Short stories by Peter Watts

PETER WATTS is an awkward hybrid of biologist, science-fiction author, and (according to the US Department of Homeland Security) convicted felon/tewwowist. In addition to a number of accolades for science fiction, he has won minor awards in fields as diverse as marine mammal research and video documentary. None of these have gone to his head since they never involved a lot of cash. He spent ten years getting a bunch of degrees in the ecophysiology of marine mammals and another ten trying to make a living on those qualifications without becoming a whore for special-interest groups. This proved somewhat tougher than it looked; throughout the nineties he was paid by the animal welfare movement to defend marine mammals; by the US fishing industry to sell them out; and by the Canadian government to ignore them. He eventually decided that since he was fictionalising science anyway, he might as well add some characters and plot and try selling to a wider market than the Journal of Theoretical Biology—although he retains the academic habit of appending extensive technical bibliographies onto his novels, both to confer a veneer of credibility and to cover his ass against nitpickers. (The same sad legacy persists in his c.v., which he diligently maintains in Academese even though, by now, his chances of getting a university research post are on a par with those of scoring a date with Zoe Saldana.) Watts’ first book (Starfish) was a NY Times Notable Book, while his sixth (Blindsight)—a philosophical rumination on the nature of consciousness with an unhealthy focus on space vampires—has become a core text in diverse undergraduate courses ranging from philosophy to neuropsych, and is rumored to have ended up in the occasional Real Neuro Lab. It also made the final ballot for a shitload of domestic genre awards including the Hugo, winning exactly none of them (although it continues to win awards overseas, seven years later). This may reflect a certain critical divide regarding Watts’ work in general; his bipartite novel βehemoth, for example, was praised by Publisher’s Weekly as an “adrenaline-charged fusion of Clarke’s The Deep Rangeand Gibson’s Neuromancer”, while being simultaneously decried by Kirkus as “utterly repellent… horrific porn”. Watts happily embraces the truth of both views. His shorter work has also picked up trophies in a variety of jurisdictions, notably a Hugo (possibly due to fan outrage over an altercation with US border guards in 2009), a Shirley Jackson (possibly due to fan sympathy over nearly dying of flesh-eating disease in 2011), and some dick-ass Canadian award of which none of you have ever heard. Much of it is freely available on this very site, although you’re welcome to buy the Greatest-Hits package Beyond the Rift (from Tachyon) if you like physical artefacts, or the more comprehensive Odtrutka na optymizm (“An Antidote for Optimism”, from MAG) if you’re a completist and you speak Polish. The video-game novelization Crysis: Legion (Del Rey) is not required reading, but has its own tawdry charm. Watts’ work is available in 21 languages, has made it into 31 Best-of-Year volumes, and been nominated for over sixty awards in a dozen jurisdictions. His (somewhat smaller) list of 23 actual wins includes the Hugo, the Jackson, and the Seiun. Described by the Globe & Mail as “one of the very best [hard-sf writers] alive”, the overall effect of his prose is perhaps best summed up by critic James Nicoll, quoted above.

Listing 4 stories.

In a hyper-surveillance state set in the near future, a female military cyborg wrestles with extreme PTSD and guilt after unintentionally murdering young civilians on a mission abroad. After hearing a recording of the deaths, she realizes her "accident" isn't what it appeared to be, and takes justice into her own hands.

In deep space, a crew of humans and artificial intelligence deliberate on whether or not to change course so as to preserve the life of an innocent-presenting alien-being.

When a foreign organism crash lands in Antarctica, it must disintegrate and occupy the bodies of Norwegian men in order to stay alive.

After dying in an attack, a fish farmer accepts a deal to be resurrected from the dead and join a special team, who have been made into super-soldiers through extensive surgery. But the team is given very little information about their missions, and over time, the fish farmer becomes concerned with the morality of their duties.