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Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays

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In more than fifty unpredictable essays and revenge fantasies, Peter Watts — Hugo Award-winning author, former marine biologist, and angry sentient tumor — is the savage dystopian optimist whom you can’t look away from. Even when you probably should.


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In more than fifty unpredictable essays and revenge fantasies, Peter Watts — Hugo Award-winning author, former marine biologist, and angry sentient tumor — is the savage dystopian optimist whom you can’t look away from. Even when you probably should.

30 review for Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays

  1. 5 out of 5

    carol.

    I was interested in this because I found Watts to be one of the most fascinating sci-fi writers I’ve read, with wide-ranging concepts and expertise. Interestingly, the copy came to me about pandemic isolation time, when I suddenly lost my interest in anything challenging. However, it turns out Watts’ ‘angry tumor’ approach rather worked for me. ‘Peter Watts’ contains a curated version of at least fifty of his blog posts, so presumably you could find them online, with effort. As such, I would have I was interested in this because I found Watts to be one of the most fascinating sci-fi writers I’ve read, with wide-ranging concepts and expertise. Interestingly, the copy came to me about pandemic isolation time, when I suddenly lost my interest in anything challenging. However, it turns out Watts’ ‘angry tumor’ approach rather worked for me. ‘Peter Watts’ contains a curated version of at least fifty of his blog posts, so presumably you could find them online, with effort. As such, I would have appreciated organization to the collection. As it is, it feels scatter-shot, jumping from personal history to police brutality to movie reviews, to psionic abilities to his cats. I’m reminded of Ursula LeGuin’s blog collection No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters and it’s more thematic organization. Applying my own advice, I’ll help potential readers know what it contains. A fair number of the posts reflect on personal history and events, which was certainly troubled. Watts had a complicated upbringing and certainly has come by his negative view of humanity by route of both experience and learning. ‘Everything I Needed to Know About Christmas I Learned From My Grandma’ starts off the collection, with a second-hand billfold gift from grandma. ‘The Least Unlucky Bastard’ talks a bit about his experience with a flesh-eating Strep infection and his ICU stay. ‘The Black Knight. In Memoriam’ is an ode to his brother, someone he cared for but was unable to see often, partly due to Watt’s being prohibited from entering the U.S. after a dispute with aggressive U.S. border guards (apparently covered in more detail elsewhere). Another second would fall under socio-economic activism, such as ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ when he discusses the homeless schizophrenic man who has been squatting on/near his property, ‘And So It Begins,’ and ‘Dress Rehersal’ where he talks about the role of police and revolution. ‘Life in the FAST Lane’ talks about the problems with scanning technology at airports and allowable failure rates–“if a test with a 99% accuracy rate has flagged someone as a terrorist, what are the odds the test is wrong?” But at San Francisco airport, 1% equals 1,200 a day will be flagged as potential terrorists. A surprising number are musings on a particular sci-fi show or movie. Blade Runner 2049, for instance, Logan, and the Thing from 2011. There are some musings on science and the impact of people on the planet, such as ‘Viva Zika,’ musing on Zika and population control. It’s an interesting piece, and while history has not borne out it’s impact, it would have been an interesting solution to the Homo sapiens problem. ‘Smashing the Lid off Pandora’s Box’ are thoughts post International Panel on Climate Change and the pathology of hope. Along these lines are thoughts on humanity and thought. ‘The Limits of Reason’ explores how one can’t really logic out of arguments with believers, first tried on some Jehovah’s Witnesses who came to his door. He hypothesizes that this is partly because we have developed logic “not to glean truth from falsehood but to help use win arguments;to make others do as we want; to use as a weapon“ (p.216). In support, he points out the theory of ‘confirmation bias,’ the ‘Semmelweis reflex’ that makes us reject contradictory findings, and the ‘backfire effect,’ that makes us become more confident as we are presented with greater opposing proofs. Two more dispiriting studies come up. One, from Kruger and Dunning¹ found that incompetent people regard themselves as smarter than others, tending to regard smart people as especially stupid, and continue to believe this even when shown proof otherwise. The second, by Xie et al² “suggests that a belief held by as few as 10% of a population can, over time, become the societal norm so long as that original 10% is sufficiently closed-minded and fantatical” (p.217). The citations for this one are interesting and come up a couple of times. Some posts are pure scientific meandering. I can see it now; he sees a journal update and is motivated to do a little internet follow-up of is how the process begins. ‘Dolphinese,’ muses on whether or not dolphins have language, but I found those surprisingly unsatisfying. There were some references, but what mostly seemed to happen is that Watts read an article and then went off on a little riff, or it spawned a little research project of his own, and then was moved to write up his thoughts in a post, so it really wasn’t anything too in-depth. The dolphin post, for instance, just has three references, so it isn’t like it’s a particularly strongly researched post. ‘Extraordinary Claims’ is about psionic abilities and clearly he was a lot more interested in that, because it had eleven references. And some posts–not many, thank goodness, are about how we need to ‘recalibrate’ hope. These are hard but interesting reads. To be fair, he realizes what he is saying. He just things we’re better served with a dose of reality. I, on the other hand, would have to poitn out everything he said earlier about how … complicated… people are. Visual side note: Trade paperback is lovely, from the detail work in the table of contents to the block-print icons leading off each piece. I’d call it two-and-a-half stars. Interesting insights into a really, really interesting author, but nothing as profound or moving for me as Ursula LeGuin’s similar work. ¹’Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 77(6), Dec. 1999 ²’Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities.’ Phys. Rev F.84011130 (2011). Note: everything is italicized and highlighted and whatever else at my blog. Too much work. https://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2020/...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Watts’ science fiction works may not be for everyone, and as it turned out, his non-fiction as well (although it should be), but they are right up my alley. And how could I not read a book of his with such a title? This is a collection of essays, articles written for his blog and polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka. They cover various themes from politics, science, climate change, surveillance (Ed Snowden, you’re mentioned too), movies and others to personal ones as the death of his brother, persona Watts’ science fiction works may not be for everyone, and as it turned out, his non-fiction as well (although it should be), but they are right up my alley. And how could I not read a book of his with such a title? This is a collection of essays, articles written for his blog and polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka. They cover various themes from politics, science, climate change, surveillance (Ed Snowden, you’re mentioned too), movies and others to personal ones as the death of his brother, personal insights into his childhood and stories of his cats. I shared his rage at some of the topics, I laughed out load at others and cried at Banana’s and Chip’ stories. He may not be too sympathetic to other humans, but he is toward animals and that’s enough for me. However, his ranting is not without reason: if he touches a topic and fumes against it, he does it with pertinent arguments. He touches the reader with his words; you’ll get a whole load of emotions because he writes with his heart, soul and mind on the table. He may have a dark and macabre humor most of the time and a lot of fucks stressing out feelings, but behind that he is a man who cares and gets angry at stupidity, hypocrisy and indolence. “Did you know that Blindsight contains seventy-three instances of the word “fuck” and its variants? I’ve recently been informed of this fact by a high school teacher down in a part of the US that—well, in the name of protecting the identities of the innocent, let’s just call it JesusLand. The ubiquity of “fuck”—not just in Blindsight but in other contexts as well—carries a number of ramifications. For one thing, it implies that the characters who use it have better vocabularies and language skills than those whose mouths are squeaky clean. It means they are more honest. It also means that they probably have a greater tolerance to pain. And in the case of this particular teacher—here in the Twenty First Century, for chrissake—it means she could lose her job if she taught Blindsight, unexpurgated, to her advanced English class. Apparently high school students in her part of the world are blissfully unfamiliar with this word. Apparently all sorts of calamities might ensue should that precarious state of affairs ever change.” ZOUNDS, GADZOOKS, AND FUCKING SISYPHUS. BLOG AUG 30 2016 “The year is 1982. I read Isaac Asimov’s newly-published Foundation’s Edge with a sinking heart. Here is the one of Hard-SF’s Holy Trinity writing—with a straight face, as far as I can tell—about the “consciousness” of rocks and trees and doors, for chrissakes. Isaac, what happened? I wonder. Conscious rocks? Are you going senile? No, as it turned out. Asimov had simply discovered physical panpsychism: a school of thought which holds that everything—rocks, trees, electrons, even Donald Trump—is conscious to some degree.“ THE SPLIT-BRAIN UNIVERSE Nowa Fantastyka AUG 2018, EXTENDED SEPT 12 2018 ”I’m going to try some optimism on for size. I think it might be a bit tight around the middle.[…] Real people are scum, I continue. They launch jihads; they rob the poor to further fatten the rich; they trick countries into going to war just to line the pockets of their oil-industry buddies! And if they’re not scum, they’re idiots! Nobody in my novels would deny the reality of evolution or climate change. Why, when it comes to human nature, my writing is almost childishly optimistic!” A RAY OF SUNSHINE Nowa Fantastyka JULY 2015 ”It should be no secret that I am one of that ever-growing flock of empiricists who’ve been touched by His Noodly Appendage. And while I generally have little patience for religious beliefs of any stripe—I just can’t see any explanatory utility in them at all—my feelings about religious believers are somewhat more nuanced.[…] Maybe it’s because, having gone through occasional dark hours of my own, I know how absolutely wonderful it would be to know, deep down in my heart, that death is not the end, that there is a place where all my beloved dead cats still chew on liquorice (and cannot climb the trees), that there is more to existence than a few decades of ranting vainly against the imbeciles who keep treating the planet like a toilet bowl.” THE GOD-SHAPED HOLE BLOG DEC 20 2007 Whatever it is I said above, the review from Booklist says it better: “[…] His writing is irreverent, self-depreciating, profane, and funny, showcasing a Hunter S. Thompson–esque studied rage and dissatisfaction with the status quo combined with the readability and humor of John Scalzi. These thought-provoking essays rail against hypocrisy, question the usefulness of consciousness, and explore counterrhetorical biases and how they impact our society. With intellectual rigor, clarity, and dark humor, Watts covers subjects as widely divergent as holidays, law enforcement and surveillance, homelessness, and the intersection of science and sf in the study of dolphin language. His film criticism covers J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies, Blade Runner 2049, and the fallacy of oppression in the X-Men franchise. He shares personal stories, too: a life-threatening illness, the death of his brother. This collection of well-written essays has actual science backing up most of Watts’ opinions about politics and humanity. Give it to readers looking for a deep dive into privacy, discrimination, and other sociological issues.” Terrence Miltner Highly recommended.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Tucker (TuckerTheReader)

    i want to be best friends with whoever wrote this book | Goodreads | Blog | Pinterest | LinkedIn | YouTube | Instagram i want to be best friends with whoever wrote this book | Goodreads | Blog | Pinterest | LinkedIn | YouTube | Instagram

