I have to admit I was shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- when I
actually saw Peter Watts' new novel, 'Behemoth: B-Max' in Bookshop
Santa Cruz. I really, really enjoyed Watts' first two novels way
back when I first started up this web venture. And in fact, I think
I'd enjoy 'Starfish' and 'Maelstrom' even more now. 'Starfish'
is the pitch-black story of society's most undesirable characters
crammed together in a station near a volcanic rift where they unearth
The End of Everything.
Watts is not as unhappy as you'd expect.
In 'Maelstrom' they let it rage, just because
they're really pissed off and they can. Both are very dark, very
detailed and dense looks that will skirt the edge of comprehensibility
-- just as a vision of the real future would. Watts' vision is
mind-boggling in all the right ways.
But it's been over two years since Watts' 'Maelstrom' came out.
Since many of my readers may have missed both 'Starfish' and 'Maelstrom'
the first time round, they're in the enviable position of being
able to easily find and buy hardcover firsts of both for a reasonable
They're both short, compact novels, though they're dense
and not perhaps a super-fast read. Still, you can start in on 'Starfish',
and by the time you're reading 'Behemoth: B Max' the sequel, 'Behemoth:
Seppuku' will be in the stores. [This assumes that you take your
time and don't just plow through them, one after another. Believe
me, you may want to to do just that.]
I was frankly thinking that we might not see anything else from
this talented writer. So, seeing another Lenie Clarke's personal
apocalypse novel in the store, I was heartened. Even when I got
home and discovered that it was only Eric the half-a-novel. Huh?
cover image from 'Starfish' by Bruce Jensen.
Well, it turns out that for purely fiscal reasons, reasons created
by the limitations on what the big chains will buy, Watts had to
split the novel that was to be the conclusion of the shall-we-call-it
Behemoth Trilogy. In his 'Author's Note', he says:
is being released in two volumes, several months apart.
I wish this were not necessary, but new policies have resulted
from recent changes within the publishing industry.
books by midlist authors will not receive wide
distribution if they cost too much -- that is, if they weigh
in at more than
about 110,000 words. "Behemoth
is over 150,000 words long, and was almost complete by the time
this policy came into effect.
Hacking away a third of
it was not an option (believe me, I tried)...A
two-part release was the only alternative.
"Fortunately, Behemoth was conceived and written as two contrasting
halves from the outset…If you're the kind of reader who
gets off on cliffhangers, this may work just fine for you.
If not, you
have been warned: you'll have to read Volume Two to see how
the very telling introduction, I wrote Peter Watts, and he was
kind enough to write back and
tell me --
the readers -- what's up.
Jensen's cover for 'Maelstrom'.
RK: I just
got a copy of this novel and I can't tell you how much I'm looking
forward to it.
PW: I hope you find Behemoth (Part 1) to your
taste. It's closer in feel to Starfish than to Maelstrom, and
as I recall
were part of the contingent that thought Starfish was kinda
stood up and cheered for the sequel. I myself remain vaguely
dissatisfied with it--Starfish and Maelstrom both broke
new conceptual ground,
while Behemoth extends the ideas of the other books without
introducing as many new ones. Don't get me wrong, it's
an essential part of
the package--it does, after all, conclude the tale. But
it doesn't have the infodensity that Maelstrom had.
This ain't necessarily a bad thing--so far I know several
people who think Behemoth is the best book of the three,
one who doesn't (not that I'm counting). Publisher's Weekly
liked it (that's the only review I've seen to date). And
I bet those who felt clobbered by Maelstrom's high-density
will find it an easier read. But then again, you were never
RK: I wanted to say that I really appreciate your introduction,
which warns of the cliffhanger effect.
