It is hard to imagine anyone putting down Sea of Tranquility unfinished, as the novel appeals in so many different ways.
Lovers of science fiction (and those who don't often read the genre) will find a novel that is bold enough to take on time travel and quantum computing, with a clever new twist on the anomalies that would inevitably arise.
There are four complex narratives embedded in Sea of Tranquility, each of which is intertwined with time travel. The possibilities of altering people's fates, and the way that this is policed, are significant in the novel's resolution. The author leaves no threads dangling at the end of the book. Paradoxes are resolved in an elegant way that satisfies the reader and keeps faith with the complexity of her characters.
If this wasn't enough, the experience of pandemics lies at the core of the book. No doubt many readers may find their way here through this horribly fascinating theme. Through describing a future plague, the author certainly has something to say about our recent experiences and their place in history. You may be intrigued to find that the pandemic imagined for 2203 starts in Australia, before cases start showing up in New Zealand.
My only question is whether in 2195 a busker at an airship terminal would still put out a hat into which passing commuters drop spare change. Surely coins would be a thing of the past? This almost feels like a deliberate anomaly.
From the start, the literary qualities of St. John Mandel's creation stand out. There are several engaging and complex characters, and the prose is elegant and avoids straining for effect. The first third of the book moves at a leisurely pace as we get to know the main protagonists, spread over several centuries. There are also diverse locations in which the characters live. These range from future colonies on the moon, to early 20th century Canada.
Alongside these beautiful descriptions of characters and their environments, there is a vein of humour. This is particularly true in the author's descriptions of contemporary New York, and of a 2203 book tour. It seems that centuries from now, authors will still have to deal with asinine questions from the floor of conferences, and in arranged media interviews.
These humorous (and slightly painful) moments may be based on the author's real-life experiences; always a risky thing to speculate about.
St. John Mandel has achieved a lot in a comparatively short novel. Imaginative, intriguing and beautifully written, Sea of Tranquility will stay in the reader's mind for a long time.
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