Peter Watts's first novel explores the last mysterious place on earth--the floor of a deep sea rift. Channer Vent is a zone of freezing darkness that belongs to shellfish the size of boulders and crimson worms three meters long. It's the temporary home of the maintenance crew of a geothermal energy plant--a crew made up of the damaged and dysfunctional flotsam of an overpopulated near-future earth. The crew's reluctant leader, basket case Lenie Clarke, can barely survive in the upper world, but she quickly falls under the rift's spell, just as Watts's magical descriptions of it enchant the reader: "Steam never gets a chance to form at three hundred atmospheres, but thermal distortion turns the water into a column of writhing liquid prisms, hotter than molten glass."
Watts is investigating monsters. Gigantic deep sea monsters, surgically-altered-from-human monsters, faceless jellied-brain computer monsters--which monsters are human, which are more than human, which are less? Watts keeps the story line stripped down to showcase the theme of dehumanization. The anonymous millions who live along the unstable shore of N'AmPac come under threat (a triggered earthquake, and perhaps a disaster that's slower but even more pitiless) from their own dehumanized creations. But Watts is less interested in whether Lenie can save the dry world as in whether she can save herself. In Starfish, Watts stretches the boundaries of humanity up, down, and sideways to see whether its dimensions reveal anything we'd be proud to be a part of. --Blaise Selby
From Publishers Weekly
Set in the early 21st century, Watts's debut describes a future when the search for energy leads to the tapping of geothermal sources deep in the ocean, as in the Pacific's Juan de Fuca Rift, near Canada's Northwest coast. The maintenance workers of the dangerous underwater power plants are selected for their psychotic tendencies, which enable them to forget their previous lives on dry land, and are then surgically altered to survive the intense pressure of the sea's abyssal depths. These changes, which render the workers amphibious, also leave them less than well equipped to face the threat of powerful, archaic bacterialike creatures that proliferate at the ocean bottom and use human hosts to carry them upward to dry land, where their superior DNA could render our species obsolete. The human resistance to these life forms is described with a great deal of explicit violence and graphic language, as well as well-orchestrated paranoia that recalls the classic SF tale "Who Goes There?" Watts's characterizations aren't strong but, as in Arthur C. Clarke's The Deep Range, the underwater setting and the technology employed there function as characters in their own right, and quite vigorously. The novel's pacing is excellent, making this, overall, a good bet for beach reading. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.