Review: Starfish (Rifters book 1 of 4)

Starfish  - Peter Watts

Originally read December 28, 2013


This was an excellent book about a group of genetically modified people who are living and working at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  There is actually a lot of hard science in the book.  At the end, at least in my edition, the author provided notes about actual scientific studies from which many of his concepts originated. There were also quite a few technical terms throughout the book. They were real terms, not words made up for the sake of the story. Since I was reading the book on my Kindle, I was able to look up their definitions and get a better understanding. The context makes the meanings of the terms clear enough that you don’t really need to look the words up, but I did so out of curiosity.


My first paragraph may make this book sound rather dry. In fact, I was a little worried about that myself before I started reading it. I'm not really a science buff.  I think it's cool to read stories based on real scientific concepts, and I enjoy learning new things, but mainly I just want the story to be entertaining. And this story was definitely entertaining, in a bleak sort of way. The world building was solid and the characters were interesting and felt realistic.  I can't say that there weren't any parts that felt dry, but the vast majority was entertaining.


I often found myself connecting the dots about things in the book after I had put the book down. Events in one chapter might raise questions in my mind, and then several pages later the next chapter would subtly answer those questions. But by that point I might have forgotten I had the question, or I just didn’t always make the connection between the question and the answer. As I went about my daily routine, scenes from the book would play in the back of my head and I’d suddenly make connections between questions and answers that I hadn’t fully made while reading.  I was enjoying the book even when I wasn't reading it.


The version I read was a free e-book that I had downloaded back around 2008 or so.  It might just be this version, but there were a lot of errors in it.  Many of them looked like errors that were probably a result of scanning the physical pages and using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to convert the text into an e-book.  So perhaps the errors have been cleaned up in newer e-book editions.  I guess most of the errors probably didn’t exist in older physical editions.  The errors distracted me but, once I moved past one, the story sucked me back in right away.


The setting is definitely dark. It’s a dark environment and a dark situation populated with people who have dark pasts and dark thoughts. This is the first book in a series and as such it doesn’t really have a definite conclusion. There aren’t really any open questions by the end (except for "What happens next?!"), but the ending itself is very open-ended and clearly is intended to set the stage for events in the next book. I look forward to reading book 2!


Note: The author has made all the books in this series available for free under a Creative Commons License.  You can download them here: