Now that the furor caused by my year-and summary is over, I'll start the 2006 50 books challenge with book #1, Maelstrom by Peter Watts. The second in the series that started with Starfish (and one of my favorite books last year), Maelstrom follows the path of Lenie Clark, abuse victim and mutate-amphibian, as she escapes from the deepsea station she and the other sociopaths were manning and makes her way on to land. Because she is carrying an RNA strand that will genetically rewrite life on earth out of existence, she is chased by those same powers that created her. At the same time, she becomes, through the proliferation of her myth on Maelstrom (the data network that evolved from today's internet), a symbol of rebellion against the powers, for all the victims of the world (and in this dystopia, there are many).
I was really looking forward to this book and though I'm not dissapointed, it didn't take me to the same level as Starfish. I was hoping for lots of description of the world on land because I loved the hints Watts had given in the first book. He is obviously an environmentalist (and he really is a marine biologist) and has projected a dark future based on that. Everything is about energy and evolution. Quebec is a major worldpower (and grown quite scary), the internet is like a jungle on steroids where viruses and security evolve against each other constantly. Unfortunately, most of the book takes place in the minds of the key players. The story is tense and exciting and the development is cool, but you only get glimpses of the world. And a lot of the key players are involved virtually, either trolling through Maelstrom or interacting with the real world through remote bots. Either way, they are actually in their apartments most of the time. The whole west coast is separated from the interior by giant walls and is teeming with refugees who are kept alive by unmanned food-producing units. Their protein is filled with mood-controlling drugs so they just end up sitting on the beach and surviving. That portrayal is cool and scary and it went into some depth of setting. But there was very little time in the cities, in the enclaves of the rich and powerful and other locations that would have grounded the story in the constructed reality.
It is also structured in to tons of short chapters, each chapter is broken into groups of paragraphs that are separated by triples spaces. But these triple spaces don't often separate anything in the narrative. They just act as little suspense devices, a dramatic pause. For example, there will be a dialogue between two people. Something will be revealed. Then there is the pause. Then the dialogue continues. It's constant throughout the book. I think the idea is to make the whole thing kind of episodic and it allows the narrative to jump all over the place, but I found it kind of distracting, expecting a change of perspective between triple-spaces and often there wasn't one.
I'm definitely still really enjoying this series and I'm going to read the next two. The concept of the data network evolving the same way life does (but way, way faster) is great. You can almost see little stirrings of that today. Watts pushes his ideas out there and he's definitely a critic of the man, which is what I demand of great science fiction.