Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sea of Tranquility” by Emily St. John Mandel was my first book by this author so I was completely in the dark about what to expect. What I definitely didn’t expect was the author taking a generous helping of common science fiction tropes and mixing them all up.

First of all, there’s time travel which leads to thoughts of reality actually being a simulation and for good measure Mandel unoriginally throws in a pandemic…

With several timelines and narrative threads, jumping back and forth, the story became convoluted and hard to follow at times. I found it difficult to fully engage with the characters or their predicaments; especially since some were never fully developed (e. g. Edwin or, even worse, Thalia).
There are moments where the characters seem to exist purely as vehicles for the story, rather than as fully-realised individuals.

Mandel’s writing was fine but, mostly, nothing out of the ordinary. There were moments – for example when describing the Canadian wilderness or, late in the book, our lonesome protagonist watching the sky – when the writing soars high above its previous “serviceable” quality. Those are rare occasions, though.

The story itself was lacklustre to me: The anomaly was mildly interesting but never exciting and the resolution as predictable as anti-climactic. The pandemic part, well, we’ve just emerged from one and the descriptions of empty streets, lockdowns, etc. are nothing special. The time travel concept never goes beyond the most basic problems (“Don’t modify the timeline or things might happen!”) and, lastly, the non-issue of the “reality as a simulation” theme is easily deconstructed by the book itself:

»this is what the Time Institute never understood: if definitive proof emerges that we’re living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be So what. A life lived in a simulation is still a life.«

So, here’s to living and reading better books! Three out of five stars for this mediocre one.

Ceterum censeo Putin esse delendam

View all my reviews

Leave a Reply