PW: Thanks. I kinda had to fight for that--my former agent
refused to even bring the subject up with my publisher (which
is one of
the reasons he no longer represents me), so I had to negotiate
with Tor directly. They've been doing this multipart release
for a number of titles now, and not admitting to it up front,
IMO sucked the one-eyed purple trouser eel; if you gotta
do it you gotta do it, but if you're going to give someone
for the price of two you should at least be honest about
I have to hand it to Hartwell, though--he was not keen
on the idea, but he not only gave me the author's note,
the jacket text and agreed
to put "Book 1" on the cover. He *did* make me take out "We hates
Barne & Noble, we hates them forever!" from the note, but bottom
line, nobody's gonna take that puppy home without knowing what they're
RK: I'd love to
see Night Shade do a version of your trilogy with illustrations by
Watts' new novel. Buy it now, read it later.
PW: Who/what is Night Shade? (I would ask the same thing about JK
Potter, except I just Googled and found his home page. Oooo. That stuff is
RK: I'm wondering if you can tell me anything more about the second part of
-- no spoilers!
PW: How serious are you about the no spoilers part? Because I'd be happy
to send you a Word file, or an rtf, or a pdf of the second volume if you'd
after all, you guys weren't supposed to have to wait five months to finish
the damn thing anyway). And if you want to see the cover art for Seppuku,
the Real World/Gallery corner of my website. (In fact, check
out my website anyway: it's completely revamped since last we spoke, with loads of new
content. I think
you'll like it.)
If you *want* to be deprived, well, fine. Here's a spoiler-free hint:
In part one, our heroes (such as they are) get ominous hints of what's
the rest of the world in the five years since the events of "Maelstrom".
In part two, they go back on shore and immerse themselves in it. And also reacquaint
themselves with an old friend.
RK: …and why you chose to write about "space
vampires". Shades of Colin Wilson and 'LifeForce' a pretty great
B movie in the old tradition of Professor Quatermass. Your next novel
is also described
as literary -- aside from the fact that it's literature, why?
PW: I just liked the absurd juxtaposition--a "literary" novel about "space
vampires"? Has kind of a Spinal Tap pretentiousness to it.
In fact, "Blindsight" is not really *about* space vampires:
one of the characters just happens to be a resurrected vampire working
in space. Here's
my description of the guy, taken from the outline:
Member of an extinct cannibalistic subspecies who once hunted Homo
sapiens on the prehistoric savannah. Thought to be the precursor
the vampire myth, his race has been resurrected via the reactivation
of long-dormant genes from the bloodlines of sociopaths and high-functioning
are highly valued for their superior analytical skills -- they did,
all, outsmart human prey for a living -- although their analyses tend
to be opaque
regular folks, and their very consciousness tends towards a sort of
dream-state. Unfortunately, their pattern-matching wetware is inextricably
a defect in the retinal receptors that detect right angles. Euclidean
a form of incapacitating epilepsy in vampires, which must be controlled
seizure-suppressants. Sarasti has a serious drug habit.
cover for the forthcoming novel from Peter Watts, 'Behemoth:
(Just to add to the above: It was this very linkage that led to their extinction.
It developed in a natural fractal environment without Euclidean geometry,
and hence wasn't weeded out before it got fixed in the population via genetic
When baseline Homo figured out how to build huts, it was the beginning
of the end. With the development of straight-line architecture--specifically,
right angles-- vampires found themselves unable to approach the domiciles
of their prey without spazzing out. You can be damn sure the prey figured
to use *that* to their advantage.)
But the book isn't about this guy. The book actually uses the conventions
of a first-contact story to explore the nature and evolutionary significance
Human consciousness, and ultimately proposes that Humanity is doomed by
its own self-awareness. (I'm talking sentience here, *not* intelligence--two
different things, although most people tend to confuse them.)
And once again,
I can hardly wait to see where Watts goes. He's way too smart to be in
for the money, so you know he's doing it because 1) he's really, really
good at it, and 2) he enjoys writing. This is exactly what you want from
behind your books. That and the devilish sensibility the Watts beings to
Here's my advice; get out your Bookfinder.com, buy up the first editions
of 'Starfish' and 'Maelstrom', then hustle down to the bookstore to pick
up 'Behemoth: B Max'.
Wait for the conclusion, start the first one then hang on. With luck, by
the time you're ready for another immersion in the caustic world of Peter
he'll have those space
vampires running nekkid through the streets of London.