Sunday, May 11, 2014

Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts

Peter Watts has been making a name for himself in science fiction.  He hasn’t exploded into the SF stratosphere like John Scalzi or Charlie Stross, but his he has been slowly building a reputation of strong science fiction with a detailed science element to it, particularly with a focus on biology.  He is also one of the authors I found myself most intrigued by, and I couldn’t wait to get a chance to finally explore some of his fiction.

Beyond the Rift presents a wide swatch of fiction from the entire length of Watts’ career, from very early stories (“Flesh Made Word” and “Nimbus”) to much more recent ones (“The Things”).  From the beginning of the collection, with the opening story, “The Things,” Watts’ chops for writing hard science fiction are evident, as is his love of the genre, writing a new version of John Carpenter’s classic film, The Thing, itself based on John W. Campbell, Jr.’s “Who Goes There?” 

The collection expands from there, showing a seeming fascination with the merging of the future of life sciences and religion, with many of the stories featuring a mix of both.  Of particular note were “The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald,” which featured a woman who has found a way to program the universe, “A Word for Heathens,” in which religious extremism is taken into the future, and “Hillcrest v. Velikovsky,” a very short story in which a man is on trial of murder after his museum exhibit allegedly killed a woman.

In some of the stories, Watts’ storytelling gets a little mired, and the reader has to drag themselves to the end of the tale, but in many of the others a fascinating idea is well explored.  This makes the end of the collection all the more disappointing.  Watts’ afterword, “Outtro: En Route to the Dystopia with the Angry Optimist,” is more-or-less exactly what is says:  Watts takes a significant amount of time to be very angry about a number of things, and tries to justify himself as an optimist in a world slowly building towards the dystopic.  Watts takes time to ridicule those with opinions that differ from him, make fun of people who are religious, hate on all of North America, and otherwise be abrasive, disagreeable, and close-minded.  Any appreciation of Watts’ writing is lost in the muck that is his afterword.

Fans of hard science fiction with a focus on the life sciences will likely find many enjoyable stories here, but they unfortunately appear to come from the mind of a rather unpleasant person.  This reviewer will be avoiding Watts from here on out.

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