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Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor

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Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient TumourSome books you pick by their cover, and some for their author, or their topic. This one, even if I wouldn't automatically reach for it anyway due to it being by Peter Watts, I would have picked up for its eyebrow-raising title... which, apparently, is a pull quote by Annalee Newitz about the author. And no, I have so far failed to establish the circumstances or context for it. Hints on a postcard appreciated.

Peter Watts is an award-winning Canadian hard SF author and “reformed marine biologist” (his own words), with 5 published Novels (one of them published in two volumes for ‘commercial considerations’) and 2 collections of short stories (including 'Ten Monkeys Ten Minutes' - IMHO the greatest book title ever) to his name. Plus, now this, of course. 
He has been labelled a “sociological futurist Lovecraft” in a discussion on Charlie Stross’ blog, just to throw in another cracking quote; and is the go-to author for a number of people when their outlook on life, our society, and our future becomes a little too positive. Yes, you can surely call him a realist, but I can assure you he doesn't sugarcoat his predictions or pull his punches; he has not been called a “science fiction writer and worst-case scenarist” for nothing!

Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor, the book at hand, is essentially non-fiction; it is sourced form 'The Crawl' as he calls his blog on ('No Moods, Ads or Cutesy Fucking Icons') from where he and the editor culled 80k words from the 660k of available ramblings; plus from his regular column in the Polish magazine Nowa Fantastika – more on his popularity in these parts of the world below.
The blog posts in the book are dated, which is helpful if you want an idea of when things were written in terms of global events, or if you want to go and track them down on his blog. They are not arranged chronologically, and neither are they ordered entirely by topic; I have summarily failed to determine what the logic is in the arrangement.

“In love with the moment. Scared shitless of the future”

The book is subtitled as 'revenge fantasies and essays', and claims to contain 'over 50 collected essays' (err, there's 51, plus a 'From The Author' chapter. Hello marketing, good to see you're keeping up!). I have no intention to review every individual entry, so I'll list some highlights of what you'll read and learn about below, so you can confirm for yourself that this really is a book for you!

So, we learn about

his waxing and waning popularity; and why he is more popular in countries with a history of Soviet occupation than in countries occupied by the US
porn-mediated time-travelling ESP (sorry, not telling, read for yourself!)
why families suck, doubly so at Christmas time
“I do not expect to die peacefully and I not expect to die in any jurisdiction with a stable infrastructure”

his uneasy relationship with local law enforcement (he lives in Toronto), and his musings on political power and on the uses of political and military force, and on how that game is rigged
his thoughts on his deceased brother in his Eulogy
the story of the teacher in the Bible Belt who wanted her class to read his book Blindsight, minus the 'fucks'. Not her, it was the parents with the problem, in effect. The exchange is fascinating.
On the shooting of innocent black civilians, and a game theory approach that would stop it.
On his career-defining (ok, initially) belief/dream of cetacean intelligence and speech, and of its representation in his fiction
And we have foot notes, of course! This is Peter Watts, the Credible Hulk, after all. Still very much the scientist at heart.

about Star Trek Beyond, with which he, as an old Star Trek fan across the iterations, is not particularly impressed
his relationship with Banana, the rescue cat he took in. Well, one of them... Alien to me, as a non-cat person not infected with the oxoplasma gondii parasite which apparently alters the human brain to make it like cats
his fascination with hydrocephalus – people with 5% of a normal brain, leading normal lifes and holding Honours Degrees in Advanced Math – and what this might imply
reasons to feel optimistic. Yes, even Peter Watts looks for silver linings at times – before telling us why they are bogus.
His near-fatal brush with flesh-eating desease:
“Not lucky. But I’ve got to be one of the least unlucky bastards alive.”

