January 12, 2015

Review: Starfish

Starfish by Peter Watts

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third book in my Read All of Peter Watts project, although it's the first book he actually published. It's the first book in the Rifters trilogy. I can see the creakiness inherent in being a first-time novelist, but said creakiness is minimal, and his later trademarks are definitely present. Damaged, unlikable characters--even more so than in his later books, I think--that you end up rooting for anyway, even if you don't particularly like them; plenty of hard, cutting-edge science and rigorous extrapolation; and an entire last third of the book which is one great, extended, slam-bang action sequence.

Getting to said action sequence requires a great deal of setup and character exploration, which may feel meandering and boring to some people. It is at times, but not as much as the last book I read, Echopraxia (although I suspect if I went back and read that book again, my opinion would probably change). One squicky thing readers may have to get through is the fact that one of the characters is a pedophile, and Watts makes no bones about it. In fact I'm rather amazed that as a first-time novelist, his editor let him get away with that. Although said character does suffer a rather abrupt and nasty demise... However, this meandering is necessary to set up the sudden breathless ending, and rest assured, every seemingly random twist and turn does get you somewhere. Watts is a writer who demands the reader's patience, and the reader is almost always rewarded.

A few of the gosh-wow things thrown into this book: undersea habitats, deep-sea rifts, the attendant wildlife and ecology found in these rifts, genetic engineering (both of the protagonists and the "smart gels" that run the Internet; one of said smart gels makes the decision that jump-starts the entire last third of the book), artificial intelligence, false memories, and pyranosal RNA as an alternate genetic template that threatens all life on Earth. It's quite a stew, and needless to say it can't all be wrapped up in this book (which is why there's three more, she says as she cackles and rubs her calloused reader's hands together).

This book doesn't reflect the excellence of Watts' later novels, but one can see the foundations being built. Now I'll go on and see how the walls take shape.

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