52 Book Challenge: The Rifters Tetralogy by Peter Watts

17 Mar

starfish

{Proceed with caution, heavy spoilers all up in this bitch}

I did the 52 Book Challenge last year without expecting much to come out of it. I had just gotten a Kindle and wanted to see if it would really speed up my reading. Well, I went from 10 books in 2012 to 137 in 2013! My reading was a bit all over the place, so this year I am setting goals. One of them is to go through some series that I have been putting off due to length, and the very first books I read back in January was the Rifters tetraology by Peter Watts, which have been recommended to me more times than I can count.

Peter Watts does dark, hard scifi. Starfish is the first of the four books, and my favorite among them. Probably because it is the most enclosed: while the other three open up in scope, Starfish is claustrophobic. It takes part a part the ocean floor called the Rift with a handful of people, all of whom are… well, not quite sane. It is about the human psyche as much as it is about the science, though Watts is a marine biologist so much of the horrors down there are eerily plausible. And the scariest part is based entirely on fact: trauma addiction, the theory that the rush of chemicals pumped into your brain after a traumatic event can actually keep you in a cycle of abuse, because some part of your body wants that feeling. All of the Rifters are addicts, and it’s brilliantly terrifying.

Lenie, the main character of all four books, is a broken person and not much of a heroine at all. She is not a good person, nor does she try to be. In every way we really should dislike Lenie, but… something about her is gripping. She is utterly broken and unapologetic about it. This is the type of unique female character I can get behind in a heartbeat.

Starfish ends with a literal bang and while I probably should have been excited that we would get some scenes on solid ground, I was actually quite sad that the other books wouldn’t be entirely on the ocean floor. There were hints throughout the entire book that a bigger plot was unfolding, but I would have been happy to read 4 books in a row of in-fighting among the Rifters. Thankfully Peter Watts has a book of short stories I have yet to read, and one of them takes place down on the Rift!

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Maelstrom takes place out of the deep ocean, a change I was a bit unsure about. I think it starts out on shaky legs but finds its footing after a few chapters. And it starts out right after a mini-apocalypse which is pretty much awesome (if you love apocalypses as much as I do). At least there are no more giant anglerfish: seriously, big versions of those guys are my worst nightmare. Knowing they are teeny tiny helps me sleep at night.

In Maelstrom we see a lot of what used to be the internet, which is one of the hardest concepts to grip in this series. Remember when I said they were hard scifi? I wasn’t messing around. The internet has become some kind of wild jungle, viruses taking on a kind of cyber-physical form and running rampant, attacking and literally eating data. It is nigh impossible to imagine but Watts paints a vivid picture. That, along with Lenie being an apocalypse maiden trying to infect all of North America with an aggressive primordial ancestor-being that wants to take over the earth sold me on the whole “we’re no longer in the ocean” thing pretty fast.

Yes, the main character is literally trying to destroy all life on earth. But she has some pretty good reasons, like the Big Bad Corporation implanting false memories of abuse to make her suitable for life on the ocean floor. The trauma addiction? That is what made her thrive there. So they took scientists and messed the Rifters up, creating perfect ocean floor workers. I’d probably destroy the world if I found out someone did that to me too.

Behemoth_html_m643b01a

Behemoth, the final book, is actually two books: or, at least, it was originally published that way. The first, B-Max, was the hardest one for me to read and probably my least favorite of the four. There was a large focus on Achilles, a character who was minor in Starfish and Maelstrom, and he is… shall we say… a very bad person. You knew at the end of Maelstrom that he was probably going to kill and torture one of his coworkers, but there is an agonizingly long lead-up to finding out what happened to her in this book. The funny thing is, it is not at all explicit. They are done in little chunks detailing his life but it gives you more and more hints that what happened to her is going to be very, very bad. And… you never find out what it was. But another girl is tortured by Achilles–not that explicitly, though enough to leave me squirming unpleasantly.

It was actually brilliantly done, well crafted and horrifying without being too gory, exploitative or over the top. So really, I only disliked it because it made me uncomfortable–which, obviously, is exactly what Watts was going for. Also there was a very depressing scene with a cat, and I really love cats. So there’s that.

We get more of the ocean in B-Max, though with a changed dynamic I didn’t find up to par with Starfish. Which I think is really why it is my least favorite–the other three are done in brand new territory, while B-Max feels a bit redundant.

Seppuku, the final volume, finishes with a bang. Lots of Lenie, fire, explosions, jumping out of helicopters, rabid mutant dogs, everything you would expect in the finale of an apocalyptic series. In fact, I was a bit surprised at how many typical tropes were in there. Starfish was unlike anything else I have ever read, but the series ends rather predictably and with less and less focus on the human psyche as the books go on. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the series–I loved it, and Starfish is one of my favorites in the genre. I just wish that sense of surreal claustrophobia could have spread through the whole book, including an epic finale (which is a trick he pulls off spectacularly later on… but we’ll get to that at book 19!).

Musical Accompaniment: Sea Wolf’s Leaves In The River. I’m fairly certain “Black Dirt” is about Lenie Clark. I mean, it just fits her so perfectly…

Rating

Book 1 Starfish Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

Book 2 Maelstrom Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

Book 3 Behemoth B-Max Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

Book 4 Behemoth Seppuku Lipstick Rating 3 Full

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