Starfish by Peter Watts

(discussed April 25, 2002)

On a ten-point scale (1=bad, 10=good), the people who read the book gave the following ratings: 3, 4, 6, 7, 7, 7, 8, 8 (Chris), 8 (Ignacio), 8 (Raja), 8, 8, 8, 8
Average: 7.0

This book was sponsored by Ignacio Viglizzo.

Chris Stanley, who couldn't make it to the meeting (she had tickets to Cabaret), sent an email to Raja a few days later. She rated the book an "8" and had this to say about it:

I will just say that Starfish was dark. Dark (as Douglas Adams might have said) in the way that stars aren't. Depressing! Characters seething with despair! My kind of folks. And, though I couldn't speak to how accurate the science was, I found it interesting, which is more than I can say about some books. (e.g. Ventus)

Raja Thiagarajan, who couldn't make it to the meeting either (he was descending into Indianapolis airport at the time) also rated it an "8" and had some comments he wished he could have said at the meeting:

Two SF first novels have been hyped recently: Starfish and Ventus. I rather disliked Ventus (rated it 4), largely because it seemed overhyped. Starfish, on the other hand, deserved the praise. It reminds me of another well-hyped and well-deserving-the-hype debut ten years earlier: Iris by William Barton and Michael Capobianco. Both books are rather dark, and deal with thoroughly unpleasant characters who are sex-obssessed ....

Overall, I thought Starfish was quite an ambitious book, and I praise Watts for being willing to work to achieve his ambitions.

Ignacio, who "sponsored" the book (and rated it an "8" as well) sent some very interesting emails to the group:

What follows is the content of an e-mail I sent before, and below that is Peter Watt's explanation of the somewhat confusing ending.


Here are some little extras for "Starfish":

Visit the book's homepage at

Part of the interchange I had by e-mail with P. Watts, at the group:

--- In, Ignacio Viglizzo <igvigliz@i...> wrote:
> The abyss should shut you up.
> Great first line!

Thanks, but the *real* first line--and I like it better-- was "First there is only the sound, in darkness." You guys never saw it though, because the whole prelude got changed.

The prelude as I originally wrote it was sort of a fish's-eye view of a dark sanctuary being torn up by the roots to make room for Beebe Station. There were some nice images: huge honking chunks of equipment dropping onto the sea floor, raising clouds of mud that hang there for days; blinding lights coming on for the first time *ever*; blind dazzled sea creatures streaking panic-stricken into the darkness. Construction crews and wasp-waisted submersibles splicing everything together. Also the first mention of Behemoth. But my editor said that it was too alien--your average sf-reader might think that it was taking place on a different planet or something, so I had to junk it. I stuck the ecotourist scene in there instead (I seem to remember someone complaining about that scene. Truth to tell, wasn't my favorite either.)


--- In, Ignacio Viglizzo <igvigliz@i...> wrote:

> > everything together. Also the first mention of Behemoth. But my

> How did you introduce Behemoth then?

Actually, if any of you guys are really interested, I've posted the original Prelude on my website. Don't bother going through any of the links--you won't find it that way...but if you go to

the text should be visible. It's not as polished as it could be--remember, it was discarded before the final draft stage--but the more I look at it, the more I think it should've been left in...



(I still prefer the beginning that appears in the book, though ;-)

Next comes the announced explanation. [Beware spoilers].

Peter Watts's explanation