MAELSTROM by Peter Watts

I love the work of Peter Watts.  He writes science fiction with an emphasis on the science.  OK, I don’t always understand the work, the science often being beyond (or would that be ahead) of me, but the story is always first rate, the creative ideas are mind boggling,  and let me tell you, at my age, my mind doesn’t boggle as easily as it once did.  I have boggle fatigue.

So, here is some of the science involved in this work:

Behemoth — new kind of extremely primitive microbe freshly discovered, something inconceivably small, less than 100 nanometers.   Called ‘nanobes’.

Guilt Trip – a behavior-modification technology affecting frontal lobe behavior.  Based on the idea of the ‘puppet masters’, parasites that hijack the brains of various animals and insects, causing them to do their bidding.  True story.

Anemone/Maelstrom –  power law — surface-area-to-volume relationship that governs living systems from whole food webs right down to the capillaries of shrews, essentially a pattern typical of self-organizing systems, i.e. biological systems.  As it turns out, the World Wide Web itself appears to be evolving in concordance with this law.

Wildlife –  simple systems, in aggregate, display emergent behaviors beyond the capability of their individual parts.   This can be applied to software programs, etc.   A premise of this is that lineages with genetically-determined behavior would be able to pass a Turing test if they evolved fast enough.

Smart gels – neural nets.  Self driving cars.  Point made.  they learn as they go.

Ganzfeld Interrogation – quantum mind, quantum consciousness.  Kind of like  ‘I know what you did last summer’  stuff.

Bonnet´s Syndrome – the brain compensates for loss of visual input by inserting images from visual memory into the gaps.  Tends to occur in elderly patients, frequently associated with bereavement; the hallucinations are more or less seamlessly incorporated into the visual environment.

All of these concepts are part of the story, part of the plot of this sequel to Starfish, which I have not read.  How did that happen?  I usually prefer to read series in their proper order.  Oh, well, there are some references to the earlier work, but it really is a standalone, the big connection is a couple of characters continuing on in this work.

I guess you want to know what the story is about, right?, not just the science, which is already not future but current.  Sci fi writers have a hard time keeping ahead of the game!

Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.  – Job 40:15.     All flesh is grass. – Isaiah 40:6

It is about a microbe that has been unleashed on the world, presumably from some unimaginable deapths of the ocean, (which I believe occurred in Starfish,) and now the world governments are scrambling to contain it.   They are doing so by constantly creating quarantine areas, effectively locking in the people who may have been infected, and eventually destroying them by fire.  More and more of the USA is chopped up into these plague areas.

But a creature craws out of the sea onto a beach in a contained area on the west coast of the US.  It is a woman, modified to be aquatic,  and has come, we learn, apparently from the area of the initial explosion deep in the sea.  She has an agenda,  and is on a mission to fulfill it, leaving a path of destruction in her wake.

There are a couple of highly tech characters who are tracking her, trying to find her.   Lots of description from a bite (or bit?) of software info perspective as it works at infecting other software.

I admit I had some difficulty following some of this, but nevertheless, she persisted.  hahaha  I read on doggedly and eventually got the gist of what was going on, and finally actually really got into it.  It is a hard read surrounding a really good story, kind of force feeds some tough science into the reader (ok, into me),  and gets you (me) really thinking about AI, quantum stuff, and just how vulnerable our planet is to the infestation by ummm nanobes.   Gee.

The tale is apocalyptic in design, apocryphal in nature,  and prophetical in result.  Whew.  What a book.

Peter Watts is the author of Blindsight, which I talked about here,  and Echopraxia, which I discussed here.    He has won the Hugo, and several Locust awards.  I think he might just possibly be the best sci fi author working today.

 

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