Echopraxia (2014) by Peter Watts is an amazing sci-fi foray into a semi-post-apocalyptic world with vampires, zombies, weaponized viruses, heavily-augmented humans, Snowcrash-like meme mechanics, and enigmatic alien contact. It's a great book, but a difficult and dense read, probably made more difficult because I hadn't previously read Blindsight which is set in the same world.
It's the late 21st century, on an Earth that is roiling between massive technological advancements, wars, environmental damage, and zombie plagues. Zombies are generally one of two kinds: produced by a virus that destroys much of the brain, or hyper-augmented soldiers who have sold themselves into a kind of slavery. Heaven is where people go to plug themselves into the Internet and leave their bodies behind.
The protagonist is a "baseline", a derogatory term for humans who haven't heavily augmented themselves or otherwise evolved. Daniel Bruks is a biologist with an ugly past, studying parasites in the Oregon desert. The next-door neighbors are Bicameral monks who use faith to study the universe and have a giant tornado as a both a power source and a guard dog. One day his research area is invaded by something or some things not human, and Bruks is forced to flee to the monastery. Later the protagonist ends up in outer space, on the ship Crown of Thorns. He's the least augmented of anybody on board and feels very vulnerable and rather useless.
Much of the novel deals with fallout from alien contact, a global but brief manifestation that left as quickly as it came. An interstellar ship was launched to investigate, and a space station intermediates between The Theseus and Earth. The Crown of Thorns, carrying Bicameral monks, a vampire, and several other individuals, is dispatched to the Icarus to investigate some strange signals. In addition to being a communication conduit, Icarus supplies 1/5 of Earth's power and this presents some complications.
The vampire of the novel - not a spoiler since the first chapter of the book deals with the subject - is a frightening creature with the ordinary name of Valerie. Humankind apparently made the mistake of resurrecting an offshoot of homo sapiens, Jurassic Park style, and the undead are walking the Earth again in the late 21st century. Although the resurrected vampires were engineered with an inability to deal with Euclidean geometry (aversion to crosses), Valerie has learned to overcome this limitation. A super-fast, super-intelligent predator lurks in the corners of Bruks' world, far more frightening than her accompanying zombie squad ... and like Bruks, I constantly underestimated her intelligence.
This was a difficult but exhilarating and frightening read. (It might provoke nightmares, it certainly gave me a strange sleep experience). I'm not sure I understood everything; in that regard it reminded me of Umberto Eco's novels. If I read it again, would I understand more? If I had read the previous book first, would I have had an easier time? In this complicated tale it's hard to tell if large plot holes were left or not. I suppose readers who religiously subscribe to Analog might have an advantage in being familiar with some of the concepts. At any rate it certainly gave me a lot to chew on. I was also impressed by the last part of the book which contains some explanations and a lot of citations, some real, some fake.
I would say Echopraxia is fantastic, but not an easy read, and definitely scary. Worth the effort for the intellectually adventurous who like a big splash of horror on their sci-fi. It's definitely more challenging than its predecessor Blindsight.
Echopraxia / Peter Watts PR9199.3.W386 E24 2014