Blindsight by Peter Watts is a hard sci-fi novel about first contact, aliens, autism spectrum disorder, the nature of human consciousness, and a formerly extinct offshoot of Homo sapiens that gave rise to our vampire legends. It’s free on the author’s website in multiple formats.
It was published in 2006, and after disappointing early sales Watts put the full manuscript online for free under a Creative Commons license. This earned him some public, if indirect, disapproval from an outgoing officer of the Science Fiction Writers of America*, but it didn’t seem to harm the book’s prospects; Blindsight went on to earn a Hugo nomination, and his publisher continues to sell it in print and ebook formats (here’s the Tor edition of Blindsight on Amazon.) However, if you enjoy the book and want to pay Watts for it directly, there’s a donation button on his site.
As a sporadic reader of sci-fi, I missed any mention of this six years ago. Oddly, though — or not, considering my interests — I’d seen and loved a satirical faux-PowerPoint presentation posted online by Watts back in 2006. Designed to look and sound like a corporate presentation from a big-pharma conglomerate, the presentation provides a modern biotech context for vampirism. It was a sort of early online book trailer before such things became commonplace, and I remember passing the link around to friends and telling them, “You should watch this, it’s awesome.” Ever since, whenever I see a TV/movie vampire recoil from a crucifix, I think, “Ha ha, you just got pwned by right angles.”
Sadly for many modern tablet/smartphone owners, the multimedia presentation was built in Flash, but the Notes section of Blindsight has much of the same info. Here’s a taste:
Homo sapiens vampiris was a short-lived Human subspecies which diverged from the ancestral line between 800,000 and 500,000 year BP. More gracile than either neandertal or sapiens, gross physical divergence from sapiens included slight elongation of canines, mandibles, and long bones in service of an increasingly predatory lifestyle. Due to the relatively brief lifespan of this lineage, these changes were not extensive and overlapped considerably with conspecific allometries; differences become diagnostically significant only at large sample sizes (N>130).
Don’t worry, the vampiris — brought back via gene therapy — is only part of the story, which is really about zombies! Ha ha just kidding! No zombies. It’s actually a hard sci-fi story about mankind trying to establish first contact with a potentially hostile alien intelligence.
But most important when deciding whether to grab a free book these days, Blindsight was nominated for a bunch of awards it didn’t win, and it continues to receive good reviews from both critics and regular readers.