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    MAELSTROM by Peter Watts


    TOR, October 2001

    In the near future, planet Earth is reaching breakdown. More and more of the world's economy goes into plugging the holes created by that economy--holes in the ecology, holes created by terrorism, holes created by pharmaceutical firms creating demand for their own products, and holes created by the proliferation of worms and viruses within what used to be called the Internet and is now called the Maelstrom. Somehow, Earth muddles by, yet more and more frequently, quarantine lines are drawn and people die.

    To feed North America's ever-growing demand for energy, engineers have tapped every source including geothermal energy flowing deep beneath the sea. An explosion in the deep Pacific sets off a wave of destruction that is almost too much for the battered world--an explosion designed to eliminate the greatest threat to life on the planet that has ever existed, a hungry nanobe completely lacking in predators, yet supremely capable of adapting to the new environment. And the nanobe has a vector--one of the victims of the deep-sea explosion has made it to land, spreading the disease en route to her revenge.

    Within the Maelstrom itself, artificial lifeforms nearly as dangerous as the nanobe exist, evolving through trial and error at a rate of thousands of generations each second. These computer virusses both echo and adopt tne nanobe virus, discovering that its name, and the name of its vector, are passwords to the most powerful and secret systems.

    Author Peter Watts has created a compelling and convincingly dark view of the future. Extrapolating today's headlines into the near future, Watts' vision rings frighteningly authentic. Intriguingly, Watts sees the potential end of DNA-based life as morally ambiguous. Rather than the traditional SF approach of uniting the forces of good to battle ultimate destruction, those fighting the virus are mostly evil themselves while the good find themselves in a curious alliance with ultimate destruction.

    MAELSTROM is an issues novel and suffers from one of the problems endemic to this kind of book--its characters lack full development and are difficult to identify with. Watts tries to overcome this by giving deep-sea survivor Lenie Clark a truly interesting background, yet he is only partially successful in this attempt.

    Fans of dystopic science fiction will find MAELSTROM a hotbed of ideas, concerns, and partially explored moral consequences. Love it or hate it, MAELSTROM is a fascinating and powerful novel.

    Three Stars

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