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Peter Watts
Tor Books, 320 pages

Peter Watts
Peter Watts has a bunch of degrees in marine biology. 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: Maelstrom
SF Site Review: Starfish

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

Nobody in their right mind would want to spend a year working in a geothermal power station three THOUSAND feet under the surface of the Pacific, surrounded by pitch black, icy, crushing water, and perched on the edge of the unstable volcanic Juan de Fuca rift. And nobody in their right mind would want to have their lung cut out and replaced with a machine, or have their human genes rewritten as part fish to accommodate this job.

So the Grid Authority staffed Beebe Station with crazies -- people so abused since childhood and so socially misfitted for normal living that swimming through black ooze at the bottom of the ocean is a lifestyle improvement. Pre-adapted, is the psychologist's term. And the tactic seems successful at first, but Lenie Clarke, the first 'rifter' in the abyss, wonders whether the GA intends to ever let them return to the surface -- or whether any of them will want to return.

In Starfish Peter Watts does an excellent job of describing the eerie setting of the deepwater rift and the strange sea creatures who live there. (Indeed, you can view this book as primarily setting, with a few characters and some plot tacked on for the ride.) He also handles technology exceptionally well, blending science naturally into the story without (for the most part) dropping into lectures.

However, this is one of those modern novels where everyone wanders about dysfunctionally until they meet some grim fate, so by genre readings standards it has many problems. First, Watts uses too many points of view -- I was almost halfway through the Starfish before I could decide who was supposed to be the protagonist. Watts also fails to identify a central story problem, leaving his characters to move aimlessly through the gloom, with insufficient structure or direction. And very little action takes place until the end of the book, so the setting and a series of minor incidents have to carry the reader. Many readers will stall.

Finally, a number of the ideas in this book (such as a team of pathological loners successfully working together) do not stand up to much examination, and unfortunately the slow pace gives the reader plenty of time to pick holes in the plot and characters.

Starfish is an original novel, very well researched and containing interesting ideas, and Watts is a good writer; but I cannot describe this book as an enjoyable read. Still, I'll be watching for Watts' next novel with interest.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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