Author's visage as a feline
When­ever I find my will to live be­com­ing too strong, I read Peter Watts.
—James Nicoll

About the Au­thor

Peter Watts is an awk­ward hy­brid of bi­ol­o­gist, sci­ence-fic­tion au­thor, and (ac­cord­ing to the US De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity) con­victed felon/tew­wow­ist. In ad­di­tion to a num­ber of ac­co­lades for sci­ence fic­tion, he has won minor awards in fields as di­verse as ma­rine mam­mal re­search and video doc­u­men­tary. None of these have 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 and an­other ten try­ing to make a liv­ing on those qual­i­fi­ca­tions with­out be­com­ing a whore for spe­cial-in­ter­est groups. This proved some­what tougher than 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—al­though he re­tains the aca­d­e­mic habit of ap­pend­ing ex­ten­sive tech­ni­cal bib­li­ogra­phies onto his nov­els, both to con­fer a ve­neer of cred­i­bil­ity and to cover his ass against nit­pick­ers. (The same sad legacy per­sists in his c.v., which he dili­gently main­tains in Acad­emese even though, by now, his chances of get­ting a uni­ver­sity re­search post are on a par with those of scor­ing a date with Zoe Saldana.)

Watts’ first book (Starfish) was a NY Times No­table Book, while his sixth (Blind­sight)—a philo­soph­i­cal ru­mi­na­tion on the na­ture of con­scious­ness with an un­healthy focus on space vam­pires—has be­come a core text in di­verse un­der­grad­u­ate courses rang­ing from phi­los­o­phy to neu­ropsych, and is ru­mored to have ended up in the oc­ca­sional Real Neuro Lab. It also made the final bal­lot for a shit­load of do­mes­tic genre awards in­clud­ing the Hugo, win­ning ex­actly none of them (al­though it con­tin­ues to win awards over­seas, seven years later). This may re­flect a cer­tain crit­i­cal di­vide re­gard­ing Watts’ work in gen­eral; his bi­par­tite novel βehe­moth, for ex­am­ple, was praised by Pub­lisher’s Weekly as an “adren­a­line-charged fu­sion of Clarke’s The Deep Range and Gib­son’s Neu­ro­mancer”, while being si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­cried by Kirkus as “ut­terly re­pel­lent… hor­rific porn”. Watts hap­pily em­braces the truth of both views.

His shorter work has also picked up tro­phies in a va­ri­ety of ju­ris­dic­tions, no­tably a Hugo (pos­si­bly due to fan out­rage over an al­ter­ca­tion with US bor­der guards in 2009), a Shirley Jack­son (pos­si­bly due to fan sym­pa­thy over nearly dying of flesh-eat­ing dis­ease in 2011), and some dick-ass Cana­dian award of which none of you have ever heard. Much of it is freely avail­able on this very site, al­though you’re wel­come to buy the Great­est-Hits pack­age Be­yond the Rift (from Tachyon) if you like phys­i­cal arte­facts, or the more com­pre­hen­sive Odtrutka na op­tymizm (“An An­ti­dote for Op­ti­mism”, from MAG) if you’re a com­pletist and you speak Pol­ish. The video-game nov­el­iza­tion Cr­y­sis: Le­gion (Del Rey) is not re­quired read­ing, but has its own tawdry charm.

Watts’ work is avail­able in 21 lan­guages, has made it into 31 Best-of-Year volumes, and been nominated for over sixty awards in a dozen jurisdictions. His (somewhat smaller) list of 23 actual wins includes the Hugo, the Jackson, and the Seiun. De­scribed by the Globe & Mail as “one of the very best [hard-sf writ­ers] alive”, the over­all ef­fect of his prose is per­haps best summed up by critic James Nicoll, quoted above.

Peter Watts is actually a lot more cheer­ful than you might ex­pect.