Starfish (1999)

Lenie Clark works at Beebe Station, a station at the bottom of the ocean at the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Soon she realizes why she is down there, why the grid authority allows people like Lenie to work at the bottom of the ocean. She and others like her have a mental makeup that some would call crazy, but exactly this makes them ideal workers in the extreme environment under the sea. At least until you want to get rid of them.

The main virtue of Starfish is the evocation of how it must feel to live deep down in the ocean. The book takes you to a strange, dark place where everything is under pressure, where everything is different from above. And yet some people not only live and survive there, they thrive and learn that it’s something they never had above the ocean, a place to call home, where they belong. These characters are, as the someone in the book describes them, bent but not completely broken, so they can fit where normal people couldn’t live. Watts is very adept at making these bent people into characters you care for.

Another strength of the book is how Watts slowly but steadily increases the pace, as if he has worked a narrative equivalent to increasing water pressure into the plot. A small detail about his future here, a plot twist there, until it all comes together into an apocalyptic showdown where the good guys survival is a bad thing, and the bad guys actions the last hope for humanity. For a first novel this is an impressive book, full of neat science fictional ideas combined with excellent characterization and great plotting.