Posted by : atcampbell | On : January 2, 2001

Starfish by Peter Watts

We had a large crowd of fifteen for this discussion, including two first-time visitors. The book under consideration, Starfish, was a first novel by Peter Watts. It involves an undersea scientific experiment being conducted by a large corporation. The team living underwater and doing the work is mostly composed of criminals who are doing this dangerous job instead of going to prison.

The details of living and working underwater seemed believable. One member of our group is a scuba diver, and he found no technical problems. We were not surprised to learn that the author is an ocean scientist.

The heart of the novel is an examination of how people work together on this dangerous mission. The team members are not simple thieves and swindlers, but rather seriously disturbed murderers, child abusers, and other “broken people.” While they are “high-functioning”, their behavior still deviates from accepted social practice, and their interactions with others are often seriously strange. A few members of our group found this material disturbing and not enjoyable to read, so they were unable to finish the book.

As I was among those who couldn’t finish the book, let me provide a few quotes from those who did: “intriguing but not enjoyable”, “realistic, utterly appalling, and all too true”, “graphic torture and violence not gratuitous for once”, and “the author’s purpose is to make you uncomfortable with the notion that vile people are disposable.”

The ending of the book is open-ended, which we presumed was leaving room for a sequel. While several people in our group admired much about this book, none of us wanted to go back to this world and spend any more time with these people.

Overall we felt that Peter Watts succeeded in writing a disturbing undersea novel. While Starfish may not be for all tastes, we think Watts has talent and interesting ideas. We’re curious to see what he writes next.

–A. T. Campbell, III