Book review: Maelstrom by Peter Watts

Maelstrom by Peter Watts

I am a bit reluctant to write this review. Because the Rifters series was not meant to be a trilogy, the second and third book was not supposed to be, that is they should have been one book. The author himself comments on this in the introduction to the third book, but it was released as a trilogy and thus will be read and reviewed like one.

Warning to those of you who have not read Starfish yet firstly go read it. Now! Secondly this review will then contain some spoilers. You have been warned.

This story begins one year after the cataclysmic event that ended our stay at the Channer Vent. Lenie Clarke is now on dry land, far from the spectacular Beebe station and its surroundings. Now she is a woman with a plan… sort of, and on the run. There is not much other than that to say unfortunately. The story has deflated and seems to have lost some of that sinister touch it had in the first book. The character seems less genuine and more stereotypical, all that is missing is the manic mad scientist laugh and Dr. Strangelove in the war room and it would be complete. They are a far way off from the depth the characters from the crew of Beebe Station had, and those who survived did not seem to survive the decompression from the bottom of the ocean to top-side, with one exception:

Lenie Clarke survived the Channer Vent explosion and is now quite mad, and wants her revenge, this is understandable… she is the only one in the book that keeps the momentum from the first book, and keeps the story rolling. But it is the build-up of her character in Starfish that keeps her interesting, very little is added in this story. And the story itself is also less original. This does not mean that there aren’t any original elements in the story it is, and that is part of the problem. Where the first book merely had a few techo-babbel chapters, this one is full of them.

What do you mean techo-babbel? It’s a sci-fi story is it not? Surely there is supposed to be techo-babbel?

Yes, there is… but it is not supposed to stop the progression of the story, it is not meant to be an obstacle to the reader. It is meant to drive the story on. In this book there is too much explaining of tech, merely for the purpose of explaining the tech it seems. It would normally not be a problem if the story would have the same quality as Starfish, but it does not.It rolls along the momentum from the first book. And without anything to add momentum to the story, there are some sections in the book that are boring because there is nothing that adds, there is techo-babbel without there needing to be quite so much of it.

Some would probably fault me for say this, arguing that this is hard-core sci-fi. No it’s not. It is bad writing, not knowing when to stop describing the chemical properties of something that the reader has no need of knowing to progress the story, is bad writing. If I wanted to learn about the chemical compositions of <insert some hilarious chemical-substance-joke> I would possibly take a degree in it, if I was that interested in it. Other would say that I had the option of skipping those parts of the story. Well I could of course.. but that kind of defeats the purpose of reading a book in my view.

It is a shame to say, but the story as a whole suffers from this book. Starfish was good, and perhaps the story should have ended there. However since there is a third book, the story might pick up again, and vindicate the author. This is also why I was reluctant to write this review. But not everyone reads a sequel the day after finishing a book…and so I publish this review. I hope the third book will redeem this series and Lenie Clarke, because it was a very good story in Starfish and it would be a shame to let it end in shambles.

Conclusion: If like me you loved Starfish, you will read this book despite all its faults. I would not recommend reading this book on its own merits… but who would jump in the middle of a trilogy ? So heres hoping hte conclusion of the Rifters series will be a good one.

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