28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
First off, if you haven't read Peter Watts' first novel, "Starfish", don't start with "Maelstrom". While this is theoretically a stand-alone novel, the reader unfamiliar with "Starfish" will miss out on a tremendous amount of back-story and character development. ...
As for "Maelstrom" itself, Watts has easily cleared the high bar he set with his first novel. All too often, sequels are rehashes of old conflict, but that is not the case here at all. Watts takes his already complex characters from the first novel and adds several more layers of texture; at the same time he adds just enough new characters to keep things interesting. These characters are equally well developed, and overall, Watts' writing is even sharper than in the first book.
The writing has to be sharper, because this is a much more complicated novel than the first. While "Starfish" took place in the relatively limited space of a deep ocean outpost, and dealt primarily with human interactions, "Maelstrom" sprawls across the Pacific and North America and a significant portion of the action takes place in cyberspace. Moreover, the plot is significantly more complicated. I don't want to get into it in too much detail, as doing so would ruin much of "Starfish" for those who haven't read it. But the general theme of this novel, like its predecessor, is the impact that the unforeseen consequences of exponentially growing technology can have on humans as a species and on the planet as a whole. In a dystopian setting of environmental havoc and human violence, two new scourges have emerged. One is spawned by nature, the other, inadvertently, by man. The result is a bizarre, but believable synergy that threatens the entire biosphere. It was particularly interesting how Watts explored the nature of consciousness by subtly comparing the burgeoning life of a piece of code with the flawed memories of the main character.
By now you may have guessed that there is a lot of science in this novel, and you'd be right. There is a great deal that is cutting edge, and even more that is purely speculative. Watts makes use of some pretty heavy biology and AI science that may intimidate readers at first blush. It would be a mistake to avoid this novel for that reason because the science is just there to set the stage for the story. If you understand the detail of it, it definitely adds many intriguing twists; but if you only understand it at the surface level, you could still easily follow the story. That's the beauty of Watts as a writer: he's pigeon hold as hard-SF, but the SF is just a means to the end of writing incredibly complex, beautiful characters struggling with problems we can easily empathize with. Finally, Watts has included an appendix discussing the key science in some detail, and also provides a bibliography of sources he used.
"Maelstrom" is an outstanding novel set in a believable, terrifying future. It was undeniably entertaining and I tore through it at a breathless pace. It also left me thinking about technology and its impacts in some new ways. Watts is no technophobe, but he makes a strong point about the lack of responsibility in many arenas of scientific endeavor. "Maelstrom" is a must read for anyone who enjoys a great story, rich characters and a thoughtful message.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2001
(Somewhat sheepishly) I must admit that I read Science Fiction books by the ton, and have been doing so for the better part of thirty years. The "discovery" of a brilliant piece of writing such as Peter Watts' MAELSTROM is all too rare an experience.
Following his more conventional novel, STARFISH (also excellent), MAELSTROM is perhaps a work of inspired surrealism more than it is a straightforward example of "hard" Science Fiction. (This is not to take away from Watts' completely credible and coherent account of a future world devastated by the enimical effect of a nasty micro-organism that manages, by means of rapid "virus"-like replication and mutation, to infiltrate pretty much every aspect of existence.)
Watts exhibits a flexibility and richness of imagination that sets his writing apart from the dry and often academic atmosphere presented in many works of the "hard" genre.
I dislike plot summaries and hence will not offer one here. Let me note, however, that although the plot becomes a labyrinth in itself, the story-line never lags. Descriptions of both abstract theory and "actual" events are vivid and exact.
Perhaps of greatest importance, Watts draws his characters with considerable care. Emotion (and its role in memory -links to an individual's past) plays a key role in the work. The persons presented in the novel are anything but the cardboard cutouts that often haunt works of such theoretical inclination.
Quite simply, MAELSTROM is one of the finest Science Fiction novels of the last ten years and an entirely fascinating read.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
In this age of anthrax scares and threats of biological terrorism, this novel is not only fortuitously topical-but twice as frightening by the relevance of the subject matter. `Maelstrom' returns to the characters and story begun in Peter Watts' `Starfish,' where a disease vector from the distant pre-human past was discovered in a deep ocean rift. A secret underwater nuclear strike was employed in an attempt at the sterilization/containment of the `disease,' but Lenie Clarke has survived and has inadvertently become the Typhoid Mary carrying the potential death of the human race.
We learn much about Clarke's interior topography as she tries to make her way home, possessed by a desire for revenge against the forces that ordered her `sterilization.' Inadvertently she becomes the Meltdown Madonna, a media/web induced celebrity and urban myth rolled in one-a rage filled carrier of death.
Peter Watts fine writing has created a genre others call cyberpunk noir, but it is really much more than that. And it defies simple labeling. `Maelstrom' is dark, gritty and vivid-yet eerily redemptive in it's own way. Highly Recommended, even if you missed `Starfish.'
