Fourth entry in Watts’s postapocalyptic “trilogy” begun with Starfish (1999), although the author does warn us: “Stop right there! This is not a complete novel . . . If you haven’t read Part 1 (ßehemoth: ß-Max), you should do so before embarking on this book.”
The advice is sound. Nonreaders of Part 1 will grasp, eventually, that ßehemoth, an archaic non-DNA microorganism from the deep oceans, has invaded the land, devastating the defenseless modern-DNA ecology. In North America, some communities shelter behind elaborate barriers, hoping to keep the organism at bay; outside, healers like Taka Ouellette visit the infected areas, relieving what afflictions they can. Behind the scenes, sadistic, megalomaniac Achilles Desjardins—his conscience was erased by a rogue computer program—orchestrates affairs electronically and biologically to suit his personal depravities. Rifters Lenie Clarke and Ken Lubin, newly arrived from the undersea realm of Atlantis, wander the devastated landscape, trying to make sense of what they see, wondering whether Seppuku, a counter-plague, will actually destroy ßehemoth or make matters even worse. The commendable aspects of this: Watts’s thorough research renders the details vivid and telling, and he shows significant signs of developing into a true stylist. The drawbacks: a plot that (even granted that this is only half a book) undulates without a backbone; worse, the basis for what plot there is comes down to sexual torture, whose scenes, presented unsparingly, many readers will find utterly repellent.
For the nonce, heed the author’s warning. For the future, Watts has to decide whether to write SF or horrific porn: the mix doesn’t work.