Published by Tor Books on August 26, 2014
Echopraxia takes place after
The central character is baseline human Dan Brüks, a biologist and tenured professor who resists all the wiring and implants that most people take for granted. As Exchopraxia begins, Brüks is in the desert where he finds Bicamerals threatened by a not-so-controlled-or-confined vampire and her zombie helpers. Soon the Bicams and the vampire join forces (more or less) because they appear to have a common but unidentified enemy. An attack from an unknown source sends Brüks and the Bicams and the vampire and a baseline military officer and some other characters scrambling to a spaceship that is itself chased and attacked by the unknown enemy. Figuring out who (or what) is engineering the high tech attacks is one of the plot's three mysteries. The second involves a mysterious something -- the "Angels of the Asteroids" is the roughly translated name bestowed by the Bicams -- and its association with Icarus, a space station that acts as a conduit of unlimited solar energy. The third involves the abrupt disappearance of the Theseus, a spaceship that investigated mystery number two, on which the military officer's son was serving.
Peter Watts has a better than average prose style. I like the way he renders dialog in a character for whom language is too slow to keep pace with thought. Characters have carefully designed personalities. Brüks and the military officer are both carrying a bundle of guilt, a byproduct of being baseline humans who can't jettison inconvenient emotions. The plot moves quickly, particularly in the novel's second half, but it does not short-change character development or the refinement of themes (including the benefits and disadvantages of being human rather than transhuman) that are central to the story.
The novel's background is filled with ideas, some familiar and others fresh. Watts doesn't assume that readers are stupid and need their hands held. Concepts that don't seem to make much sense initially (like "smart paint") are eventually made clear, usually through context rather than direct explanation. Watts scores points with me for avoiding needless exposition.
While Echopraxia is science-heavy science fiction, Watts also scores points for recognizing and engaging the limits of science -- which is not to say that the novel prefers a religious approach to understanding phenomena, despite the importance of transhuman monks to the story. Watts understands that too many people have blind faith in the ability of either science or religion to supply correct answers to all questions when, given our relatively primitive evolutionary state, we don't even know what questions to ask. Watts provides an antidote to arrogance, a reminder that it is wrong to belittle others because their understanding of the universe (or of our tiny part of our single universe) differs from our own. Echopraxia makes a strong argument for the importance of keeping an open mind about ... well, everything ... because the odds are good that whatever we believe to be true is fundamentally wrong.
Apart from being intellectually engaging, Echopraxia tells an entertaining story. The combination of an intelligent background, a fun plot, important themes, and strong characters make Echopraxia a rewarding read.