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gavin

    Eleven years after the birth of the most neurologically remarkable, philosophically mind-blowing, transhumanistically-relevant being on the planet, we have nothing but pop-sci puff pieces and squishy documentaries to show for it. Are we really supposed to believe that in over a decade no one has done the studies, collected the data, gained any insights about literal brain-to-brain communication, beyond these fuzzy generalities? I for one don’t buy that for a second. These neuroscientists smil Eleven years after the birth of the most neurologically remarkable, philosophically mind-blowing, transhumanistically-relevant being on the planet, we have nothing but pop-sci puff pieces and squishy documentaries to show for it. Are we really supposed to believe that in over a decade no one has done the studies, collected the data, gained any insights about literal brain-to-brain communication, beyond these fuzzy generalities? I for one don’t buy that for a second. These neuroscientists smiling at us from the screen—Douglas Cochrane, Juliette Hukin—they know what they’ve got. Maybe they’ve discovered something so horrific about the nature of Humanity that they’re afraid to reveal it, for fear of outrage and widespread panic. That would be cool. Blogposts from a thoughtful doomer. Name a hot button, anything, and he will elevate it to the scariest thing in the world: internet surveillance, zoonotic viruses, climate change, Trump, the security detail around the G8. Bloody-minded sympathy, Left nihilism, boundless sensawunda, viscera instead of prose - and but deep unreliability when he gets on a subject besides marine biology. He is vulnerable to anything cool or fucked up. I like him a lot, but I'm worried if I find myself agreeing with him, since he so often misleads himself. If I am indeed fated to sink into this pit of surveillance capitalism with the rest of you, I’d just as soon limit my fantasies about eating the rich to a venue that doesn’t shut you down the moment some community-standards algo thinks it sees an exposed nipple in a jpeg. Everything he does is excessive. Of course, this makes for good aesthetics and bad epistemics. Like Charlie Stross, Watts reads horrifying things into the news, informed by the toxic half of history but also by a nebulous paranoia which leads them astray. (Representative sample from Stross: "[media incentive] has been weaponized, in conjunction with data mining of the piles of personal information social networks try to get us to disclose (in the pursuit of advertising bucks), to deliver toxic propaganda straight into the eyeballs of the most vulnerable — with consequences that are threaten to undermine the legitimacy of democratic governmance on a global scale.". Watts: Bureaucratic and political organisms are like any other kind; they exist primarily to perpetuate themselves at the expense of other systems. You cannot convince such an organism to act against its own short-term interests... It’s not really news, but we seem to be living in a soft dictatorship. The only choices we’re allowed to make are those which make no real difference... On a purely selfish level I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life, happier than I deserve. Of course it won’t last. I do not expect to die peacefully, and I do not expect to die in any jurisdiction with a stable infrastructure. At least I don’t have to worry about the world I’m leaving behind for my children; I got sterilized in 1991. ) The two biggest fumbles here are his posts on Daryl Bem and high-functioning hydrocephalic people. It is no shame to fall for either: these are highly respectable academic hoaxes, and Bem's methods were exactly as valid as the average psychology paper of the early C21st. Watts' mistake isn't to insist that ESP is real, but to leap to the defence of the weird just because it is weird, to the point where he rejects Hume's maxim ("Laplace's principle"), a basic incontrovertible theorem of Bayesian inference. these results, whatever you thought of them, were at least as solid as those used to justify the release of new drugs to the consumer market. I liked that. It set things in perspective, although in hindsight, it probably said more about the abysmal state of Pharma regulation... I’m perfectly copacetic with the premise that psychology is broken. But if the field is really in such disrepair, why is it that none of those myriad less-rigorous papers acted as a wake-up call? Why snooze through so many decades of hack analysis only to pick on a paper which, by your own admission, is better than most? The question, here in the second decade of the 21st Century, is: what constitutes an “extraordinary claim”? A hundred years ago it would have been extraordinary to claim that a cat could be simultaneously dead and alive; fifty years ago it would have been extraordinary to claim that life existed above the boiling point of water, kilometers deep in the earth’s crust. Twenty years ago it was extraordinary to suggest that the universe was not only expanding but that the rate of expansion was accelerating. Today, physics concedes the theoretical possibility of time travel Another big miss is his emphasis on adaptive sociopathy as the cause of our problems, rather than say global coordination problems. He is also completely off the deep end on climate change as existential risk, sneering at anyone who disagrees, no matter how well-informed. there’s no denying that pretty much every problem in the biosphere hails from a common cause. Climate change, pollution, habitat loss, the emptying of biodiversity from land sea and air, an extinction rate unparalleled since the last asteroid and the transformation of our homeworld into a planet of weeds—all our fault, of course. There are simply too many of us. Over seven billion already, and we still can’t keep it in our pants. Notice the pattern: faced with an apparent dilemma, he happily chucks the strongest, most basic principles to maintain his paranoia (the principles "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" or here "it is good for people to have children if they want, good lives have worth"). This bias would be entirely fine if he only admitted error later, about his predicted Trump race riots for instance. The real danger isn’t so much Trump himself, but the fact that his victory has unleashed and empowered an army of bigoted assholes down at street level. That’s what’s gonna do the most brutal damage. Most posts are entertaining but betray one-way critical thinking: for some reason he can barely see the other half of the world, that we are winning in all kinds of ways. Lots of learned and fun film reviews here: I relax, since criticism need have no truth-value. He likes 'Arrival' more than 'Story of Your Life', which fits: the film is bombastic, paranoid, politicised, unsubtle. When you can buy the whole damn store and the street it sits on with pocket change; when you can buy the home of the asshole who just disrespected you and have it bulldozed; when you can use your influence to get that person fired in the blink of an eye and turn her social media life into a living hell—the fact that you don’t do any of those things does not mean that you’ve been oppressed. It means you’ve been merciful to someone you could just as easily squash like a bug... Marvel’s mutants are something like that. We’re dealing, after all, with people who can summon storm systems with their minds and melt steel with their eyes. Xavier can not only read any mind on the planet, he can freeze time, for fucksake. These have got to be the worst case-studies in oppression you could imagine. it still seems a bit knee-jerky to complain about depictions of objectification in a movie explicitly designed to explore the ramifications of objectification. (You could always fall back on Foz Meadows’ rejoinder that “Depiction isn’t endorsement, but it is perpetuation”, so long as you’re the kind of person who’s willing to believe that Schindler’s List perpetuates anti-Semitism and The Handmaid’s Tale perpetuates misogyny.) Watts reacts with caution and indignation to any police presence, even a compassionate visit to the homeless man sleeping in his garden. It would crude to explain away Watts' style and worldview by reference to his unusually bad luck: his flesh-eating disease, his inexplicable beatdown and prosecution by border cops, his publishing travails, his scientific and romantic flops. Disclaimer: I'm probably only so down on him because I got so excited by Blindsight and its promise of actual science fiction by an actual scientist. He is certainly well above-average rigour for a political blogger, and well above-average imagination for anyone. Plus a star if you're in it for the ride, the anecdotes, and not for reliable info.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bradley

