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Peter Watts


US Hardcover First Edition

ISBN 0-312-87806-0

378 pages ; $25.95

Date Reviewed: January 30, 2002

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Science Fiction


How long will it be before all science fiction novels are, in some sense, definable as cyberpunk? 'Maelstrom', Peter Watts' successor to 'Starfish', is an argument that this date is not far away in the future, and may in fact already be consigned to the past. In Watts' future, Maelstrom is also the name of what has evolved from the 'Internet'. It's also a description of Watts' chaotic, corrosive future. It's not a bad tag for the narrative, either. We're all going down in Watts' future. The question rapidly evolves into: How low will you, the reader, be willingly taken?

With luck, you'll hit bottom. That's at least a possibility in 'Maelstrom'. It wasn't in the sequel, which takes up about half a step after 'Starfish' ends. You start out below the bottom in 'Starfish', and only end up there when you finish. 'Maelstrom' begins as Lenie Clarke emerges from 'Starfish', virulent and bent on a vengeance against everything that is not her. As in 'Starfish', she's not a happy character to be around, but presumably, you made it through the previews, and now as the first course is served up dead cold on a plate, you're ready for what will follow. This time around, Watts throws in some characters who, at first at least seem a bit more human. He'll describe and clarify that technology until you realize that no, they're not human either, not in the ways that matter to us, as early Century 21 residents and realtors.

But Watts' chaotic uberworld is, at least, above the surface of the ocean, for the most part, and something we can vaguely recognize, even as Lenie Clarke proceeds to dismantle it. Once again, Watts' trots out the science in his References, even to the point of detailing his own mis-precognitions in 'Starfish'. He offers up a heaping helping of the mind-altering technology that shows up in Justina Robson's 'Mappa Mundi', and a wonderful vision of how the Internet evolves into his Maelstrom on his website. As the parts add up, the clarity of the picture deepens. Hang out at the website for while and you can have the unusual experience of having pop-up windows you won't want to dismiss, even though they're far more unpleasant that the usual variety. By the end of the book, you're glad that Watts has not managed to end his unhappy little world. On the other hand, seeing it dismantled is *not* an unpleasant prospect. You might even want to visit again, when you've recovered from this visit.