A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Civilization rests on the backs of its outcasts. So when civilization needs someone to run generating stations three kilometers below the surface of the Pacific, it seeks out a special sort of person for its Rifters program. It recruits those whose histories have preadapted them to dangerous environments, people so used to broken bodies and chronic stress that life on the edge of an undersea volcano would actually be a step up. Nobody worries too much about job satisfaction; if you haven't spent a lifetime learning the futility of fighting back, you wouldn't be a rifter in the first place. It's a small price to keep the lights going, back on shore.
But there are things among the cliffs and trenches of the Juan de Fuca Ridge that no one expected to find, and enough pressure can forge the most obedient career-victim into something made of iron. At first, not even the rifters know what they have in them—and by the time anyone else finds out, the outcast and the downtrodden have their hands on a kill switch for the whole damn planet.
"No one has taken this premise to such pitiless lengths—and depths—as Watts . . . In a claustrophobic setting enlivened by periodic flashes of beauty and terror, the crew of Beebe Station come across as not only believable but likeable as they fight for equilibrium against their own demons, one another, their superiors and their remorselessly hostile surroundings."—The New York Times
"A powerful first novel . . . A savage, bitter, and often blackly comic vision of the near future . . . Watts has rendered a character whose emotional complexity demands our respect. . . . [The ending] is both startling and oddly satisfying in its earned nihilism. A terrific debut from an author we will be seeing again."—Edmonton Journal
"Watts’ true enemy is human stupidity, the sort of thing that turns children into walking disaster zones, treats adults as interchangeable things, insists that unchecked fertility is a Good Thing, and blindly trusts that our artificially intelligent creations must share our priorities. As Watts develops that point, he tells an absorbing tale set in a bizarre world and hinging upon intriguing technology. He's done his homework well, and it shows."—Analog
"Burdened by exploding population, the world turns to geothermal energy from vents thousands of feet under the ocean. The vents are explosive and unpredictable, sending bursts of superheated steam randomly into a nightmare world of transparent fish, 50-foot tube worms, and oddly fragile sea monsters whose teeth shatter when they bite. To survive at such depths, the crews of deep-sea power plants must be modified to withstand the pressure, ‘breathe’ water, and see in a darkness illuminated only by phosphorescent creatures. The necessary mental modification isn't easily done; indeed, only the already emotionally damaged--battered women, paranoid ex-spies, child molesters—won't turn psychotic from it. One crew’s members struggle among themselves at first, but soon discover strange satisfaction in their isolated world and insight into their troubled lives. A subtle paranoia is everywhere, however, from the cramped station quarters to the office of the corporate psychiatrist who selected the crew. The hidden threat behind this unease isn't revealed until nearly the end, but the dark universe of the sea bottom and rich characterization captivate to the last page. Watts makes a brilliant debut with a novel that is part undersea adventure, part psychological thriller, and wholly original."—Roberta Johnson, Booklist
"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, ßehemoth, 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 ßehemoth escape. Problem is, nobody at the Grid Authority understands how the smart gels evaluate information. What if the gels prefer ßehemoth to orthodox life-forms? . . . Fizzing with ideas, and glued together with dark psychological tensions: an exciting debut."—Kirkus Reviews
"In the near future, energy comes from the geothermal waters of the deep ocean, but the cost of providing power for the surface has a price--the sanity of the physically modified humans ("rifters") who live in an alien and dangerous environment. Watts's first novel elegantly captures the isolation and claustrophobia of the lightless ocean depths, smoothly blending psychological suspense with high-tech sf adventure. Large libraries should consider adding this to their sf collections."—Library Journal
"Set in the early 21st century, Watts's debut describes a future when the search for energy leads to the tapping of geothermal sources deep in the ocean, as in the Pacific's Juan de Fuca Rift, near Canada's Northwest coast. The maintenance workers of the dangerous underwater power plants are selected for their psychotic tendencies, which enable them to forget their previous lives on dry land, and are then surgically altered to survive the intense pressure of the sea's abyssal depths. These changes, which render the workers amphibious, also leave them less than well equipped to face the threat of powerful, archaic bacterialike creatures that proliferate at the ocean bottom and use human hosts to carry them upward to dry land, where their superior DNA could render our species obsolete. The human resistance to these life forms is described with a great deal of explicit violence and graphic language, as well as well-orchestrated paranoia that recalls the classic SF tale ‘Who Goes There?’ Watts’s characterizations aren't strong but, as in Arthur C. Clarke's The Deep Range, the underwater setting and the technology employed there function as characters in their own right, and quite vigorously. The novel's pacing is excellent, making this, overall, a good bet for beach reading."—Publishers Weekly
"There are enough provocative ideas in Starfish to suggest that Watts does his homework and thinks things through, and enough skill at scene and dialogue writing to convince us that he's a fine craftsman"—Gary K. Wolfe, Locus
"An interesting, entertaining, and, best of all, promising debut novel."—Don D’Ammassa, Science Fiction Chronicle
"I read Starfish in several large gulps. The story drives like a futuristic locomotive. It's a hypnotic read, somber and compelling. Best thing I've read in a long time. Peter Watts is an author to watch for."—Robert Sheckley
"Peter Watts delivers—solid, inventive hard SF about the deep sea, but as we've never seen before. This moves like the wind."—Gregory Benford, author of Cosm
"With gritty action and realistic science, Peter Watts brings to life a dark and vivid world."—David Brin
"Peter Watts bathes a gonzo, hopeless pessimism reminiscent of Philip K. Dick or Joanna Russ in the cold, edgy light of hard science fiction á la Benford, Bear, or Tiptree. In Starfish, Watts creates in his protagonist a poetry of dysfunction which is angry and eerily redemptive, and which makes compelling, almost compulsive reading."—Jane Dorsey
Peter Watts lives in Toronto, Ontario.