Maelstrom

by Peter Watts

Cover image

Publisher: Tor
Copyright: October 2001
Printing: November 2002
ISBN: 0-812-56679-3
Format: Mass market
Pages: 371

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This is a sequel to Starfish and is closely tied together in story. I would recommed reading Starfish first.

Alas, gone is the fascinating deep-sea environment, the best part of the first book of this series, replaced by a pure cyberpunk plot. The best parts of Starfish, the descriptions of the alien environment at the bottom of a deep sea trench and the exploration of the emotional and mental changes that it brings, are left behind completely. Replacing them are a few interesting cyberpunk ideas (I like the treatment of computer viruses and AI quite a lot), but nothing with the same power.

I can't give much of a plot summary without spoiling the end of Starfish, since Maelstrom deals directly and primarily with the fallout of the ending of the previous book. It involves computer viruses growing in complexity and acquiring a certain form of pseudo-sentience, a heroine who is seriously angry at the world, and the various people who are trying to track her down, set in a world with a large automatically-fed underclass, ubiquitous use of computing networks and surveillance drones, and trustworthy drugs.

Once again, I had a hard time really liking the characters. They're a more appealing lot overall than the characters in Starfish, but none of them are people I'd particularly like to spend any time with. Lenie, however unstable, remains the best of the lot. The plot was engrossing and depressing at the same time, but the ending managed to be more satisfying than I was expecting.

The best part of this book is its treatment of evolving computer intelligence, mostly based around computer viruses. The computer scientist in me would nit-pick the assumptions, but if the evolving viruses are thought of as aliens rather than something that's actually possible in a computer system, they provide a distinct and very different viewpoint on the events of the book and are more effectively alien than a lot of conventional aliens.

Mix in a dystopian future, lots of tailored drugs to keep people under control, and a fair bit of political intrigue, and you have a passable and entertaining cyberpunk novel. It just isn't anything particularly special.

Followed by Behemoth: B-Max.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2004-05-08

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21