    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 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. :)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Evelina | AvalinahsBooks

    How I read this: Free ebook copy received through NetGalley 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 How I read this: Free ebook copy received through NetGalley 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. Book Blog | Bookstagram | Bookish Twitter

  7. 4 out of 5

    Colin Fleming

    This pissed-off sci-fi writer contains multitudes. There’s paranoid Peter, raging against the militarization of policing and cops killing black men with impunity. There’s science Peter, describing the mysteries of the human brain with boyish, wide-eyed wonder. And there’s tender Peter, mourning the loss of a cat, or offering to pay for a prostitute for his gay Baptist father, a gesture so awkward and loving that it nearly broke me. And yet, while there are many Peters, they are united by a singu This pissed-off sci-fi writer contains multitudes. There’s paranoid Peter, raging against the militarization of policing and cops killing black men with impunity. There’s science Peter, describing the mysteries of the human brain with boyish, wide-eyed wonder. And there’s tender Peter, mourning the loss of a cat, or offering to pay for a prostitute for his gay Baptist father, a gesture so awkward and loving that it nearly broke me. And yet, while there are many Peters, they are united by a singular voice, fiercely alive and astonishingly brilliant. Not fucking bad for a blog’s greatest hits collection.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Cunningham

    Blindsight, Echopraxia, The Freeze-Frame Revolution? Loved them. Luckily, I still have his books to enjoy and am looking forward to starting Starfish in the month or two. This collection of blog posts/spleen-ventings/movie reviews? Garrghhh. Ughh. Meh. There are some interesting ideas here, granted, but you have to sift through a lot of bullshit for them. And... that's not even completely true. The thing that comes through, time and time and time again, is not that Watts is a pessimist; its that Blindsight, Echopraxia, The Freeze-Frame Revolution? Loved them. Luckily, I still have his books to enjoy and am looking forward to starting Starfish in the month or two. This collection of blog posts/spleen-ventings/movie reviews? Garrghhh. Ughh. Meh. There are some interesting ideas here, granted, but you have to sift through a lot of bullshit for them. And... that's not even completely true. The thing that comes through, time and time and time again, is not that Watts is a pessimist; its that even when I agree with his overall point, or his conclusion, or at least the value of the issue he's talking about... just... he's a dickhole. I guess in some quarters that counts as being edgy or telling-telling-it-like-it-is or being a realist, or stickin' it to the Man... but really... just, dickhole.

