STARFISH by Peter Watts


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Near/medium-future deep-sea endeavor, from a Toronto-resident newcomer. To tap the energy of ocean-floor hydrothermal vents, the powerful Grid Authority sets up a power station in the Juan de Fuca Rift west of Seattle. Humans, physically modified to be able to live and work underwater without the restrictions of diving equipment, will maintain the facility. Of these volunteers (sex criminals, psychopaths, wife-beaters, and child molesters: their alternative is brainwashing), some can—t adapt to the crushing, claustrophobic environment. Others brim with suppressed violence. Gerry Fischer takes to eating the local wildlife and never returns to the station. Lenie Clarke suspects that all the members of the group have been deliberately mentally damaged so they won’t want to leave. But the Rifters develop a telepathic awareness of each other’s thoughts and feelings. On the surface, meanwhile, smart gels—jelly-like intelligent neural networks—run most of the equipment and are slated to replace the Rifters, who refuse to return to the surface. The Grid Authority learns that the Rifters, and all deep-water life-forms, harbor an archaic non-DNA microorganism, ·ehemoth, that would destroy all DNA-based life if it reached land. At the same time, Lenie discovers on the ocean floor a nuclear bomb operated by a smart gel; it will trigger a devastating earthquake should ·ehemoth escape. Problem is, nobody at the Grid Authority understands how the smart gels evaluate information. What if the gels prefer ·ehemoth to orthodox life-forms? Plenty of first-novel flaws—poor organization, drifting points of view, an inconsistently applied, tough-to-read present-tense narrative—but fizzing with ideas, and glued together with dark psychological tensions: an exciting debut.

Pub Date: July 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86855-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Tor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999


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