& the Generals followed
the Mermaid of Death.
This is the sequel to Starfish, & it continues its litany of bleak nihilistic drama. Who are you supposed to root for-- the protagonist from Starfish, winding her way across North America while dooming the entire biosphere? The serial killer secret agent from the bottom of the sea, who squirms through global security until he ends up tasked with eliminating Patient Zero? Naw; I'm rooting for Achillies Desjardins, the 'lawbreaker. As in, the laws of thermodynamics. Really, those guys are the keys to the novel, for me-- a fringe group empowered with an enormous latitude, chemically bound to the greater good. They are the shining jewel of the book, as well as their biggest flaw. The Guilt Trip-- the biochemical leash that keeps the 'lawbreakers from acting against the greater good, causing them to have seizures whenever their guilt response flips-- never really pays off in consequences. It is Checkov's Gun...but it only fires blanks. & while the banal arguments about free will are trotted out, it isn't until the very end that there is a discussion of how the guilt response might be a terrible mechanism to base an ethics code on...&, relatedly, how blocking the guilt response might have long range consequences. Lenie-- the protagonist of Starfish & one of the leads in Maelstrom-- continues the "well isn't this fucked up?" thread. As the willing disease vector, she plays the role of a Black Widow Typhoid Mary all the while menacing any fathers with daughters she might come across. It ain't pretty, but it isn't meant to be. The eponymous Maelstrom is the internet, the grid, the matrix-- the computer system out of control with viruses that have evolved into a full suite of online wildlife. I'm not sure I buy it-- I know I don't buy βehemoth-- but that is the point of fiction, so I'm not complaining. The sequels to this are out of print, so I might have to grub around online to find them-- & I will, because the story is compelling & I want to see what coconuts Watts shakes out of the tree next. It isn't as brilliant as Blindsight, but it is darn good reading, once you get your head into the right pessimistic space.