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Starfish (Rifters Trilogy)
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on January 5, 2017
Peter Watts is, if anything, consistent.. The same future dystopia reigns in every novel from the first Rifter Trilogy to Blind Sight / Echopraxia. It is a dismal, soulless mess of biological and technological dreams / nightmares with characters that can only be described as depressingly complex. The same themes appear over and over - intelligence, free will, consciousness, boundaries, purpose and reason.

Unlike many authors, Watts eschews lofty power talk from the likes of the Kremlin, UN or White House. His focus is on the middleman - those who are controlled and control others, who both take and give orders. This is a difficult perch due the inherent nuances of such a position and yet this is what he does best. In a world starved for more and more energy, the deep rifts in the oceans are now being exploited. But the cost in human sacrifice is great.

STARFISH is the story of one group of workers at the Beebe energy plant. First novels are almost always autobiographical which is the case with this novel. The author worked in the oceans protecting marine life and thus has inside knowledge of the last unexplored place on Earth. The description of the underworld is fascinating but it is the workers that grab our attention. These are greatly modified humans that can withstand the tremendous pressure of the deep and who can remain in the waters for long periods of time due to their internal machinery that allows respiration. The catch is that these individuals must fit a certain psychological baseline and that include sociopaths, pedophiles and abuse victims.

But something lurks among the insane crew, an ancient form of life (pre DNA) that threatens the world. . And once its meme enters the Maelstrom (future internet) intelligent monitoring organisms set up to prohibit viruses and malware are drawn to its very simplicity. The reader is in for a bumpy, ride to the future with word twists, technical verbal fireworks, phrases as sentences, competing thoughts and a swirl of condensed, punk writing. My Grade - A1
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on December 16, 2015
Really different--and a great read. Bio-enhanced social misfits recruited to run a maintenance station at the ocean floor of the Juan De Fuca rift gradually seem to morph into a partly empathic group of still-untrustful but co-dependent ... victims of an above-world plan reacting to their changing, let us say, biome. (Don't want to spoil aything.) The novel goes from presenting the damaged individuals and their scary undersea life to a truly global finale that involves the whole west coast of N. America The science aspects are good; makes a lot of earlier science fiction (whether on earth or in space) seem like cowboy stories.
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on June 27, 2015
Despite loving watts blindsight and echopraxia, and general creativity, I found this volume a total miss, comprised of a lot of commotion but little plot complexity or progress, and a nice psychological stage that then literally went nowhere - the main character's psychological arc never evolved or resolved or reflected, it just randomly wandered aimlessly to a meh happenstance drifting forward, to a plot conclusion that could have been arrived at a dozen different ways, or enormously earlier. The characters all seemed passive, and often oblivious, bystanders to events. As apparently the further continuations of the series take a gratuitously violent turn for the sheer perversity of violence, I'll be skipping the rest of this series.

I can only add that watts shouldn't be judged solely by this trilogy's work. Blindsight and echopraxia were literally some of the best scifi off their respective years, rich and complex and rewarding to read, and it's almost baffling that the same author produced both works. If you like watts or are getting cross recommendations, I'd overwhelmingly recommend hopping to those works instead.
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on July 19, 2015
I know this series is getting a lot of great reviews so maybe it's just me. I couldn't really get into any of the characters - perhaps that 's the point as the plot revolves around the main characters becoming less human the longer they stay in the Rift. I didn't care about the humans, either, for that matter so I kind of didn't care that the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it was imminent.

There is some really compelling imagery and philosophical musings on the alien world at the bottom of the ocean, but overall I was not ever "IN" the world or story and the book just sort of - ended.

So I didn't hate it, but reading time is precious for me so I am not inclined to get the rest of the series.
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on November 8, 2006
Lounging around the house, I picked this book up and started it. And then, a few pages into it, I put it down. It scared me. The world that Watts drops you into, right at the beginning, is so strong... so well created.... so evocative.... It just gives you chills... Makes you hear every echoing bang and strange creak and feel the terrible pressure overhead. I put this book down and turned on the TV, in fact.... Wanted some bright, technicolor, mindless drivel....

But then, two days later, after finding that I was thinking about it... I picked Starfish up again and..... read it straight through. I think I finished it around 3:15am last night (and got three hours of sleep before having to get up for work). This one goes in my list of very, very, very good books.

Again, Watts drops you right in the middle of it and you have to work to figure out what is happening. He assumes the reader has intelligence, which is really refreshing. Yes, there are some tidbits that we've experienced before (Sphere and The Abyss come to mind). But just tidbits. This is so much more. And pretty damn perfect. With one exception (the evil bureaucrat's speechifying explanations near the end). These few paragraphs were kind of jarring -- a simple plot mechanism, when I expected much more from such a skilled writer.

HOWEVER -- this does not detract a lot from my review. The rest of the writing was great, the characters are haunting, and the science folded into the story is fascinating. I can close my eyes and be down there, in the silty darkness with the fragile monsters...

Wow. Congratulations to Peter Watts.

I haven't been this affected by a science fiction book IN A LONG TIME!
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on July 21, 2002
I confess that, based of the cover description, I was expecting some sort of deep-sea adventure populated by weird creatures and who knows what else. That's not what this is. Instead, it is a two-part tale populated by weird human creatures "modified" to live in a deep-sea environment so they can monitor geothermal power plants built on the San Juan de Fuca Rift. Forget all the documentaries you've seen showing strange, glowing deep-sea creatures. They're here, but they're mentioned only in passing and play almost no role in the story.
The first part of this tale focuses on the "misfit" crew that has been "modified" to live in the depths of the ocean. Lenie Clarke is the de facto crew leader, but she is as troubled as the rest. There is plenty of tension here but not much real action. Psychological tension builds, however. As time goes on, these people become stranger and stranger as they adapt to their environment and each other in unanticipated ways.
The second part of the story exposes what is going on above the surface. Here, the reader discovers the hidden agendas that drive the experiment in human adaptation going on at the ocean floor, as well as the unforeseen threat that has changed everything, making the crew itself a danger that must be either contained or destroyed.
This is an interesting tale, full of novel ideas and off-beat characters. But, despite the different environment, the humans and their creations are the strangest creatures here. And the most dangerous. If you're looking for fast-paced adventure, this isn't it. But if you want scifi with some "depth", something thought-provoking, STARFISH might do the trick for you. It wasn't the most fun I've ever had reading scifi, but it was better than average. Give it a try.
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on October 9, 2010
I really did like this book! It presents some neat sci-fi of what it would be like to have a little bubble of humanity at the bottom of the ocean. The science doesn't MAKE the book, the book uses it as a starting point and then focuses more on the people and a neat twist on what happens when you mix two previously separated biospheres. It's got some cool science here - more of the chemistry and biology kind but accessible to the normal science fiction reader. Though at times you could tell this was a less experienced author, I felt like Peter Watts was a younger Neal Stephenson here - along the lines of Stephenson's "Zodiac." And mix that with a little of the Preston/Child books ("Ice Limit", "Rip Tide", "Deep Storm"), and you have the book's formula. The other reviews describing this book as "dark" are very true - it's depressing at times and the characters are based on ....flawed segments of our society.

I liked this book enough to immediately get his sequel "Behemoth" which was devoured equally as quickly. I highly recommend getting both books. I will let you decide on getting the third book of the trilogy, there is much discussion both ways on it.
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on February 15, 2015
Okay, I've got a new writer to track... Peter Watts ably and powerfully does what I love most about quality sci-fi: all but seamlessly creating a new world, with all the complex and (to me) fascinating details of that world's technology smoothly integrated, yet avoiding burdening the reader with the kind of laborious explanation that, for me, sinks a narrative like a millstone. I'm already into Book 2 ("Maelstrom") and a bit greedy for more. If it weren't for a couple of moments that didn't quite ring emotionally true, I'd give it five stars.
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on October 30, 2017
Brooding, dark, damaged: Watts’ atmosphere in Starfish is as dense as the bottom of the sea. As seems usual for Watts, hunting for a sympathetic voice takes an investment in both time and attention costing a star in what is otherwise an outstanding piece of speculative fiction. I expect the sequel to be even better.
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on February 25, 2017
I was surprised at how much I liked this book. It was bleak, but moving.

I haven't read any of the others in the series because this one was excellent and had a great, satisfying ending. No sense in risking a great book by watering it down with what will almost certainly be unnecessary and mediocre followups.
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