Thursday, November 17th, 2011...4:49 am

Why Vampires?

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I was surprised to find vampires in Blindsight. Watt’s writing is so scientific that there doesn’t seem to be room for human myths and old impossible fears. When I first started reading, I kept thinking that vampire had to be a term, or a creation, not that Watts was saying Vampires had actually once existed.

True, Watts provides explanations for the vampires. He tries to take out the myth and to make them scientific. But even with the ‘fantasy’ removed, vampires still give Blindsight a sense of the impossible. Many elements, from Heaven to Chelsea’s way of slightly changing personalities, are believable if not distant. They are rooted in the idea that science could take us to strange new places. But where science is used to explain and to bring back the vampires, the book still assumes that they ever existed to begin with.

Why would Watts do this? Couldn’t Sarasti’s character have been filled by someone else? His inhuman traits—the intelligence, the speed, all the things that made him a good leader—could have been explained by all of the genetic alterations other characters experienced. After all, having changing characters like the Gang or having the main character unable to emotionally connect to others would be no stranger than having a human with far increased mental capacities.

At first, I thought Watts used Sarasti because of the predator prey relationship that was established. The fact that he is a “monster” is one of the most dominant aspects of his personality. After Sarasti splits Siri’s hand, Siri even says “outside that shell was another, ruled by a monster” in reference to Sarasti (308). But does even that role have to be played by a predator? Couldn’t a human be just as vicious and just as frightening? There might not be instinct behind a brute, but plenty of people are not bothered by violence. In fact, a character who had lost the ability to empathize in a different way from Siri—someone who biologically could not be averse to causing pain, or who perhaps even enjoyed it—would have been as if not more terrifying.

On 353, after Siri asks whether Sarasti was Theseus all along, the ship says through Sarasti “U DISLIKE ORDRS FRM MCHNES. HAPPIER THS WAY.” If Sarasti’s character was following orders from the ship all along, his identity as a vampire seems even less necessary. Sure, the other characters could pin his decision making down to the difference in his brain, but in the end those differences of brain are barely even important when he is not making the decisions.

I’m not saying that I don’t understand the difference it makes to his character, or even that I disliked it; in fact, Sarasti was one of my favorite characters. But it seems like a high trade off in suspension of disbelief. A vampire is a much harder sell to make.

I think vampires could have been included for exactly that reason. Yes, they take away from the ‘hard science;’ yes, they add an element of the fantastical. But what story doesn’t benefit from a sense of wonder? There is a certain feeling added to the story by vampires, which are such an old human fear. It allows the world to seem bigger. In Blindsight, we don’t just have a distant future; we have an impossible past as well. The world isn’t simply expanding out into space, it’s broadening its own history, too: saying we still have things unsolved on Earth. We still have questions that we haven’t answered.

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