  9. 4 out of 5

    bekah

    The title is accurate. This book turned my hair white.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steph Romm

    If you love Watts, you'll love this book. I happen to be in that category, so this was a winner for me. I've been lucky enough to attend several conventions where Peter was featured as a panelist and the same sharp-witted, quick-retorting, dry-enough-to-cut-you humour is presented perfectly in this collection of essays and blog posts. How refreshing it is to hear from someone who is unapologetic from a place of scientific intellectualism and common sense - not so often the case these days. Is Pete If you love Watts, you'll love this book. I happen to be in that category, so this was a winner for me. I've been lucky enough to attend several conventions where Peter was featured as a panelist and the same sharp-witted, quick-retorting, dry-enough-to-cut-you humour is presented perfectly in this collection of essays and blog posts. How refreshing it is to hear from someone who is unapologetic from a place of scientific intellectualism and common sense - not so often the case these days. Is Peter pessimistic? Honestly, I don't think he entirely is. A realist? Absolutely. Genuinely really fucking concerned about the environment and the socio-political climate we live in? You betcha. But there's almost a sense of... yearning. That the people in positions who could really make a difference might get a damn clue some day. Maybe. Probably not. But- maybe. If you like his work, definitely pick it up. If you don't, I'd challenge you to give it a shot anyway. Try to hear from a dissenting opinion and maybe it'll make you rethink a thing or two. At least give yourself the benefit of the doubt that you're evolved enough to be capable of challenging your own opinions. Oh, and at the time of writing this review, COVID-19 is a very real and big thing happening to the world right now. You might be surprised at how topical some of his essays are - even though they were written years ago. Spooky. 5 stars - a must read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    A non-fiction collection from the reliably ornery science fiction author, where even the indicia is spoiling for a fight: "Assertions made in this volume are the personal expressions of the author, who certainly believes everything he wrote, and not necessarily endorsed by the publisher, who finds it all very entertaining." The title was Annalee Newitz' description, but it's absolutely typical for Watts to adopt it like this; likewise, the way the introduction regrets the editor's choice of what A non-fiction collection from the reliably ornery science fiction author, where even the indicia is spoiling for a fight: "Assertions made in this volume are the personal expressions of the author, who certainly believes everything he wrote, and not necessarily endorsed by the publisher, who finds it all very entertaining." The title was Annalee Newitz' description, but it's absolutely typical for Watts to adopt it like this; likewise, the way the introduction regrets the editor's choice of what to include, not to mention strongly implying that the author's brother is a nonce. But these are sideshows to the passage where Watts sums up his own position: "We're programmed for delusional optimism. Even facing apocalypse, we fantasize about being Mad Max. Who fantasizes about being one of the skulls piled up in the background? I'm destined to be one of those skulls, just like you are – but today there is still joy to be found, even here." (Of course, that was written pre-Event, back when I always felt a lot of sympathy with the subheader on the blog where most of these pieces first appeared: "In love with the moment. Scared shitless of the future." Now the horizon looks as dark as ever, and the moment is mostly grey trudge) Note, then, that Watts, for all that being incredibly depressing is pretty much his brand, thinks of himself as an optimist. Like he says, his fiction may be set in the hellscapes which the forecasts say are coming, "dark futures full of no-win scenarios", – but even the darkest forecasts of climate change have generally been better that what actually eventuates, and at least his protagonists tend to be competent people trying to do the right thing, which is more than can usually be said about the real world. One of his most winning characteristics is a very simple, but now increasingly rare one: he tries to be fair. He's painfully aware of just how deluded humans are about their own ability to think logically, quoting a study showing that many people who are perfectly capable of interpreting a data set when told it's about the efficacy of a particular sunscreen then lose all ability to even see data which contradicts their own position, much less accept it, if you tell them the same stats show gun control's effect on crime rates. Despite which, he tries his fallible best to do just that. He has a deep suspicion of religion, its implausible claims and often corrosive effects – but his own dad was a minister, so he's seen first-hand that there are faithful people who are neither stupid nor evil. One of my favourite pieces looks at a peer-reviewed study of research into psychic powers, which even if it's wrong - and Watts freely admits it may well be - he still doesn't feel is being played fair by its critics, who in defence of an idea of science are engaged in some shenanigans that look a lot more like defending a faith position. Elsewhere, he looks into people whose brain cavities are found to be 95% full of fluid without it seeming to affect their cognitive abilities - something of which I was dimly aware from childhood, but had since assumed must be fringe science The Unknown type stuff, and was pleasantly surprised to run into again in the work of a hardcore realist with a solid scientific background. He's also good as a cultural critic, which is to say, more often than not the things which annoy him about a book or film are exactly the sort of things which annoy me too. Not infallibly so – he makes a good case for Arrival, but I still don't buy his claim that the bloated, portentous film improves on the Ted Chiang story it Hollywoodises. But the bits that bothered him about Logan are the reason I've still never bothered to watch it, because I know they'd drive me potty. It would be easy to read this as arrogance, a certainty that because he wouldn't have told the story that way, it must have been told wrong – but he's equally willing to throw his hands up and say that the underappreciated In The Flesh is superior to his own take on zombies. This helps confirm that when he might seem full of himself, it's really just that he has no patience for lazy work, and an awful lot of entertainment (and politics, and human endeavour in general) is deeply, culpably lazy. While one of the many writing cliches for which Watts has no time is the clumsy attempt to humanise characters at the expense of coherence and consistency, there are also a couple of eulogies for departed cats which, while offering gory detail one might normally omit, confirm that he has plenty of heart, he just doesn't let that make him dumb. One opens with a suggestion for calculating quality of life, as something ideally needing both length and a big cross-section to count as a win - The Life Sausage. A great summary, one that should be much more of a commonplace, and especially painful reading now we're all living these pathetic Pepperamis. That's in the piece about Banana the cat, which brought a tear to my eye more than once. The one for fellow feline Chip, on the other hand, took me back to my basic belief in cats being dickheads, though still has its moments – "And entropy wins again, and now the universe is a little less complex, a little poorer." Big 2020s mood. Still, if you want tear-jerking farewells to pets, there are probably better places to find them. This is more often a book about how humans are stupid, and more dangerously certain the more stupid they are; how the planet is fucked, and more fucked than even the most fucked forecasts project; how most films are terrible, and even the ones he recommends normally have major caveats. Even if you are in the market for that, why not just read the component blog posts online? Well, there are a few addenda which add value, plus an introduction, and material only previously available in a Polish SF magazine (and isn't it fascinating yet entirely explicable that Watts remains a much bigger deal in Eastern Europe, with its deeper cultural and historical awareness of what a bastard life can be?). But also because Watts deserves at least a quid or two for some of the ideas on display here, especially the one about how you could make an army of killers just by using the right yoghurt.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Annarella

