Watts, Peter: Maelstrom
Maelstrom, by Peter Watts (Rifters Trilogy Vol. 2). The review is by Carandol
A direct sequel to Starfish, in this one Watts opens up the world he began to create in the first novel. It's hard to say too much about the plot without giving away the ending of the first volume. Suffice to say it involves Lenie Clarke heading out into the wider world of late 21st century America.
And what a bleak vision it is. Think of all the current trends in society and technology, have them all go wrong, mix them all together, add a dash of pessimism, and stir well. The Maelstrom of the title is the Internet, so riddled with viruses, worms and trojans (some of them reaching intelligence!) that it's been renamed. The shores of the ocean are fenced off, refugees are left on the beach, given shelter and heating and food laden down with enough tranquillizers to keep them docile. They are patrolled by security guards piloting remote armed flybots, who work from home via links through the Maelstrom. The world is an ecological disaster zone, its agricultural areas ridden with ineradicable pests accidentally brought in from other continents, its sea level rising, new drug-resistant diseases spreading from country to country.
And into the middle of this already crumbling world comes Lenie Clarke, on a mission of revenge, and unknown to herself, carrier of an organism from the deep sea which has the potential to wipe out all life on Earth. To the corporation who knows her secret, she's public enemy number one; to the public, who see her as a victim of the overbearing might of the corporate bullies, she's a folk hero; and to some strange evolving intelligence in the Maelstrom, she's someone who needs to be watched.
Maelstrom opens up the world begun in Starfish in more ways than one; there are more point of view characters, from Lenie herself to the corporate agents tasked with hunting her down, and the secretly rebellious security guard who, with the help of the Maelstrom intelligence, helps her out when she can. As a science fiction thriller, it's a page-turner. As a novel about the way the world could go if we don't pay attention, it's up there with John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up.
I found Maelstrom absolutely riveting; though I have to admit, I'm intending to read a few more cheery novels before I delve into Behemoth, the third in the trilogy.
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Also available in various formats from Feedbooks at: http://www.feedbooks.com/discover/book/975
Behemoth is available from Feedbooks here: http://www.feedbooks.com/discover/book/973
And if you like the book enough to think the author deserves some money, you can pay him here: http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts.htm
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