Watts, Peter: Starfish

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Starfish, by Peter Watts (Rifters Trilogy Vol.1). Review by carandol

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At the bottom of the Pacific Ocean lies the Channer Vent, a a hydrothermic vent around which monstrous deep-sea fish cluster in the eternal dark. It is here, in the late 21st century, that a major corporation chooses to build Beebe Station, to tap the power generated where two tectonic plates meet. But who would choose to work down there in the dark? Answer, nobody.

Which is why it the criminals, the mentally disturbed, the perverts and murderers, the abusers and the victims of abuse, who are sent down there. Among them is Lenie Clarke, one screw-up among many. With one lung removed and replaced with technology to let her breathe underwater, her body adapted to cope with the extreme pressure, she is equipped with a special wetsuit and strange white contact lenses which allow her to see in the perpetual darkness and sent down to the depths to do her duty.

It's the ones who adapt who survive. And adapting means becoming one with the undersea world, where strangely mutated giant deep-sea fish prowl outside the shelter of the base. Soon, most of the people down there are wearing their white contact lenses all the time, refusing to take off their black wetsuits, spending most of their waking and sleeping hours outside the base. Safe behind their blank eyes, the misfits remain perpetual strangers to each other, away from the world above, where they never fitted. If they do their jobs for the power company, perhaps they'll be left alone to live their strange deep-sea lives. Or perhaps not.

It's a grim, believable world, made all the more authentic by Webb's obvious knowledge of a whole range of sciences and technologies. (There are several pages of references for those who want to follow up the science). Lenie Clarke comes across as a survivor; a perpetual victim, convinced of her own inadequacy, who slowly becomes the de facto leader of the bizarre misfits around her.

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