Peter Watts (www.rifters.com) has spent most of his adult life trying to decide whether to be a writer or a scientist, ending up as a marginal hybrid of both and winning a handful of (very minor) awards in fields as diverse as marine mammal research, video documentary, and science fiction. The overall effect of his prose is perhaps best summed up by James Nicoll, who wrote: “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too powerful, I read Peter Watts”. Nonetheless Watts’ first novel, Starfish (Tor, 1999), 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.” (Watts is especially proud of being too dark for the Russians.) The short story that comprised Starfish’s first chapter also won the Aurora, a questionable little Canadian award that will bring no hoarse cries of recognition to anyone’s lips.

While Starfish was universally praised for its evocation of the deep-sea environment, the sequel (Maelstrom, Tor, 2001) was set almost entirely on land, neatly avoiding the elements that readers most loved about the first book and 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; 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. Behemoth (Tor, 2004, 2005), the final volume of what had inadvertently become a trilogy, also garnered a fair bit of critical praise (another New York Times rave, starred review from Publishers Weekly), although several reviewers grumbled that Watts had gone too far with this whole sexual sadism thing. Split into two volumes for marketing purposes, 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. Against all reasonable expectations, it did not tank. In fact it survived rejection from half a dozen publishers, zero preorders from one of the continent’s largest book retail chains, a minuscule initial print run, and a Hail-Mary act of desperation in which its author gave the whole thing away for free online. As of this writing Blindsight is in its fourth hardcover printing, is being translated into several languages, and has made the final ballot for the Hugo, John W. Campbell, Sunburst, And Locus awards—two of which it has already lost, and the other two of which it is widely expected to.

Watts’ short fiction is available in obscure magazines and anthologies or bundled together into a thick pamphlet called Ten Monkeys, Ten Minutes(2000), from Edge/Tesseract Books. More recent stories can be found in ReVisions (2004, DAW, J. Czerneda and I. Szpindel, eds), Tesseracts 9 (2005, Edge/Tesseract, N. Hopkinson and G. Ryman, eds.), and last year’s edition of G. Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction (St. Martin’s Press). Alternatively, you could just go to Watts’ website where his entire published output is freely available for download under a Creative Commons licence.

His cat has appeared in Nature.