Friday, November 15, 2013

Beyond the Rift

Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts
Tachyon Publications; 11/18/13
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781616961251


Combining complex science with skillfully executed prose, these edgy, award-winning tales explore the shifting border between the known and the alien. The beauty and peril of technology and the passion and penalties of conviction merge in narratives that are by turns dark, satiric, and introspective. Among these bold storylines: a seemingly humanized monster from John Carpenter’s The Thing reveals the true villains in an Antarctic showdown; an artificial intelligence shields a biologically enhanced prodigy from her overwhelmed parents; a deep-sea diver discovers her true nature lies not within the confines of her mission but in the depths of her psyche; a court psychologist analyzes a psychotic graduate student who has learned to reprogram reality itself; and a father tries to hold his broken family together in the wake of an ongoing assault by sentient rainstorms. Gorgeously saturnine and exceptionally powerful, these collected fictions are both intensely thought-provoking and impossible to forget.

My Thoughts:

Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts is a collection of science fiction short stories. I appreciate what Watts said in the final selection: "But in a very real sense, these are not my inventions; they are essential features of any plausible vision of the future. The thing that distinguishes science fiction, after all—what sets it apart from magic realism and horror and the rest of speculative horde—is that it is fiction based on science. It has to be at least semiplausible in its extrapolations from here to there." (Location 3979) That is what I've always enjoyed about hard science fiction - that it has an underpinning based on real science. An author might be speculating what will happen far into the future, but the foundation is always based on real science. 

Contents of Beyond the Rift include:

The Things: Watts says The Things is "fan fiction, an homage to one of my favorite movies and also—to my own surprise—a rumination on the missionary impulse." This is a strong opening to the collection and immediately recognizable as a tribute piece from an alternate point of view.

The Island:  Although he says it "started out as a raspberry blown at all those lazy-ass writers who fall back on stargates to deal with the distance issue" the result was an intriguing tale dealing with artificial intelligence and a genetically modified/created human, as well as interpersonal relationships between the "mother"and "son," humans traveling long distances in space in stasis, and a "diaphanous life-form big enough to envelop a star."

In The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald "Jasmine Fitzgerald guts her husband like a fish, but only to save his life." Is she truly insane?

A Word for Heathens deals with religious zealotry.

Home is very good. Check out the link to read it.

In The Eyes of God a computer makes judgements and sentences a person based on the crimes that may be committed. Watts "asks whether we should define a monster by its impulses, or its actions." 

In Flesh Made Word a man spends his life researching the last thoughts of people before they die. Watts comments that "the emo and overwrought “Flesh Made Word” has not aged well."

Nimbus features clouds that are alive and taking their revenge. Watts writes that it was started by "an off-the-cuff fantasy seeded by a former girlfriend who looked out the window one day and said, Wow, those thunderclouds almost look alive."He later admits that "the idea of a vast, slow intelligence in the clouds has a certain Old Testament beauty to it." This is a wonderfully imaginative and frightening story.

Mayfly (with Derryl Murphy) is set far in the future where a couple agrees to have a child whose brain is replaced, programed, and hard wired into an artificial intelligence matrix. This is an incredibly vivid, provocative and disconcerting story.

In Ambassador an AI spaceship is sent out to make contact with alien life forms and discovers that even if it means well, perhaps nothing else it encounters may share that sentiment.

Hillcrest v. Velikovsky features a trial asking if the placebo effect really works, or, in others words, can faith can overcome illness?

Repeating the Past: "The nameless narrator of “Repeating the Past” deliberately induces PTSD in his grandson, but only to save his soul."

In A Niche, two woman are part of a research team that is required to live under close quarters underwater. While one is able to adapt, the other is not

In the final selection, Outtro: En Route to Dystopia with The Angry Optimist, Watts addresses his reputation as "The Guy Who Writes The Depressing Stories." Watts say that his "favorite thumbnail of that sentiment comes from James Nicoll—'Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts'."  He explains that while his "writing tends toward the dystopic it’s not because I’m in love with dystopias; it’s because reality has forced dystopia upon me." But he also finds things to wonder about and the sublime in his stories. This last part is where Watts addresses the distressing story of his arrest and abuse by U.S. border guards and the subsequent trial.

I really enjoyed Beyond the Rift. It was provocative and extremely well written. This is one of those collections that I think benefits from reflection after each story, and most of the stories will cry out for rereading in the future. Excellent collection  -  Very Highly Recommended.


You can read many of the short stories here:

This is what the world taught me: that adaptation is provocation. Adaptation is incitement to violence. Location 133

Killing a virus is no sin. You can do it with an utterly clear conscience. Maybe she’s redefining the nature of her act. Maybe that’s how she manages to live with herself these days. Location 1225

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Tachyon Publications via Netgalley for review purposes.

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