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
In the near future, planet Earth is reaching breakdown. More and more of the world's economy goes into plugging the holes created by that economy--holes in the ecology, holes created by terrorism, holes created by pharmaceutical firms creating demand for their own products, and holes created by the proliferation of worms and viruses within what used to be called the Internet and is now called the Maelstrom. Somehow, Earth muddles by, yet more and more frequently, quarantine lines are drawn and people die.
To feed North America's ever-growing demand for energy, engineers have tapped every source including geothermal energy flowing deep beneath the sea. An explosion in the deep Pacific sets off a wave of destruction that is almost too much for the battered world--an explosion designed to eliminate the greatest threat to life on the planet that has ever existed, a hungry nanobe completely lacking in predators, yet supremely capable of adapting to the new environment. And the nanobe has a vector--one of the victims of the deep-sea explosion has made it to land, spreading the disease en route to her revenge.
Within the Maelstrom itself, artificial lifeforms nearly as dangerous as the nanobe exist, evolving through trial and error at a rate of thousands of generations each second. These computer virusses both echo and adopt tne nanobe virus, discovering that its name, and the name of its vector, are passwords to the most powerful and secret systems.
Author Peter Watts has created a compelling and convincingly dark view of the future. Extrapolating today's headlines into the near future, Watts' vision rings frighteningly authentic. Intriguingly, Watts sees the potential end of DNA-based life as morally ambiguous. Rather than the traditional SF approach of uniting the forces of good to battle ultimate destruction, those fighting the virus are mostly evil themselves while the good find themselves in a curious alliance with ultimate destruction.
MAELSTROM is an issues novel and suffers from one of the problems endemic to this kind of book--its characters lack full development and are difficult to identify with. Watts tries to overcome this by giving deep-sea survivor Lenie Clark a truly interesting background, yet he is only partially successful in this attempt.
Fans of dystopic science fiction will find MAELSTROM a hotbed of ideas, concerns, and partially explored moral consequences. Love it or hate it, MAELSTROM is a fascinating and powerful novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2007
Peter Watts' _Starfish_ introduced the reader to a fascinating, very well-developed dystopian world, the sometimes wonderful but often frightening world of the mid-21st century. In _Maelstrom_, Watts shows how that world comes to an end.
_Maelstrom_ begins right where _Starfish_ left off. Lenie Clarke and Ken Lubin, "rifters," people modified to work at a deep sea power-generating station (practically cyborgs in some respects), are the sole survivors of an attempt to contain the deadly pathogen dubbed Behemoth, discovered at the deep sea geothermal vent where Bebee Station was located. As the reader learned in _Starfish_, the strange and extremely deadly microorganism lived at that particular vent and was isolated until humans set up shop in its habitat. Aware of the unbelievable risks posed by the microbe, the government of North America used nuclear weapons to destroy the potentially biosphere-ending benthic organism at the end of _Starfish_, hoping to destroy the vent, the station, the rifters, and anything remotely associated with Behemoth. The resulting tsunami and earthquakes - made worse by the very nature of the smart gels assigned to handle the Behemoth problem - killed millions.
Unfortunately, Behemoth was not contained. Not only had it already spread to the North American Pacific coast, it was being carried further inland by Lenie Clark. Quite angry at the betrayals and lies she had been subject to, she journeyed inland to seek answers and revenge of a sort, unfortunately sowing the seeds for North America's if not the world's demise. Wherever she went, she spread Behemoth.
Lenie Clarke became far more successful than she had any right to be, owing to an unusual concentration of forces and alignment of events in her favor, as Clarke became not only a societal force but also a force of sorts in Maelstrom, the whirling, chaotic, violent successor to the modern internet, a place dominated by increasingly intelligent and dangerous "wildlife," rogue computer programs, future descendents of today's computer viruses but much more troublesome. The author's description of the evolution of such electronic organisms and the conditions prevalent in Maelstrom in the mid 21st century were fascinating and chilling. It made me very concerned about my virus protection software on my computer (not that any modern program could hope to prevail against the monsters of Maelstrom)!
