Friday, January 25, 2019

Birthday Review: Short Fiction of Peter Watts

I've already posted a look at Peter Watt's tremendous novel Blindsight on this, his birthday. But I thought a selection of my Locus reviews of his short fiction was also worth doing. So here goes:

Locus, February 2008 (Review of The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction 2)

The standout story is Peter Watts’s “The Eyes of God”, a classical simple extrapolation story, positing a means of both detecting and fixing mental abnormalities, such as (in the case of the protagonist) sexual attraction towards children. One question that arises is “Do you want to change who you are?”, especially if you have never acted on whatever dark impulses your brain might hold. Other questions are variously hinted by the story, which also (perhaps a bit heavy-handedly, though effectively I thought) slowly reveals the protagonist’s rather apposite personal backstory.

Locus, November 2009

Peter Watts's "The Island” (The New Space Opera 2) is less pure Space Opera than a piece of very far future hard SF. A slower than light ship which has spent millennia upon millennia placing "stargates" encounters a weird alien society that their newest gate will put at risk. The characters must decide – in the context of their own conflicts – whether to move the gate. The story has plenty of SFnal cool -- the far reaches of time, the strange alien society, the weirdness of the more or less contemporary humans who construct the gates -- and it closes with a bitter twist.

Locus, January 2010

And finally in Clarkesworld for January, Peter Watts offers “The Things”, an immediately significant title, opening with a significant list of characters: Blair, Copper, Childs. The narrator is “being” each of these. It is, in fact, a “Thing” as in the movie, or, more importantly, John W. Campbell’s classic novella “Who Goes There?” Watts’s story is honest and thought-provoking and chilling in presenting a version of this familiar story from the alien POV.

Locus, January 2014

And my favorite piece (in Twelve Tomorrows) is the closing story, “Firebrand”, by Peter Watts. The hook is spontaneous human combustion, and the catch is a woman working for a company that wants to be sure they are not connected with the apparent increase in that phenomenon. Of course that can't last – or can it? And what about the next thing? This is funny stuff, and behind it is some cute Sfnal speculation.

Locus, October 2014

And I thought the best story in Upgraded was “Collateral”, by Peter Watts, as uncompromising as ever for him. A soldier kills a bunch of harmless fishermen on a Pacific island when her “enhancement” deal with the perceived threat before her consciousness can intervene. This causes a PR problem for her (Canadian) government, which they deal with in part by treating her so that she makes emotionless, rigorously “ethical”, decisions … which has chilling, unexpected (and coldly logical) results. (I read this more or less as the terrible shooting of Michael Brown occurred just a few miles from my home, and the ideas resonated all the more with me as a result.)

Locus, January 2018

As ever, the latest of Jonathan Strahan’s Infinity series of original anthologies is essential reading. Infinity Wars concerns future war, obviously enough, with a noticeable focus on what might be called the “grunt” point of view. The two best stories, I though, came from Dominica Phetteplace and from Peter Watts. ... Watts, in “ZeroS”, posits a technology that turns soldiers into non-conscious actors – for it turns out the unconscious has spooky abilities. Which are pretty scary for the humans who end up sort of “riding” their unconscious – especially when they learn what their “zombie” selves are capable of. For an extra fillip of spookiness, the story is told from the POV of a soldier who actually died, and who has been resurrected by this particular technology – at an increasingly horrible price.

Locus, November 2018

Peter Watts’ “Kindred” (Infinity's End) is told in monologue, addressed from an entity -- I’ll leave it to the reader to learn what entity – to an intelligence it just created, a reconstructed human. It seems this is in the far future, and our monologist wants to discuss what it means to be Human, and why Humans war. For a good reason, that we learn in time. It’s another very philosophical story, and to excellent effect. And I must say I love the title, which has of course multiple reasons, one very cute.

No comments:

Post a Comment