Perdido Shell Station

From the outline for Intelligent Design, a near-future Crichtonesque (except, you know, well-written) novel currently languishing on my back burner:

Nate Hochachka arrives on Baffin Island under complete news blackout. He has no idea why CSIS wants him here: he’s freshly-minted faculty at the University of British Columbia, still paying off his student loans and trying to come to terms with the ubiquitous back-stabbing politics and infighting of an underfunded department (Hochachka’s doctorate is in the neuroecology of marine invertebrates— not the most lucrative niche of the biotech age). Sequestered in a prefab boardroom on the edge of Frobisher Bay, a woman from the Ministry of Natural resources tells him he’s been brought in to advise on a matter of national security. A PetroCan underwater wellhead has been wrecked in the disputed zone between Canada and the United States.

Such mishaps happen all the time, of course: sometimes it’s one of the vagaries of a hazardous environment, sometimes an act of sabotage posing as one. What makes this particular event remarkable is a three-second fragment of video footage recovered from a seabed camera, just moments before all telemetry went offline.

The wellhead was attacked and disabled by a pair of giant squid.

Now check out this article from National Geographic (thanks to Karen Fernandez for the link), paying special attention to the embedded video.

I miss the seabed. I want to go back.

I am definitely working on the wrong book.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday November 28 2008at 06:11 am , filed under deep sea . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

14 Responses to “Perdido Shell Station”

  1. Go back to the seabed! For the nothing that it’s worth, the underwater sections of Rifters are my favorite parts of your novels. But then I’m only interested in sci-fi with an ecological/apocalyptical bent. The more bent, the better.

  2. Reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac rather than anything by Crichton.

  3. I’m not entirely sure what that is: the Weaver? :) If so, it’s not a marine invertebrate, as such. (Does a doctorate on marine invertebrate neuroecology stretch to covering transapient extradimensional invertebrates?)

  4. Don’t worry — I’ll need your help designing seabed VN’s. (We can rebuild them. We have the technology.) You can go home again!

    Mr. Ashby adds that this book languishes because it is set in Canada, starring Canadians. (He also thought that Wall-E was “the same schmaltzy Disney plotline,” despite my protests that it was actually quite bleak and interesting — what with the robots giving the humans their sentience back, and all.)

  5. By “Crichtonesque” do you mean “lacking character development”?

  6. PW, I love your work, I read and reread all of your novels, and I sing your praises to whoever will listen, but dude, this seems pretty Hollywood-by-the-numbers to me. Tell me that you did this to set the hook with some publishers or literary agent or something.

    MM

  7. Oh yes, do please go back to the sea bed… Down is the new Up! I love all the new creatures they keep finding.

  8. If my last name were Hochachka, I would be pathologically introducing myself to people. What an awesome last name. Please give it to every character, ever. Thank you.

  9. ray said…

    Reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s Zodiac rather than anything by Crichton.

    I have not read Zodiac.

    Chuck said…

    By “Crichtonesque” do you mean “lacking character development”?

    In a perfect world I would mean “making kajillions of dollars and giving me a shot at a screenplay gig”, but I think I’ll probably have to settle for “near-future technothrillish warning screed more accessible to beach readers than my other stuff.”

    Matt McCormick said…

    PW, I love your work, I read and reread all of your novels, and I sing your praises to whoever will listen, but dude, this seems pretty Hollywood-by-the-numbers to me. Tell me that you did this to set the hook with some publishers or literary agent or something.

    Interesting you should say this. You’re sort of right and sort of wrong. Yes, I’m making a conscious effort to target a wider, shallower market here. I’m frankly tired of writing stuff that gets critically lauded but barely sells well enough to keep me in rice and barnacles. (Blindsight was my most successful book ever, and even so Tor's offer for the follow-up was — well, "insulting" would not be too harsh a word, IMO). And there's a certain element of self-defense, as well. Any novel which follows in the vein of Blindsight is going to be compared to Blindsight, and that could be a pretty high bar to clear; even a good sequel runs the risk of suffering by comparison. If, on the other hand, I’m clearly diving into a whole new pool, the new book is more likely to be judged on its own merits.

    That said, though, this is not a crass attempt to rush in and fill the niche so recently vacated by ol’ Mike (well, not entirely). I’m actually a bit more excited about Intelligent Design than I am about State of Grace, just on conceptual grounds. It does deal with some fairly topical issues; beyond the warming-arctic and economic firestorm scenarios which are front and center, the whole tale can be thought of as a deconstruction of the “intelligent design” paradigm the creationists keep trying to push through. It hinges on a very cool hypothetical case in how blind, Darwinian processes can produce results that look so compelling deliberate that whole nation-states can end up going to war against a perceived enemy that doesn’t even exist. I’ve visited similar ideas back in Maelstrom, with the Anemone entity; but that was only one thread in a book crowded unto murkiness by some accounts. This would focus on those ideas, and put them into a context which I’d argue is both more accessible and just plain cooler.

    That said, though, my agent did find himself far more taken with my outline for State of Grace, so that’s what I’m working on now.

    The Lake Fever said…

    If my last name were Hochachka, I would be pathologically introducing myself to people. What an awesome last name. Please give it to every character, ever. Thank you.

    I knew two Hochachkas. One served on my doctoral committee, and was kind of a jerk, and is now dead. The other is his nephew, a grad-school and AD&D buddy who ended up at Cornell last I heard. Nice guy. Haven't heard from him since 2002.

  10. I am quite intrigued by this – as well as by State of Grace – and will buy either (make that both) when it’s/they’re out. In hardcover.

  11. I can see why the agent chose SoG over this one, for the reasons that Matt outlined. He’ll be in less competition for attention if he’s selling something different than a by-the-numbers story. On the other hand, I see your reasoning, and I’m all in favour of challenging oneself/getting one’s point across/accessing new audiences by changing things up. It sounds like what we would have here is Failsafe triggered by our friend Archie (yeah, I just made a Failsafe joke, I know), with the various powers that be going on a pattern-matching high in a stressful environment, and therefore attributing complex motives to creatures which have none. Sort of a Princess Mononoke in reverse, with the hero saying: “No, no, they really are just animals, but so are we, and that’s why we’re behaving like utter morons.” And that kind of thing is much harder to communicate in a short pitch when similar-looking stories end with “ZOMG the squids will eat us!” and “ZOMG the squids are people, too!” The former is Jurassic Park, and the latter is Star Trek IV, and really, it’s hard for a lot of people to see beyond those two possibilities.

    Or, you know, I could be wrong, in which case I blame my cold.

  12. I like the premise, Pete. The Crichton-esque (and better written) weirdness of it seems a cool place to start. And your protagonist’s last name, Hochachka, I like that too. Where’d that come from? Innuit, maybe?

    Hope the new book kicks ass! Can’t wait.

  13. Anything set in the Arctic Ocean benthos will be hitting multipe buttons for me, so PLEASE YES is my vote, regardless of its Crichtonesque or even Koontzesque (but with the letter u strategically placed where it belongs) qualities.

    If you need help with the research-the-settings part of this one, let me know – I’ll be spending a few weeks in Iqaluit and a few months in the wider Eastern Arctic over the coming year. Please have either Dr. Hochachka (real or fictional) visit the Polar Continental Shelf Project in Resolute, no Arctic Adventure is complete without at least stopping to say “hi”.

    For added realism, put a gorgeous brunette inside the Nunavut Research Institute in Iqaluit – there’s one working there now.

  14. heh, I honestly thought Hochachka was a reference to the man yelling “hotchka!” in the Incredible Melting Man on MST3K.