"Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts."—James Nicoll
Watts' first novel Starfish (beginning the Rifters Trilogy) focuses on a group of people who've been surgically augmented to survive the crushing depth of the ocean floor, in order to work on a power station located on a geo-thermal vent. The catch is that most normal people have trouble adjusting to the stresses of working and living in such an environment, so people who are naturally adapted to living in stressful environments are recruited instead. In this case, victims of abuse, including pedophiles, borderline masochists and clinical sociopaths. It gets worse. The series juggles dark character study, a distinctly un-rosey view of future society, kick-ass action, and cutting edge technology. The series earned Watts much critical praise.
His next novel, Blindsight (unrelated to Rifters), focuses on a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits sent to investigate a strange alien artifact that's been detected on the edge of the solar system. The novel is mainly a First Contact story that mixes elements of cosmic and psychological horror in order to examine (and deconstruct) the ideas of sentience and consciousness. Blindsight became something of a hit for Watts, garnering a Hugo nomination for best novel.
Watts likes to show his work, utilising extensive notes and references to support his work and theories. Because of this, unsurprisingly his work tends to end up on the hard end of the scale. It also usually lies at the cynical end of the spectrum too, although not often without the slimmest, most stoic, hope available, if you squint.
Tropes involving Peter Watts
- All There in the Manual: Watts' website has a ton of supplementary information concerning his novels.
- Executive Meddling: During the production of βehemoth, the third book in the Rifters Trilogy, Watts's publisher Tor decided to split the book into two parts (subtitled β-Max and Seppuku). This was a decision Watts was extremely unhappy with, leading to their relationship being soured. It would further deteriorate during the publishing of Blindsight, due to artistic differences over the cover design, as well as an extremely limited print run. So limited, in fact, that once it began to become popular, nobody could find it! Faced with the prospect of having his novel buried, Watts decided that it would be better to make no money and at least have the novel read, so he released it free on his website. This move proved extremely popular, and led to Watts releasing his other novels and many of his short stories for free online.
- Grey and Grey Morality: Most of his works have shades (hah) of this, mostly due to their Crapsack World settings.
- Made of Iron: Watts contracted Necrotizing Fasciitis. That's a flesh eating bacteria. What did he do? He blogged about it. The whole series of posts can be found here, under the title "Flesh Eating Fest '11". At one point, a nurse treating him said that he must have an extremely high pain tolerance.
- Overreacting Border Security: Watts had a now-infamous encounter on the U.S./Canadian border, during which he was maced and wrestled to the ground by a power-tripping border patrolman. The reason? Not reacting fast enough to a verbal command from the patrolman.
- Perspective Flip: His Hugo-nominated short story "The Things" is the events of the Cult Classic sci-fi movie The Thing from the alien's point-of-view.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Very far towards the cynical end.