This will sound like a terrible review but it is actually wonderful. stay with me through the bad stuff and you will find the gems at the end.
I grew up reading the likes of Carl Sagan’s “Contact” and as a sci-fi buff it set me alight. “Peter Watts” is not taking the easy track with this piece of hard sci-fi. In fact, he seems, at times, to wish for no readers. Even to such as I that has enjoyed Benford, Banks, Brin and Bear (do all the surnames have to start with a “B”) this is a difficult read. Many acronyms are used with no guide to their meaning unless you are really up to date on your physics, biology, brain chemistry and chemical psychology, which most are not. This book is made even more difficult to read because the author factors in a vampire, as a side shoot of the human genome. A predator that preys upon predators. All this aside and I agree that it is a great deal to put aside. You end up with a truly original book. So Finally, here are the good bits.
Much as we all loved Carl Sagan, He was an optimist who wished for intelligent and thoughtful aliens that cared for and cosseted humanity. Peter Watts takes a far more realistic view, In my opinion. What is alien, is truly alien. No one person can imagine the meeting of minds in a first contact. I suspect that it will (if it ever happens) be even stranger than Mr Watts ideas. Mr Watts presents this book as a hard-sci-fi piece, which it truly is, steeped in the genre and wallowing there. Yet this book has more to offer upon the human condition than you may first expect. I would recommend this book to all readers that can stand the pretty much unreadable. Go on give yourself a challenge. After this I look back on “Iron in the Soul” by Sartre with fond enjoyment.