Closing in on Peter Watts’s “Starfish” and I have to say it exerts the exact same psychic gravity his other books do. Once I really dive into a Watts story I find myself picking it up almost involuntarily — putting off getting into the shower to finish a chapter; delaying work on the World Systems Project for what I tell myself is fifteen minutes only to look up an hour and a half later.
The plausible science, morbid characters, and terrifying philosophical implications he weaves have all the urgency of a hand shooting out of the dirt of a fresh grave. And through every line is a quiet voice saying …there aren’t any obvious flaws here; this could happen.
Yet even his monsters are portrayed with a depth and nuance that make them relatable (though not particularly likeable). If Ramsey Snow had been sent to the bottom of the ocean to live on an energy station straddling a thermal vent, we might have systems ecologist Michael Brander; if it had been Stranger Things’s Dr. Sam Owens, we would have Dr. Yves Scanlon. And though Patricia Rowan does much for which she could be condemned, still we can’t help but experience little shivers of sympathy for a woman forced by wretched luck to make decisions that will impact all life on Earth.
The book jacket of my edition compares it to Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Deep Range”, but Watt’s has penned the better sf. The first half of “The Deep Range” reads like a single book, with the rest feeling more like scattered vignettes giving Clarke an excuse to talk about plankton herding and sea monsters. I enjoyed “The Deep Range” quite a lot, but the mounting tension of “Starfish” carries you resolutely to the final pages.