    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. 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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    VII

    I was curious to find out what sort of person Peter Watts is, since he is known for his bleak view of humanity, exemplified in Blindsight which I really like, but I can't say I was impressed. This book is less about how he sees the world and more about how other people do or believe things that are not in line with his views and science in particular. He holds strong views in really boring topics for me like the cops and the government, climate change and atheism, and while I don’t really disagr I was curious to find out what sort of person Peter Watts is, since he is known for his bleak view of humanity, exemplified in Blindsight which I really like, but I can't say I was impressed. This book is less about how he sees the world and more about how other people do or believe things that are not in line with his views and science in particular. He holds strong views in really boring topics for me like the cops and the government, climate change and atheism, and while I don’t really disagree with him, I am not really taking anything from those discussions. I also doubt that others get either, since everyone who will actually read him probably already agrees with him (or he ‘ll be put off by his rudeness and stop reading him), which makes this more of a circlejerk on how bad conservatives are. There are also some good parts though. He frequently comments on scientific studies, usually about consciousness or behavioral psychology. He also provides some insight on writing. But still, the best parts for me were the more personal ones, like the one with his cat or the one with the homeless person or (the best one for me) the one about his gay father who was also a minister and spent a decent part of his life not knowing what homosexuality is and never had sex with a man in his life. The most interesting observation I made was how he, a quite philosophically oriented biologist and sci-fi writer views the phenomenon of life or the humankind. When he discussed the usefulness of consciousness, what he valued highest was complex problem solving i.e. efficient survival. He jokingly said that he would be sad to know that he is a parasite in a brain that could do “better” without him. It seems then that this “better” can’t mean happiness or, let’s say, producing great sci-fi novels, but something far more basic, survival or transmitting genes. I see this is as a bias to what came first and entirely optional. He wouldn’t be a parasite in an organism’s brain because there is no cosmic preference on purely biological values. The moment that he entered that brain, he transformed the organism and made it something different and capable of other, consciousness related functions. Even the usual argument when I bring this up, i.e. that you can’t do anything without survival or life doesn’t apply here because consiousness certainly doesn’t completely inhibit survival, even if the prevalent view is right; it just makes it slightly less efficient.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts is a highly recommended collection of over fifty essays. Peter Watts may be an angry sentient tumor, but he is also an opinionated one and in this collection of blog entries he shares his many opinions, along with his anger, on a wide variety of topics. He really They are not all angry, some of them are about his cats, or other cats, but all of them are thought provoking and are going to incite some kind of emotio Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor: Revenge Fantasies and Essays by Peter Watts is a highly recommended collection of over fifty essays. Peter Watts may be an angry sentient tumor, but he is also an opinionated one and in this collection of blog entries he shares his many opinions, along with his anger, on a wide variety of topics. He really They are not all angry, some of them are about his cats, or other cats, but all of them are thought provoking and are going to incite some kind of emotion. Many of the essays touch on some political or other topics he cares about. And we do learn the story behind important facts, like Watts is banned from the USA, he almost died from a flesh-eating bacteria, he was raised Baptist, and he had a schizophrenic man living in his backyard who almost set his house on fire. He writes in the introduction that "...only an idiot would pretend that we don’t all come with bias preinstalled. Maybe the difference is, some of us are better than others at hiding that fact. Maybe this whole rigorously-objective argument is just an eloquent retcon to defend my own bias against preachy stories, and to deny that I’d ever let such cooties infest my own work even if appearances say otherwise. I expect my thinking on this subject will evolve over time. In the meantime, though, I’d implore you not to project too much ideology onto my writing, no matter how tempting it may seem. I have political opinions, for sure, but I don’t write to force them on you. Matter of fact, the stories I’ve written have actually challenged my own political opinions once or twice. I consider that a good sign." You may not agree with every opinion Watts has, but you will have to admit he is an excellent writer, presents his opinions and facts clearly and concisely, and he is passionate about what he thinks. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Tachyon. http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2019/1...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elaine Aldred