Multiple entries play on or describe part of his Baptist upbringing. Having been brought up Methodist this did not not ring any bells, not at all ...
Prometheus review – OMFG, I howled. And it deserves every single barb.
“[...] which logically means that parents are less human than the rest of us”
Even ignoring the rather funny argumentation – his points re. parents and their cognitive impairment don't really hold water after reading several entries concerning his cats, and the lengths he's willing to go for them.
There are several discussions and dissections of scientific papers discussing the scenarios for the collapse of civilisation. People (and especially now also scientists) are taking what used to be purely SF scenarios much more serious these days.
I've read some of this before, of course, as a follower of Peter for quite some time now.
Other bits, though, especially the Nowa Fantaskyka stuff, is entirely new to me. Not that either spoiled my enjoyment, this material bears re-reading.

Also: severe cognitive impairment by tribalism. Proven and accepted science. Ouch. Consciousness, one of his hobby horses. Uses still unclear. Thanks.
His take on Cambridge Analytics and what it means for us, our future. Ooh...
on the rather imminent collaps of the ecosystem, and of what we might preserve. Or of the next mass extinction event with life springing back in a few million years. Hopefully without humans next time!
Arrival. Good. Very. Better than story/book!
He has a major beef with believers, especially Christians. And especially Dr. Francis Collins, from what used to be the Human Genome Project.
He's willfully contrary at times. Looking to provoke, both thought and reaction. Get a raise out of us, his readers. Maybe get us to raise?

The ethics of killer robots. Just go and read Malak...
Martin Luther King and the Vampire Rights Leage. Even just for the title...
“After all, only a small proportion of sociopaths are actually criminals; most of them operate entirely within the limits of established legal, religious, and political systems”

Not an easy book to read quickly – for all Peter Watts being an erudite and fun-to-read writer. Both the structure and a lot of the subject matter and topics make skimming hard, I found.

But full of intelligent, and frequently original discourse and though, very much worth reading and getting entertained (and challenged) by. Go get yours, now!

More Peter Watts

Title: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor
Author: Peter Watts
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Tachyon
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: 2019
Review Date: 191216
ISBN: 9781616963200 
Pages: 318
Format: ePub
Topic: Blog Posts
Topic: Articles

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
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I didn't really know anything about Peter Watts before reading this collection of his writing/blog posts, and the resulting collection in an acerbic, entertaining look into a myriad of subjects. It was a lot to take in all at once, so I picked at this over the course of several months. I loved his perspective on a lot of things, so if you like essays about literally anything, definitely take a look at this.
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The title of this book really lets a reader know what they’re in for in the spirit of “It does exactly what it says on the tin”, when they pick up this book.

Peter Watts is indeed a very angry man and he knows how to express himself with outstanding panache.

On an initial reading of what are tidied up blog posts, your first impression is of a string of rants, and some quite extreme at that.

But when you put the book down, dropping it like a hot brick, the arguments linger (nay fester) and you find yourself compelled to take a look at them again, albeit opening the pages cautiously, lest something leap out and take a chunk out of you.

This is when you begin to grasp the genius of a man whose science fiction requires you to bend your mind into novel contortions before you can begin to get a glimmer of Watts’ conceptual gymnastics.

There is a great element of “made you think” to the erudite commentary and argument made regarding even the most esoteric of academic papers, which conventional researchers consider are not so much at the edge of science as drifting through an unidentified void.

This will be a book for some to fling with exasperation against the nearest wall, or treasured as something to return to because of what it tells us about ourselves.
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Peter Watts is an author that I haven't read from before this, but I will definitely be changing that soon. This was a great reading experience for me. A collection of blog posts ranging from his personal life and upbringing, movie reviews and current events, Watts presented things in ways that I, a person who isn't a big fan of blogs, really enjoyed. Also included were parts about science! Which was awesome! Watts is a former marine biologist, and I loved getting information and perspective on those topics by someone who both knows what he is talking about and has a great writing style. 

