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Peter Watts - StarfishThis is a re-post of an old review of Peter Watts' Starfish, previously published on the now-defunct Diversebooks site. Peter Watts is a Canadian Bio/Hard SF Author, with 6 novels, a collection of stories, and a Campbell and a Hugo Award nomination to his name. And, in my opinion, one of the truly amazing new voices in SF!

Humanity’s hunger for energy has grown bigger and bigger. To prop up the failing supplies a new technology is introduced: energy generated by the earth, at the very faultlines where the continental shelves connect, split, and grind against each other.

Supervising the generators in the midst of hot vents, lava eruptions, and oversized nightmarish undersea monsters are a group of human ‘rifters’; divers technologically modified to withstand the intense pressure and able to breathe underwater.

The main thread of the story follows one of those rifters, Lenie Clarke, from the time she arrives at Beebe station (Channer Vent, Juan de Furca Ridge, Pacific. Look it up.) up to the book’s apocalyptic finale. There are several threads following other figures, some rifters, some the puppet masters pulling the strings.

The first part of the book focuses on the figures and personalities, and the cabin fever style problems they encounter. Then the environment they live in starts to change the rifters, way beyond the changes that the med-techs and the psychologists affected. The final part provides us with a fascinating/startling genetic/biosphere-engineering/ethical twist. No, I won’t tell, read it yourself, it’s worth doing so!

One of the big questions the author asks as part of this book is ‘if we create post-humans to exist in environments normal humans can’t – what kind of people do we select to start with?’. Clearly not people who are best adapted to live a successful life in a ‘normal’ environment, although the (research based; like most of the concepts in the book) choice he made for his actors is rather disquieting. Especially given their background, and their social/mental make-up (never mind their modifications) it is hard at times to put yourself in the shoes (flippers?) of the main characters. On the one hand they are very human, but on the other they are alien, posthuman, or maybe not human at all anymore.

The book is the first part of a trilogy, but given it’s history (it grew out of a short story, and grew into a trilogy after publication) it can be read on its own without problems, although I’ll be hunting for the next two instalments (Maelstrom & ßehemoth) now as I found it hard to put this one down ;-)

Read it if your interested in underwater SF, in social/sociological Fiction, or into genetics (as the author is, he’s got academic qualifications in several of the topics involved). This is not exactly ‘hard’ SF, but most of the concepts are based on current research or at least theories, and even the speculative parts don’t feel unreasonable. Compelling, and sometimes unsettling stuff.

What else? Ah, the comparison with Clarke’s ‘The Deep Range’ on the cover is bollocks (‘scuse my French), the only similarity is that both books have an underwater component…

More Peter Watts

Title: Starfish
Author: Peter Watts
Series: Rifters
Series number: 1
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Tor Science Ficttion
Publication Date: 1999
Review Date: Oct 20 2005
ISBN: 0812575857
Price: USD 6.99
Book URL:
Author URL:
Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Topic: Science Fiction
Topic: Marine Ecobiology
Topic: Post-humanity


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