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Beyond The Rift
Peter Watts
Tachyon, 240 pages

Beyond The Rift
Peter Watts
Peter Watts is an author, marine biologist, and computer-based game writer. He has spent much of his adult life trying to decide whether to be a writer or a scientist, ending up as a marginal hybrid of both. He has won a handful of awards in fields as diverse as marine mammal science, video documentary, and SF.

Peter Watts Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Blindsight
SF Site Review: Behemoth: B-Max and Behemoth: Seppuku
SF Site Review: Starfish
SF Site Review: Maelstrom
SF Site Review: Starfish

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Human beings often come with a highly developed sense of place. A misplaced object, or an object perceived to somehow be in the wrong place can raise any reaction from curiosity and surprise to fear and aggression. In Peter Watts' stories, those objects in the wrong place are humans, aliens and others, and the results are often horrific, but also poignant, captivating, and astonishing.

It's right there in the opening story, "The Things," where the events of the well-known movies are seen through the eyes of the alien monster, whose shared consciousness leads to tragic results for the single, individual, limited beings it at first pities. In Hugo award winner "The Island," the encounter with the alien turns tragic, as the builders of the star gates meet the unexpected, with a plea for help.

The best of these stories leave the reader balanced between nearly conflicting emotions. In both "Mayfly" and "A Niche," characters who are capable of violent, destructive acts reach a point where their otherwise negative characteristics become a positive, they find a place or have it found for them where their weaknesses are a strength. The question remains as to whether the price paid makes it worthwhile. That's a balancing act few authors can pull off in the space of a short story, and Peter Watts does it time and time again.

What helps provide the balance is that these stories are not just melodramatic tragedies. In addition to suffering characters, these stories are exploring a set of ideas relating to the relationship between intelligence and consciousness. One of these ideas questions the necessity of linking intelligence with a self-aware personality, an idea that was brilliantly presented, with devastating consequences in Watts' novel Blindsight. The second defines intelligence in terms of its environment, the organism best suited to its environment is necessarily the most intelligent, in that environment. It's by twisting and turning that second idea that most of the stories in Beyond The Rift make their point, the consequences of the wrong type of intelligence in the wrong place can be horrifying and deadly.

These ideas place Peter Watts in the company of writers like Karl Schroeder and Charles Stross. Linda Nagata's recent The Red: First Light is also part of this conversation, as are Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice and the novels of Hannu Rajaniemi. In the case of the latter two writers, the use of characters whose consciousness extends over a vast amount of space and time is echoed in Beyond The Rift in the cloud intelligence of "Nimbus" and the solar system sized entity that inhabits "The Island." Peter Watts is in the thick of a discussion that places him in the front ranks of hardcore science fiction writers, and the artistry with which he depicts his misplaced characters is a convincing argument that such a place is exactly where Peter Watts deserves to be.

Copyright © 2014 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson's intelligence fits right into what is currently the frozen wasteland of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Greg's reviews have appeared in publications ranging from The Minneapolis Star-Tribune to the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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