Blindsight is a hard sci-fi novel about first contact with aliens in the near future. A crew of four transhumans and a vampire are sent on a spaceship to investigate an anomaly in the solar system after a swarm of alien probes scan Earth.
The main theme is consciousness and what it means to be human. The characters on the spaceship Theseus have been altered mentally:
- Siri Keeton had half his brain removed, losing empathy and emotion. He tries to emulate them by following learned rules.
- Amanda Bates’s brain is connected to an army of robot soldiers.
- Susan James has three added personalities in her mind.
- Isaac Szpindel replaced so much of his body with tech that his mind can live outside it in the ship itself.
- Jukka Sarasti—a resurrected vampire—is far smarter and faster than a human but likely not conscious.
They approach the alien ship Rorschach. Although it seems to communicate in English, they realize it just pattern-matches and does not understand language. They board Rorschach, capturing aliens called Scramblers—extremely intelligent but, like Rorschach and Sarasti, not conscious. The Scramblers escape, and the crew realizes Rorschach planted them intentionally to be captured. Rorschach has been manipulating them from the start.
The book argues consciousness may have accidentally evolved in humans and now hinders us. The less conscious characters are more capable—James, with four minds, is taken over by Rorschach and forced to mutiny, while Siri with half a brain sees patterns others miss. Rorschach, the Scramblers, and Sarasti lack consciousness completely, allowing them to react faster, think deeper, and plan farther ahead.
The worldbuilding is fantastic and haunting. The mysteries are compelling and their answers are satisfying. The characters feel alive, even the vampire. Blindsight is not hopeful but is one of the best sci-fi books I’ve read.