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(1958- ) Canadian marine biologist and author who began to publish work of genre interest with "A Niche" in Tesseracts3 (anth 1990) edited by Candas Jane Dorsey and Gerry Truscott; his early short fiction was assembled as Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes (coll 2001); Beyond the Rift (coll 2013) mostly assembles more recent stories. He is very much better known, however, for his longer work, in particular the Hard SF Rifters sequence, comprising Starfish (1999) and Maelstrom (2001), plus a long concluding novel broken into two volumes as βehemoth, Book One: β-Max (2004) and βehemoth, Book Two: Seppuku (2005). In a Near Future world beset by crises (energy is waning, the Ecological health of the planet is increasingly precarious), rifters are teams of humans selected to operate geothermal power plants in the Pacific benthos (see Under the Sea); to fit them for this imprisoned existence, they have been physically transformed into something like Cyborgs, and mentally damaged to shape their behaviour (see Psychology) according to the goals of their masters in the world above. Watts's presentation of group stress is crude but intense, and the complexities of the long story never entirely distract the reader's attention from the nearly intolerable psychodrama. An effectively Alien underwater microbial species known as the βehemoth, which lacks DNA, threatens to invade the upper world, ending DNA-based life; a threat which is delayed in Starfish. But as Maelstrom opens, a nuclear explosion causes a tsunami (see Disaster) which devastates the Pacific Rim, and the new species spreads; β-Max and Seppuku focus with quite extraordinary grimness on the savage interactions amongst the damaged cadre of rifters, who may be at the first stages of evolving into Posthuman beings; and upon Homo sapiens in the grip of a terminal crisis that may bring on the End of the World.
Blindsight (2006), perhaps Watts's most impressive single work, is a First Contact tale told again with bleak intensity, and again involving an ill-matched cadre of human or human-like characters, their Spaceship under the command of an AI, whose nature is also suspect; the reader gradually learns that as a whole – and by virtue of their various deficiencies (the protagonist, because of an operation, is profoundly autistic, and must therefore memorize behaviours) – the crew is well designed to gain a Conceptual Breakthrough into the reality it confronts. The civilization they meet in space on the fringe of the Solar System, which occupies what seems to be a vast Generation Starship, provides an apt challenge for the expeditionary team, as individuals of the species seem to lack any cognitive powers, seeming to function primarily as information transmitters. In fact the species, as an extremely complicated whole, comprises a kind of Hive Mind whose astonishing efficiency and speed of response can be explained by its lack of consciousness (see Information Theory). In the universe as a whole, consciousness is rare, and quarantined. Clogged by the wasteful recursions, huge energy drains, and the overall congestion caused by self-awareness, the human race generates a terrible contagious noise, highly dangerous to normal operations of Intelligence in the universe. The final message of the alien visitors, who have visited Earth specifically to source and then contain the plague, is: Shut up. The chances of Homo sapiens obeying are not great: comeuppance looms. The sequel is Echopraxia (2014), set a decade or so later on Earth and in nearer space, as various Scientists attempt – as we learn through some very formidable Infodumps – to gain some cognitive grasp of the kind of universe "awakened" by the noise that Homo sapiens makes. This second volume tells more of humanity's increasing fragmentation, with our ancient predators the Vampires restored through Genetic Engineering in order to exploit their vast Intelligence; Zombies, resulting both from decorticating viral Pandemics and from voluntary choice, since we have learned that non-self-aware soldiers can be vastly more effective; and emerging near-Posthuman Hive Mind groups of "Bicamerals" whose functioning is fraught with residual trappings of Religion. An expedition to the Space Station near the Sun which is Earth's major beamed Power Source confirms that this too has been infected by an alien "slime mould" of vast computational power. There is a suggestion that the narrative of Blindsight, supposedly transmitted by the one very slowly returning survivor of that book's expedition, may itself be an alien fabrication crafted to manipulate us. The two volumes have been assembled as Firefall (omni 2014).
Crysis: Legion, which is Tied to the Videogame Crysis, is necessarily of less interest, though The Freeze-Frame Revolution (2018) is of strong interest, following the basically endless hegira of a small human crew in a sub-light Starship across the galaxy, not much aided by an almost idiotic AI when they awaken intermittently from Suspended Animation to instal "transfer gates" (see Matter Transmission) connecting back to Earth: which is now millions of years behind them (see Time Abyss). But Watts is an important author of twenty-first-century sf, one of the relatively few to use traditional engineer-based topoi to illuminate a world darker than we may wish to believe. His voice is needed in these years. [JC/DRL]
see also: Antimatter; Identity; Invisibility; Pariah Elite; Quantum Computers; Rays; Seiun Award.
born Calgary, Alberta: 25 January 1958
collections and stories
Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction edited by John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight.
Accessed 14:11 pm on 8 December 2021.