There are times where this can feel a little disjointed, and sometimes going from one topic to another can be a little jarring, which make it obvious that what you are reading was meant for a blog, not for a book. Overall, though, I wouldn't say that took away from the reading experience a whole lot. A solid read!
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I read this because I like Peter Watts as an author and wanted to learn more about him. My rating is 3.5 stars, but let me just start by saying how unfair it is to rate a book that's made up of blog posts... First of all, all of them are so different, and it's always harder to rate without a theme, and secondly, a lot of it is at least a little personal, which makes it harder to rate still.

The book starts out roughly - with a post or two that might seem way too angry and negative, but I think that's done on purpose - so you'd stop reading, if you're not up for it. The tone goes calmer later on, but the theme of righteous anger for ecology and some political themes remain. Most essays are aimed at westerner societies, and to me that's like crazy scifi stuff cause a lot of those things I just can't imagine happening in my part of the world. No wonder post-Soviets understand the ideas in Peter Watts's scifi better, as he says.

Some of the stuff is very interesting - like everything about neurology. Hydrocephalia (barely having any brain, but still having a high IQ? Do we need a brain?) Or those conjoined twins that share a brain. I would have never known those things if not for this book.

But a lot of the stuff is sad or even depressing. Peter Watts isn't exactly optimistic about where the world is going (to shit) and how it's being solved (it's not). The sad thing is that I believe he's probably correct, so that wasn't doing wonders for my mood. There's also triggering stuff, like how his leg got infected by some alien meat eating virus (god knows) and about how his oldest cat died (I cried).

Provided you can get through the initial shock of the negativity that's specifically put at the start so you wouldn't pick up the book if you're "not ready", it's an interesting one to read!

I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of the ebook in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.
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I had a lot of fun reading this book and it was a good way of getting to know a new to me author.
I laughed a lot and loved his style of writing.
I don't know if this anthologies of blog posts reflects his book but I can say it's a good and entertaining read.
I will surely read the books by this author.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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I'm going to keep my review short and to the point since I don't have a lot to say that's positive about this book; Watts is at his best when he's at his most speculative, when he's pushing the boundaries of what's known and unknown about our universe and the way reality works. Where I found myself uncomfortable was while reading his reviews—mostly of films, but of some television shows and other media as well—and disagreeing not only with his points but his approach. It has actually given me more incentive to re-think my own negative reviews, which I have traditionally enjoyed as much as anyone, because I felt personally attacked and belittled for liking some of the things that Watts does not. I don't ever want to make readers feel *that,* you know?

