book review: fifteen dogs

The idea behind André Alexis’ novel Fifteen Dogs is that Apollo and Hermes lay a bet on whether it would be possible for a dog to die happy if given human consciousness. To settle the bet they grant fifteen dogs in a Toronto veterinary office consciousness and see what happens, and that’s what the novel is about.

For some reason going in I’d assumed there would be one chapter for each of the dogs, but that’s not how it worked out. Some of the dogs came to a bad end right away, and then a pack was formed and eventually dissolved.

It was a story about language and about the purpose of consciousness and about finding a place in a world that wants beings to fit a certain mould. It was a good book.

I really liked it but it shouldn’t have won Canada Reads this year. The question the program asked was “what book do Canadians need to read right now?” or along those lines. As soon as you’re introducing Canada you’re making this a political question and the political inhabitants of the nation state of Canada with its history *need* to read something like The Break.

book review: blindsight

Blindsight was fucking incredible. Peter Watts put it out under a Creative Commons license so you can go download and read it now if you want. The book has sort of a backgrounder website, which I’d also recommend. If you like hard science fiction that deals with first contact, sentience vs intelligence, predator-prey relationships, people being superfluous so they upload themselves to Heaven, sex, relationships with a person who doesn’t understand empathy, all sorts of awesome brainhacking, the wondrous effects of electromagnets on the human nervous system and vampires, or even a substantial subset of those, you need to read it right the fuck now.

I’ll warn you; there aren’t a lot of likeable characters. One of the blurbs for the book is by James Nicoll:

Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts.

The story is told by a man whose brain has been half removed and filled with machinery that helps him analyze what people are thinking based on their body language. But he’s pretty severely lacking, not in social skills, because those are skills you can learn and that he did learn, but in the motivations behind those skills. He’s also hilarious. There’s a great bit where he tells the story of Sperm and Egg and the war they are constantly fighting and he tells this story after presenting his girlfriend with flowers, commenting on the oddness of presenting another species’ severed genitalia as a token of affection, just before they are to fuck.

The best part of this book was all the stuff about intelligence and what human consciousness is worth and what it costs. It’s amazing, and the kind of thing that’s hard to find outside of science fiction. The afterword is filled with the references Watts used (he’s a marine biologist so is used to doing science) and I kind of want to read the huge dense one he mentioned. The one that actually tries to sort out where our consciousness is in our meat.

It’s not for the faint of heart, or for people who like warm fuzzies, but it’s awesome.