    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 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. Peter Watts Is An Angry Sentient Tumor was courtesy of Tachyon Publications via NetGalley.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kend

    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 mo 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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dan Trefethen

    The title pretty much says it all. Oh, and the subtitle: “Revenge fantasies and essays”. This is a selection of the author's blog postings, so while they have been edited for publication they still read somewhat like blog postings. However, they are extremely well footnoted since Watts has great interest in writing about cutting edge biology, marine biology, psychology, and related fields. Watts is a brilliant SF author who also has a short fuse and Does Not Suffer Fools Gladly, the more bureaucr The title pretty much says it all. Oh, and the subtitle: “Revenge fantasies and essays”. This is a selection of the author's blog postings, so while they have been edited for publication they still read somewhat like blog postings. However, they are extremely well footnoted since Watts has great interest in writing about cutting edge biology, marine biology, psychology, and related fields. Watts is a brilliant SF author who also has a short fuse and Does Not Suffer Fools Gladly, the more bureaucratic and authoritarian the fool the more upset he gets, which explains the vitriol behind some of his more squeamish revenge fantasies. This book is probably of interest only to those who read his fiction, although there are some illuminating essays here. For those who like these writings, you can follow his blog at rifters.com/crawl.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anne Francia Chavez

    Peter Watts is thinking cancer. "It was malformed and incomplete, but its essentials were clear enough. It looked like a great wrinkled tumor, like cellular competition gone wild—as though the very processes that defined life had somehow turned against it instead. It was obscenely vascularised; it must have consumed oxygen and nutrients far out of proportion to its mass. I could not see how anything like that could even exist . . . " "That was how it worked. That was how these empty skins moved o Peter Watts is thinking cancer. "It was malformed and incomplete, but its essentials were clear enough. It looked like a great wrinkled tumor, like cellular competition gone wild—as though the very processes that defined life had somehow turned against it instead. It was obscenely vascularised; it must have consumed oxygen and nutrients far out of proportion to its mass. I could not see how anything like that could even exist . . . " "That was how it worked. That was how these empty skins moved of their own volition, why I'd found no other network to integrate. There it was: not distributed throughout the body but balled up into itself, dark and dense and encysted. I had found the ghost in these machines. I felt sick. I shared my flesh with thinking cancer." -- Peter Watts, The Things Such loveliness.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Essays from Peter Watt's blogs and other articles he's published Peter Watts mentally intimidates me. I liked "Starfish" but didn't continue in the series because it was hard work. I want to read "Blindsight" but the reviews make my brain shiver. So I decided to try this nonfiction work. And I liked it! Peter Watts is a realist, and he doesn't feel the need to pull his punches or sugar coat so some of these were tough to read. They range from stories from his life (surviving flesh-eating bacteria Essays from Peter Watt's blogs and other articles he's published Peter Watts mentally intimidates me. I liked "Starfish" but didn't continue in the series because it was hard work. I want to read "Blindsight" but the reviews make my brain shiver. So I decided to try this nonfiction work. And I liked it! Peter Watts is a realist, and he doesn't feel the need to pull his punches or sugar coat so some of these were tough to read. They range from stories from his life (surviving flesh-eating bacteria, problems with family, the passing of his cat Banana (this one made me sob - not tear up, sob!)) to musings about journal articles to thoughts on politics and the world today. I'll be checking in on his website. And I moved a little closer to giving "Blindsight" a try.

  20. 5 out of 5

    KC

    Peter Watts is a marine biologist-turned-sci-fi-writer-blogger-etc... and it shows! This collection of essays covers many topics, from family pets and privacy concerns to climate change and LSD trips. I enjoyed the "smaller" essays a bit more than the deeply scientific ones - which, honestly, I occasionally lost track of as I was reading. Overall, an interesting collection by a man who has had vastly varied life experiences. I didn't always agree with or understand exactly what he was talking ab Peter Watts is a marine biologist-turned-sci-fi-writer-blogger-etc... and it shows! This collection of essays covers many topics, from family pets and privacy concerns to climate change and LSD trips. I enjoyed the "smaller" essays a bit more than the deeply scientific ones - which, honestly, I occasionally lost track of as I was reading. Overall, an interesting collection by a man who has had vastly varied life experiences. I didn't always agree with or understand exactly what he was talking about, but I wasn't bored! Thank you to Edelweiss and Tachyon Publications for an ARC of this collection!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie McDaniel

