StarShipSofa No 360 Peter Watts

October 28, 2014 by Jeremy Szal

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Music: The Wreck of the Cassie Dee by David Bradshaw

Science News by J J Campanella

Main Fiction: “Bulk Food” by Peter Watts and Laurie Channer

Peter Watts is a (former) scientist, author, and convicted felon who spent the first two decades of his adult life as a marine biologist. After fleeing academia for science fiction he became known for the habit of appending extensive technical bibliographies onto his novels; this both confers a veneer of credibility and covers his ass against nitpickers.  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: “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too powerful, I read Peter Watts”.

His debut novel (Starfish) was a NY Times Notable Book, while his most-recent-but-one (Blindsight)— a rumination on the utility of consciousness which, despite an unhealthy focus on space vampires, has become a required text in undergraduate courses ranging from philosophy to neuroscience— made the final ballot for numerous North American genre awards, winning exactly none of them. (It does, however, continue to win awards overseas, seven years later.) 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) and a Shirley Jackson (possibly due to fan sympathy over nearly dying of flesh-eating disease in 2011).

Echopraxia, a sort-of sequel to Blindsight, is only just out. History has not yet made its judgment.

Watts’s work is available in 18 languages. A few years back he briefly returned to science with a postdoc in molecular genetics, but he really sucked at it.

“Anna Marie Hamilton, Animal Rights Microstar, bastes in the media spotlight just outside the aquarium gates. Her followers hang on every movement, their placards rising and falling like cardboard whitecaps to the rhythm of their chant: two, four, six, eight, Transients are what we hate –“

Narrator: Mark Nelson

After getting a BA in Radio & Television, I spent the next 28 years in Human Resources – the graveyard of useless degrees. After being laid-off by my last tech company after it was bought-out by a competitor and shut down, I decided to return to my useless roots, and have been narrating audiobooks since 2006.  My goal is to become the world’s oldest hikikomori.

Lyrics to The Wreck of the Cassie Dee

Come share a drink with me, now,

While the others are away

My mates all used to call me Stoker John

This resting makes me restless

So I’ll pass this time with you

And bore you with my yarns before I’m gone


We used to work the ore run

Before the light-speeds flew

From Edwards Air to old Tranquiity

An atomic powered coffin numbered 1492

That we sentimental fools called “Cassie Dee”


I sweated in my silver suit

and tended to the piles

Cap’n Anty only smiled when things went wrong

Cassie barely held up

through the suborbital phase

and we prayed and cursed and prodded her along


Ore came from the main belt,

Ice and dust of every kind,

The bulk from Juno, Pallas, Cybele

Carried from the moon, then back with

Hardware and supplies,

Sometimes some pay or a little rum for me.


That was all there was for us

Between the earth and moon

A creaking ship and a job that didn’t end

The owners didn’t care so long

As cash and cargo flowed

Not one spare dime or damn on us to spend


How many times did sun and earth

Spin ‘round us in the sky?

How many moons, I really couldn’t say

And when the siren sounded,

I paid barely any mind

Disaster, just like every other day


Old Cassie’d gotten help she didn’t need

In breaking up

From a run-in with a drifting piece of junk

And I had to scramble into

my worn silvers at the call

For I’d dared to spend an hour in my bunk


We’d started our descent,

The hull collapsed, the piles leaked

The crew in radiation doomed to drown

As he locked me in the lifeboat,

Anty smiled and said to me,

“It’s a bust, John but we’ll try to hold ‘er down!”


That was years ago, mind you,

Before the light speeds flew

When we had to do the ore run the long way

The atomics only made me sick,

Since I had my silvers on

Left in hospital bed now to this day


I’m told they made a light-speed port

From the ore and goods we shipped

And a city stands at old Tranquility

Perhaps they spare a damn or prayer for 1492

And poor Anty’s crew, who called her

Cassie Dee…


  1. A fine Watts tale, scientifically grounded and hilariously grim of tone.