All in all, this book served as a good personal reminder for me to be more thoughtful of my review readers.
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A very lefty sf author writes about the world, including his pets (ah, the joys of loving a difficult cat) and the fact that we’ve pretty much guaranteed a climate apocalypse and very few people seem to have noticed. The best bit was his description of a spat he had with David Brin over whether individuals could respond to pervasive government surveillance with surveillance of their own: “Brin reminded us; our leaders are Alphas. Trying to ban government surveillance would be like poking a silverback gorilla with a stick. ‘But just maybe,’ he allowed, ‘they’ll let us look back.’ Dude, thought I, do you have the first fucking clue how silverbacks react to eye contact?” Which is a pretty good point about differential power.
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Again, I have a hard time with short story collections, essays, etc. But this was great. Funny, enlightening, smart, and ridiculous.
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Regular readers know, I think, that I read a lot of review copies in advance, depending on when I get them and what my schedule allows. I write the review when it's fresh and post it later. This one I read at the end of a week of being sick in bed with influenza.
This is no one's fault but my own. I've read Peter Watts before, and in case I'd forgotten what it was like to do so, he and Tachyon Press gave this essay collection the convenient title listed above. So that for readers who have not encountered Peter's writing before--my brief and entirely internet encounters with Peter-the-person, I hasten do add, have nothing of this quality--there is the title in large friendly letters. It does not say Don't Panic on the cover. It would not dream of saying that. No. This is a Peter Watts book.
So I, clever person that I am, decided that the best thing on day six of being in bed with a variable fever, would be to let an entire collection of Peter's blog posts and editorial rants wash over me.
I...would suggest that you read this book in another condition, if you have one available to you.
In the introductory essay, Peter makes a comment about John Scalzi having collected his blog posts in two volumes, then an aside about how cheerful John is. And this made me think: possibly there are people out there who were introduced to the concept of John Scalzi by the descriptions of his self-appointed enemies. Who heard that there was this angry, radical leftist who was putting loads of his politics into his science fiction and thought, sure, I want one of those!, went looking and were mildly baffled by what they found. Well, it turns out there's an entire buffet of such people, it's just that cheerful centrist John Scalzi is not on the list really. Try Peter Watts if you want a collection of blog posts from a writer like that.
As with any contentious blogger, you'll probably find at least some of the posts/essays in here to cheerfully disagree with--or to bury your head in your hands, groan, and wish you could disagree with. But remember: the reader expectations should be set pretty clearly. This is what it says on the tin. Not: Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor But Look! A Butterfly! or Peter Watts Seems Like An Angry Sentient Tumor But In Just Three Essays You'll Find Out How He Learned To Play His Cares Away On The Ukulele--And So Can You! There's a lot of climate change realism, a lot of anger at police brutality and surveillance state assholery, a lot of frustration at entirely valid frustrating human behavior. Also a little bit of talking out his ass about YA fiction, some movie reviews, mourning for some much-loved humans and cats. This is a set of blog posts, not a two-minutes' hate, no matter how well-directed. It's easy to slip into "just one more" here even when you're wincing and going "oh God too much truth." Just a little more truth though, just one more blog post worth of truth before I go back to my fever dreams....
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I check in on Peter Watts' blog throughout the year, and I agree with him on a lot of things. I also agree with his opening statement here. Why is this a book?

The blog entries collected here don't necessarily feel dated. (Except for the occasional movie reviews, which bring up some good nitpicks but are too snarky for my taste.) But they do feel unnecessary, and the entire project suffers from that same aura of indifference. "Here are some blog entries I did, but not all the ones you remember. I don't know why you'd want to read them in print, but here they are, I guess?"

Like Watts, I'm baffled by the existence of what he terms "blogoirs," a terrible name that accurately  communicates the general bafflement and disdain we both have for the format. But on the other hand, my appreciation for the author is rooted in the fact that we're both baffled and disdainful of many popular things, so what do we know?

People like these types of books, and I know at least three  people I can buy this book for because they're into environmental doom-saying, brain mysteries, and/or cats. So I have to assume everyone else behind the publication of this book knows what's up, while Watts and I will just continues to be confused  and annoyed by it.
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Pete Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor is a compilation of articles from Watts' popular blog posts. He's picked the best and most relevant (updating a few of them) to present in book form. This is a good read for fans of Peter Watts or those in search of an angry read.
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I was describing this book to a friend of mine a little while ago.  I said that John Scalzi writes serious blog posts, and he writes funny blog posts.  He skewers people, he gets angry, he comments on current events, politics, things going on in the areas of science fiction and fantasy.  And then he puts a bunch of them into a book which probably sells like crazy (I don't know for sure, given t that I haven't bought any of those books nor have I bothered to dig into their sales figures). He *knows* those books will sell, and he's happy to have that happen.  And he writes something to his blog, "Whatever", almost every day.  And when he doesn't get something written, he apologizes, usually by sending a picture of a cat, a sunset, or his family.

Then there's Peter Watts.  He writes blog posts and essays like he writes fiction:  dark, depressing, angry, complicated. He doesn't write every day, nor does he intend to.  He writes about his cats, which he adores, but sometimes he doesn't have pleasant things to write about his cats, like the time one of them died.  Watts doesn't shoot for friendly.  Watts shoots for the truth (not saying Scalzi doesn't, because he sure does) even in the name of his blog:  No Moods, Ads or Cutesy F****ng Icons (He doesn't actually censor the name of his blog; I'm doing that because I've had reviews rejected by that big company named after a river because I had the f-word in it.  I figure I might as well get ahead of the game).  