Other major players include two members of the "Entropy Patrol," two "'lawbreakers" by the name of Achilles Desjardins and Alice Jovellanos. Given enormous power to react quickly, ruthlessly, and efficiently to mounting global crises, they are information experts, able to interpret, analyze, and quickly act on mounds of data in any field, be it economics, ecology, disaster management, or any other sphere (aided by the fact that they were given incredibly enhanced intellectual reflexes and pattern-matching skills). At first the Entropy Patrol was designed to act quickly and globally in an era of quarantines, diebacks, and crop failures, acting to quickly contain diseases and invasive organisms as they spread over the world as to well as to contend with other things such as global terrorism, they increasingly came to include in their sphere other sources of concern, with the power to instantly ruin millions of lives economically or to even physically end lives with powerful weapons (as long as it served the greater good of course). More powerful than any despot or emperor ever dreamed of being, only one thing stood to keep them in check, a biochemical fix known as Guilt Trip, which prevented `lawbreakers from acting against the greater good. Derived from chemicals used by parasites to control the behavior of their host, Guilt Trip paralyzed anyone with guilt - literally paralyzing them - if they ever sought to do something against the greater good. Guilt Trip was the only way anyone would ever sleep soundly knowing people like Desjardins had such enormous power at their fingertips.
Other players included Sou-Hon Perreault, a botfly operator (botflies are remotely operated flying machines, able to hover or speed to trouble spots and bring to bear as needed a battery of sensors, instruments, and in some cases weapons) and Patricia Rowan as well (a "corpse" - or corporate executive - from the first novel).
An interesting and well-written book, it was a little dark at times though generally never truly disturbing. You can see the large amount of research the author has put into this novel (but not to such an extent that the action drags or characters come off as flat or anything).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I inadvertently picked up "Maelstrom" at a local library recently and found it hard to put down. Peter Watts is a splendid, hard science fiction writer whose technological descriptions rival many I've seen from the likes of Gregory Benford and Greg Bear, among others. Unfortunately, his characters are not nearly as well fleshed out as theirs, often resembling one dimensional figures whose existence merely serves to advance the plot. Nor is his writing as lyrical as theirs, which I found rather surprising since one of his acquaintances is Canada's best young writer of science fiction, Nalo Hopkinson. Yet fans of technological science fiction will undoubtedly find "Maelstrom" quite intriguing, even if it only resembles in tone and substance, genuine cyberpunk fiction.
Although the deaths were expected to reach millions, the nuclear strike on the Pacific Ocean floor geothermal power plant Channer Vent was rationalized as the only way to save the surface population from the ancient microbe that threatened the planet (see STARFISH). The surface dwellers destroyed the vent, but as predicted the earthquake led to a tsunami that killed millions on the coasts and left parts of continents like west coast America underwater. Still world leaders insist the collateral damage was worth the cost as the microbe could have made life on the planet extinct and so are the infected crew and any sea life near the drop zone.
However, there is one problem that surfaces beyond the devastation. The Channer Vent supervisor, rifter Lenie Clark, survived the nuke and though her eyes are gone, she seeks vengeance on those who tried to bury her. Part human and part machine Lenie understands collateral damage and like world leaders does not care as her mission starts with killing her abusive father. The cyberspace MAELSTROM notices her advancement as does peacekeepers; both trying to reach her, but she keeps moving forward driven by her quest. However, what neither detects nor does her sudden human following is that she has brought something with her from the sea.
Although much less a cautionary tale than its superb predecessor STARFISH, the second Rifters tale is much faster and filled with more action. The story line grips the audience from the onset with the amount of collateral damage and destruction, but tightens the hold when Lenie walks out from the sea like a monstrous version of Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder from Dr. No. From there the action never slows, as the definition of collateral damage has been globalized.
on May 6, 2015
This is a completely different sort of story than "Starfish," but equally as enjoyable. Equally as dark/gritty/messed up, but entirely different world and feel.
What amazed me was the author's ability to shift from one world to another so easily, yet keep me just as hooked. Starfish takes place in an isolated place under the sea... and suddenly we're thrown into this massively complex world in the span of a chapter.
It may sound strange, but I also enjoyed the way the author introduced things without explanation, continued to reference it, leaving the reader to make their own assumptions about what it is... only to nonchalantly explain what it actually is and/or does a book later (eg. the "GA" patch on Lennie's suit). Something about it was really neat to me. Felt like I was exploring a new world constantly.
It can drag at times, and certain characters can be a bit insufferable, but it's all for good reason.
Anyways, I'm not great at writing book reviews... but if there's one thing I want to get across, it's that you should read this book.
on July 19, 2015
This entire four-book series has been a delightful discovery. I have read science fiction for almost 50 years. I love authors who can build multi-layered, complex worlds and who play with novel ideas. Watts adds very real and complicated characters and motivations, and the writing was excellent as well. I think the last time I was so taken with a new writer was when I ran into Dan Simmons' Hyperion series, and that is high praise, indeed. There are four books in the group; read them in order, because it's important.
on April 2, 2015
Good sequel to Starfish - the rifters start to realize there is a bomb hidden with them in the depth of the ocean. Even among them, mysterious, aloof and damaged, an empathic connection is built, with one left out. A doctor comes from above for a psych evaluation and he gets disturbing results. What is really happening? Suspense is high, the atmosphere possibly more oppressive than in the first book.