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Maelstrom (Rifters Trilogy) Paperback – January 6, 2009
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From Library Journal
A massive tidal wave in the Pacific Northwest causes millions of deaths, yet one woman emerges from the ocean and begins an eerie journey of revenge and salvation. As scientists attempt to discover her identity and her motivation, people begin dying from unknown causes. This sequel to Starfish depicts a dystopic near-future, where cyberspace and real space interact and unique life forms emerge from the depths of the ocean to claim their place in the world. A good choice for most sf collections.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Everyone thought Lenie Clarke was killed by the earthquake produced by a nuclear explosion aimed at the geothermal power plant she had been monitoring (see Starfish, 1999). Since the quake turned cities into abattoirs, no one notices someone crawl ashore 300 miles from the epicenter: Lenie, bent on finding her abusive father. The beach where she emerges is full of refugees blocked from America by a towering wall and hovering botflies, or robotic cameras, monitored by telecommuting peacekeepers such as Sou-Hon Perreault, who spots half-starved Lenie but can only watch, for Lenie barely acknowledges a botfly's attempts at contact. Eventually, Lenie is noticed by others, including the wild electronic environment called the Maelstrom, evolved from the Internet and populated by nearly conscious smart gels and self-evolving bits of code. No one yet knows that, besides emotional baggage, Lenie carries something with her from the ocean floor that could despoil every living species. Watts moves from the relentless pressure of Starfish to the frantic speed of chaos in action, never losing the tight focus on his fascinating characters in this excellent sequel to his debut novel. Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The gray, dark future is illuminated by the prose - punk writing on steroids. The reader is hit full force, a tidal wave of phrases, technical terms, abbreviations, slang, reeking of hipness and punk. Thoughts as conversation, word play and a vocabulary that would have been at home in a medical lab - it's all there. Lenie, surviving the blast that wiped out her comrades, sets out on a journey of discovery and self-discovery, searching for the very type of people who made her who she was. Her reputation, at first known only to the powers that be, slowly grows and becomes a cultural meme, her clothing becomes fashionable. But like all messiahs, her life is more legend than fact. The incontestable fact is that she is spreading Behemoth on her journey and the powers that be can only follow a scorched earth policy.
Maelstrom is the internet of the future, on the edge of awareness, all-powerful, ridden with viruses, malware and now the Behemoth meme. Workers monitor the world, stamping out fire, killing tens of thousands without guilt due to genetic modification. But Lenie Clark was not the only survivor. Ken Lubin has also escaped and now is on land trying to find answers. Son he is on Lenie's trail, joining fans and those in charge. Throw in bureaucrats, decision makers, intelligent gel, self-aware malware and a growing awareness from Lenie that something is not exactly right and you get a great story.
The aggressive writing style, emotional despair and take-no-prisoners plot that was like a physical assault in Book 1 remains, even as the pool of players expands. Including the electronic wildlife that inhabits the future Internet, a whirling dervish of mutating viruses and semi-intelligent agents, some of which happen to align themselves with Clarke's agenda. This frenzy of high-tech evolution is lovingly described by Watt, who extrapolates where he can and invents where he needs, bringing to bear a cornucopia of concepts and outcomes that seem both horrifying and likely in equal measure.
Watts does not write fluffy sci-fi. And I feel that calling his style cyberpunk does the author a disservice. This is R-rated world building at its best, where the landscape is ecologically scarred, the bulk of humanity huddled in dark and dirty corners, and the elites increasingly frantic as their cocoon of privilege, which they are fighting to maintain at any cost, slowly closes in around them.
This is science fiction for consenting adults all the better for it.
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.