came across this when I was reading an Orson Scott Card book on how to write science fiction and fantasy (I think it was even titled How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy). The premise is that stories in the speculative fiction genre can be broadly binned as having one or more of four, primary drivers: milieu, idea, character, and event. Although most good stories will incorporate multiple of these components, with different ones emphasized at different times, there is usually one that drives the story forward.
The world is a dangerous place. That's true any time, and at any point in history, but certainly this year the point has been emphasized repeatedly. Although it is often easy to imagine that either it is hubris to think that we live in important times, or alternatively that what is happening right now must be a matter of grave and unprecedented significance, the objective truth is that this year has already seen more uncertainty and tumult than usual. So, naturally, I read a book written to scare people.
I love classic, hard science fiction (we've talked about the difference between hard and soft science fiction before). Verne, Wells, Asimov: I've read most of what they wrote. These stories, exploring scientifically rigorous possibilities and ideas, hold a unique place in the huge volume of work classified as science fiction. To use the MICE quotient, these are idea stories, through and through. I'd heard about Ringworld in a few different places, and decided that this was something I needed to read.
No, I'm not above using cliche titles, when they serve me. Because I'm so very fond of stirring up controversy, I'm going to talk about something that divides more people than religion, politics, or the Great Pumpkin: movie/book adaptations. Fair warning: we're going to talk about some big name franchises, including Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Jurassic Park, and others, so if you don't want to risk potential spoilers from either the book or movie versions of any of these, you might not want to read this post. Otherwise, let's mire ourselves in controversy.
Broadly, I classify my writing as speculative fiction, which includes the genres that are typically shelves under both the fantasy, and science fiction categories. Yet, you will notice that the majority of my works, both published so far on the site, and in progress, fall in the fantasy genre. Considering that my "real" job involves working with advanced, experimental satellites, that might seem somewhat counter-intuitive, and indeed I've gotten a lot of questions recently about why I don't write more science fiction. So, I've decided to try to provide an answer, other than the fact that I'm not nearly as skilled or imaginative, to why I'm not the next Isaac Asimov.
Speculative fiction, broadly, includes the stories that are typically classified as science fiction and fantasy, but if you've written in the genre realm for long, you may have noticed that the terminology employed by libraries and other sources to classify genre fiction is somewhat limited. Maybe we genre writers aren't as "serious" as the "real" authors, but that hasn't stopped us from developing our own terminology to help describe our works. Since I think that many of these terms would be useful for both readers and writers to know, I've sought to describe some of them below.