If you like your sci-fi hard and your main characters psychologically disturbed, this is the book for you. Peter Watts takes a mission on the floor of the ocean and turns it into a crucible where some mad beings are formed. But, as Dickinson once said, much madness is divinest sense. The crazies aboard deep-sea station Beebe are smarter than their masters on the surface think they are, and they uncover a government plot with mistakes that would be comical if the circumstances weren’t so dire.
The first thing that struck me about this story is how detailed the science is. Peter Watts went through a lot of effort to recruit the help of scientists and military experts to get all the details as close to right as possible. Much of the science is speculative (and still is 14 years after the book was first published) but it’s all based on actual research and Watts is nice enough to include the names of the journals he referenced in the acknowledgments.
But what drives this story isn’t the science, nor the events, nor the odd setting of the bottom of the Pacific, where bioluminescent creatures roam with giant scary fish. The real engine of this story is the cast of characters, each with their own flavor of psychosis and history of abuse. The rigors of life on the deep-sea station Beebe would drive you mad, so it helps if you were already pretty crazy when you got there.
The first three quarters of the novel were riveting, but the ending leaves you hanging. That’s not a major issue since this is the first of a series, but if you like your stories to have endings with everything neatly tied up, or you don’t have the patience to read the whole series, the ending might disappoint. But if you’re looking for a different kind of sci-fi series with absolutely fascinating characters, Starfish is a good place to start.