About the Author
Peter Watts is generally a lot more optimistic than you might expect, considering.
He has spent much of his adult life trying to decide whether to be a writer or a scientist, ending up as a marginal hybrid of both. He's won a handful of awards in fields as diverse as marine mammal science, video documentary, and science fiction. These accolades have not 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 (how's that for unbridled optimism), and another ten trying make a living on those qualifications without becoming a whore for special-interest groups. This proved somewhat tougher that 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.
His success has been, shall we say, mixed. His first novel, Starfish, netted a "Notable Book of the Year" nod from the New York Times, an honorable mention for John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and rejections from both German and Russian publishing houses on the grounds that it was "too dark". (Being considered too dark for the Russians remains one of Watts's proudest accomplishments, although he remains puzzled by the translation of his book into Italian.) This also marked the beginning of a diffuse cult following of angst-ridden blogging teenaged girls who identified with Starfish's central character.
Starfish was universally praised for its evocation of the deep-sea environment; the applause for its rendering of the surface world was somewhat more muted. The sequel, Maelstrom (2001, Tor), takes place almost entirely on land: it therefore avoids the elements that readers most loved about the first book, replacing them with a sprawling entropic dystopia in which Sylvia Plath might have felt at home, if Sylvia Plath had had a graduate degree in evolutionary biology. The critical response was generally as positive as it was for Starfish, which may come as a surprize to those who've noted a virtual absence of laudatory quotes on the paperback edition (someone fucked up in Production); both books received starred reviews from Booklist, and Maelstrom may mark the first time that the NY Times used the terms "exhilarating" and "deeply paranoid" to describe the same novel. Maelstrom's release did, however, mark the end of a diffuse cult following of angst-ridden blogging teenage girls who identified with Starfish's central character.
Behemoth, the concluding volume of what had inadvertently become the "Rifters Trilogy", was released by Tor Books in two volumes for industrial-policy reasons that Watts understands even though he still thinks they suck the one-eyed purple trouser eel. Even bisected, and notwithstanding a certain inevitable sense of been-there-done-that, Behemoth garnered a fair bit of critical praise (another NYT rave, starred review from Publisher's Weekly— just check out the damn blurbs page), although more squeamish reviewers grumbled that Watts had gone too far with this whole sexual sadism thing. Commercially, it tanked.
Watts' latest book, Blindsight (Tor 2006) might be best described as a literary first-contact novel exploring the nature and evolutionary significance of consciousness, with space vampires. Astonishingly, and against all expectations, it did not tank. In fact it survived rejection from half a dozen publishers, a miniscule initial print run, zero preorders from one of the continent's largest book retail chains, an absence of relevant blurbs on an otherwise questionable cover design, and a suicidal Hail-Mary act of desperation in which its author gave the whole thing away for free online under a Creative Commons license. As of this writing Blindsight is in its fourth hardcover printing, is being translated into several languages (including— at long last— German and Russian), and made the final ballot for the Hugo, John W. Campbell, Sunburst, Locus, and Aurora awards, winning exactly zero of them.
A collection of Watts's short fiction is available in obscure magazines and anthologies or bundled together into a thick pamphlet called Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes, from Edge/Tesseract Books.
Feel free to send him e-mail. He's especially eager to hear from anyone who has less of a life than he does.
Peter Watts and the decommissioned carcass of the research submersible Ben Franklin (Watts in front). Tales of the Franklin's Gulf Stream voyage are credited with luring Watts away from a promising career in the Baptist clergy.
Peter Watts at a Toronto bar in 2007, attempting to simulate a smile. Photo by Dan Brooks.
Peter Watts prior to graduation, sometime during the late nineteen-eighties, before his skin problems cleared up.