Friday, July 29, 2011

Peter Watts

Starfish (Rifters Trilogy)

Bleak, suffocating look at look at the alien world of our own sea floors, and a dark look at a future ruled by sociopaths and corporations (what a stretch). Power stations set on underwater rifts and then operated by sociopaths evolved to survive in those conditions is the basic setup. Atmospheric, confusing, swimming in pathos, and for the most part earning its comparisons to Campbell, Clarke, and Ballard (Two characters are even named Clarke and Ballard), this is an intriguing if difficult debut for Watts. Kind of a hard science variation on one of Ballard’s hallucinatory secret evolution stories, also reminds me of Delany’s “Driftglass” and has more than a hint of Gibson. So you get a creepy character study, hard science, cyperpunk, and disaster/apocalypse tropes all combined in this vision of rogue marine biology and psychology. This opens up a trilogy which I wonder if my lingering optimism can survive.

Maelstrom (Rifters Trilogy)

The book of Revelations written by a bad tempered unholy lovechild of Brunner, Triptree Jr., and Bester (and to continue this horrible metaphor, foster cared for by Gibson and Egan). These are truly the end times. At least for anything human. But, then most of the cast barely is, so they continue on. This is bleak stuff. Primeval microbes, climate refugees, malevolent dolphins, phosphorescent cancerous seals, quarantines with flamethrowers, invented personalities, internet nasties, and smart gels. Like Bunner’s Sheep Look Up, it’s depressing how plausible the scenarios in this book are based on current advancements of our fragile global status. This book does what sequel should do, in that it castes new light on the events of the previous book, as events and even personalities are given a flip.

Crank up some Xenakis and Penderecki and abandon hope all ye who enter here. A book as monolithic and labyrinthine as the alien artifact at the heart of it. A grim yet psychedelic book which probably earns Watts place as the new James W. Campbell. A dystopia and a first contact story bent into odd shapes like a bristling metal sculpture. Disturbingly, as hallucinatory as most sections of this book are, Watts seemed to have scientific rational for most of it. A stunning look at consciousness, identity, reality, extraterrestrial life, technology, evolution, psychology, this is very difficult but mind altering experience if you let it. A future as weird and baroque as those pictured by Greg Egan and Charles Stross, scientifically plausible vampires (a branch of lost evolution), people turning to stone, a person with multiple personalities call The Gang of Four, truly alien aliens, and bleak a view of the universe as Lovecraft or Alastair Reynolds. Wow! The notes and references are worth price of entry alone.

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