Starfish By Peter Watts, TOR Books, 1999
I came to this book via Boing boing, an interesting and eclectic news site catering to the computer literate diginesti. The site was recommending the latest by this author, which is a continuation of a series. I found the first book of the series, used, At Powell’s in Oregon, and picked it up.
And its one of those books you’re glad to have read but not wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others.
Here’s the gist of it. It’s the near future, teetering on the edge of apocalypse world. Megacorps are in control and much of the population are in refugee camps on a tainted coastline. The mega-C’s have installed power stations in the deep trench smokers, where the continents butt together. And they staff them with modified transhumans capable of breathing water and withstanding the pressure.
And to staff these deep-sea dwellings they choose broken people – abusers, molesters, victims, people whom they can modify easily, and whom, if they fail, won’t be missed.
That right off the bat doesn’t do a lot for me, since all the characters are not people I would trust in my living room, much less roaming around unsupervised at the bottom of the ocean. And to Watt’s credit, he shows the losses from this badly thought-out piece of corporate creativity. Some of the crazy creeps go crazier. Some go an entirely new type of crazy. And some seem to go sane under the pressure.
Watts tries to make understandable these broken people, but does not make them sympathetic. This is a good thing from the reader’s standpoint, but in the process he also makes them difficult to tell apart. I thought this was just me at first, but I found the receipt for the book (Originally purchased at Barnes & Nobles #1964, Portland, Oregon) with crib notes from the original owner written on the back, writing up who all the characters are.
You never get close to these broken folk – there is too much distance, emotionally and evolutionarily, to get past. More frustrating, while the inmates of the deep sea asylum are coming to terms with their new role in the world, they are reduced to little more than witnesses for ANOTHER corporate screwup which drives the apocalypse at the end of the book.
The ideas and concepts in the book are intriguing, but in the end you realize you’ve been reading about one thing when the writer is setting you up for the ideas that he wants to talk about. And apparently these ideas continue in another book, but I can’t really say if I will follow him there.
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