I've written about Watts' books BLINDSIGHT, ECHOPRAXIA, novella Freeze Frame Revolution, and his collection of short fiction, Beyond the Rift.  It's no secret that I like his fiction because of the subject matter, the mood, the tone, and just the angriness of it.  It's intelligent fiction.  It makes you think, and it certainly doesn't leave you with a happy feeling.  That's just who he is and what he writes.

To no one's surprise, this collection of essays and blog posts are the exact same thing.  But there's an underlying feeling to the pieces presented in the book that Watts cares.  He cares about the planet, he cares about humanity, he cares about everything.  He gets angry at things precisely because he cares so much.  And it really does show.  

There are a lot of essays in this book, so I won't summarize them, or even point out most of them.  I will, however, point the reader to two blog posts about his interaction with a teacher who lives and works in an area of the country, which is, I will try to put delicately, does not have an open mind about things. The teacher wanted to teach BLINDSIGHT to the class, but a  department head was not allowing it because of the 73 f-bombs in the book.  Yes, there are 73 f-bombs in the book, and I'm guessing that the number was calculated because, well, Watts and the teacher modified the book to take the offending word out.  But it gets worse from there. I don't want to spoil the rest for you, other than to say that the perpetrators of the censorship give school administrators a really bad name.

To bring this back around to the beginning of this review, while Scalzi rightfully revels in the attention he gets for "Whatever" (and please don't get me wrong, I read "Whatever" every day and am a fan of Scalzi's; I'm just trying to make a comparison between Scalzi and Watts), the first line of the opening essay, which serves as an introduction to the book, is  "By the bowels of Christ, man why?", his first words to Jacob Weisman, publisher at Tachyon.  As in "Why do you think this is a good idea?  Why do you think anyone will want to read this?"  Watts doesn't think his blog posts over the years have that much of a shelf life.  They might be interesting at the time, but then they go the way of all things.  It's not only that he doesn't revel in the attention as Scalzi does - he doesn't think he deserves the attention in the first place.

Why do *I* think anyone will want to read Watt's blog posts?  Because he's interesting, he's got great things to say, and he's a great writer.  No matter what he thinks.
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This is a wide-ranging set of blog posts and essays from a whip-smart author. He writes VERY well, of course (and is rightfully a well-respected author). It was fun getting to know him (and his cats) a little (especially since I'm in the middle of one of his novels). Among other things, he is a self-described geek (a good thing). He also knows himself well, and has a good sense of humor. You don't have to be a fan of the author to enjoy this.

A big thank you to Tachyon and NetGalley for the ARC for review!!
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Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, this angry sentient tumor has a big thing about using Peer-Reviewed articles in his essays. That's great! I think it is really funny when he uses lesser-known articles to debunk the whole methodology of psychology. Or when it's set against right-wing-religious nutters.

I read this mainly because it's Peter Watts. Period. He's smart, isn't afraid to burn bridges, and he has the whole Curmudgeon thing DOWN. Get off my lawn! But he also has a point. Many of them. And when it comes right down to it, I agree with most. Like keeping literature smart, not so dummied. Or keeping information free enough to counteract the really crazy things that can, even now, happen to say, the bird flu.

The rest of the essays were either homages to old pets, having a flesh-eater on his leg, or pretty cool summaries of stories we can't find but we should have read. :)

Other than that, and let's be honest, it reads like a series of spruced up blog posts with proper annotation and bibliographies. :) Fun, at least for me, but aside from the ideas within, it's nothing too serious.

The ideas are, of course. I think I need a drink after being reminded about how we've reaped the whirlwind. Humans really are the worst. :)
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