    Peter Watts is the author of one of my favorite SF books ever, Blindsight. He also has a long-running blog called the Crawl that many of these pieces are drawn from. So I've read a lot of them before (and I wish the comments on the pieces could have been included, as he has an intelligent and witty commentariat). But there are a few new entries from a Polish SF magazine Watts writes a monthly column for, and the entire book is very much worth your time. Watts may be a cranky, pessimistic curmudg Peter Watts is the author of one of my favorite SF books ever, Blindsight. He also has a long-running blog called the Crawl that many of these pieces are drawn from. So I've read a lot of them before (and I wish the comments on the pieces could have been included, as he has an intelligent and witty commentariat). But there are a few new entries from a Polish SF magazine Watts writes a monthly column for, and the entire book is very much worth your time. Watts may be a cranky, pessimistic curmudgeon, but he is never less than entertaining.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Björn

    Im a big fan of Peter Watts' fictional work. I even likes his blog at one point. What i have come to understand by reading this book is that our opinions dont quite align. Thats no biggie, really, except "Peter Watts is an angry sentient tumor" is chock full of them at the expense of most other things. All in all, 3 stars for a combination of funny writing with tedious, almost childish, opinions. Im a big fan of Peter Watts' fictional work. I even likes his blog at one point. What i have come to understand by reading this book is that our opinions dont quite align. Thats no biggie, really, except "Peter Watts is an angry sentient tumor" is chock full of them at the expense of most other things. All in all, 3 stars for a combination of funny writing with tedious, almost childish, opinions.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Rose

    Confession: I don't read much science fiction and I have no idea why I picked up this book except that the title grabbed me. Once I started reading, however, I couldn't stop, even when the level of science got so deep my rudimentary knowledge didn't keep me afloat. His rants were on target and his outrage on the same wavelength as my own. (Note: If you're a climate change denier or the kind of person who gets offended by the use of the F-bomb, pass this book by.) Confession: I don't read much science fiction and I have no idea why I picked up this book except that the title grabbed me. Once I started reading, however, I couldn't stop, even when the level of science got so deep my rudimentary knowledge didn't keep me afloat. His rants were on target and his outrage on the same wavelength as my own. (Note: If you're a climate change denier or the kind of person who gets offended by the use of the F-bomb, pass this book by.)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Meg (fairy.bookmother)

    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. Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a review copy! 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. Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a review copy!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Peter Melancon

    I've never read any of Peter Watts books, only a short story of his called Things based on the point of the Thing in Carpenter's the Thing. Reading his thoughts that span from politics, his love of cats, video games and thoughts on organized religion. I love reading insights on people, sometimes I get very good ideas from reading books like this. FYI Peter Watts has given me many reason to start blogging and I'm currently working on my first few essays. I've never read any of Peter Watts books, only a short story of his called Things based on the point of the Thing in Carpenter's the Thing. Reading his thoughts that span from politics, his love of cats, video games and thoughts on organized religion. I love reading insights on people, sometimes I get very good ideas from reading books like this. FYI Peter Watts has given me many reason to start blogging and I'm currently working on my first few essays.

  26. 5 out of 5

    M. A. Blanchard

    Peter Watts says so many things out loud (and/or in print) that I might think but would never dare utter. I both admire and resent him for that (though not as much as I resent him for introducing me to the horrific world of saturation diving, in his novel Starfish, and thereby haunting my dreams forever after with darkness and pressure and the deepest, most alien parts of the global ocean). This collection is a hilarious and bittersweet compilation of those things. I remain a fan.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alicia

    There is a lot of interesting stuff to be found here. Of course there are a few clunkers. I'd mention which ones if I could remember. I wasn't very appreciative of his stance on YA, even as someone who generally bounces off the stuff. Overall, Peter Watts strikes me as curmudgeonly but still definitely way smarter than me. There is a lot of interesting stuff to be found here. Of course there are a few clunkers. I'd mention which ones if I could remember. I wasn't very appreciative of his stance on YA, even as someone who generally bounces off the stuff. Overall, Peter Watts strikes me as curmudgeonly but still definitely way smarter than me.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    I really really want to enjoy Peter Watts but I just can't get into the writing. The summary of freeze frame evolution and this one got me really excited to dive straight in but something is stopping me from enjoying it. I really really want to enjoy Peter Watts but I just can't get into the writing. The summary of freeze frame evolution and this one got me really excited to dive straight in but something is stopping me from enjoying it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    M

    Peter Watts is angry, and he has good reason to be. Not all of the essays are outrage but they all bring up relevant points of discussion for the subject - even the ones that are less cerebral. This is a quick, well written, read that you can take as a whole or in bits and pieces.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ricky Rieckenberg

    Excellent read, several interesting things learned I was already a fan of Peter watts, this just made me more aware of how interesting some of his thoughts are. One thing I was not ready for was the submissions about his cats, it hurt and made me sad thinking about my own pets.

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