Friday, March 21, 2008

Stations of the Tide - Untranslated (SD #53)

Stations of the Tide (Michael Swanwick)
Author: Roland

The Distant Future. Mankind has colonized the galaxy, and life among the stars can be just as strange and mystical as it is common and mundane. А bureaucrat is sent on the planet Miranda, where in mere days the Jubilee Tides of the powerful Ocean are going to swallow most of the Continent, as they do every two hundred years. But in the chaos of evacuation Gregorian the mage, educated on the orbital cities, has taken a forbidden technology to the surface and plans to reshape the planet according to his dark vision. And he must be caught before the Tides.

Stations of the Tide brims with ideas, which have probably provided solid inspiration for David Brin’s Kiln People and Charles Stross’ Singularity Sky – virtual realities on the scale of Zelazny’s Donnerjack, forbidden supertechnologies, AIs and space cities…

…all of them simply a backdrop. Stations of the Tide is much more a work of poetry than a story. I don’t mean poems, but the whole feel of the novel. With complete mastery, Michael Swanwick creates a universe of forbidden advanced technologies, of shamanism and mysticism holding hands with modern thought, of an indigenous race supposedly gone forever, that now returns. It is a universe of greatness now past, one of subtle elegance, tantric sex and decadent pageants, where most things are not only unexplained, but also unexplicable.

+ Т
he novel’s incredible atmosphere. It carries something of Zelazny at his best and yet does not seem derivative.
+ The vivid and memorable characters, again so much like Zelazny’s – not realistically, but romantically drawn, many (all???) of them larger than life.
+ The story is not especially involved,
but it is full of mysteries and draws you in irresistably.
+ The book is full of stories-within-the-story that constantly enrich the setting.

At the same time all these tales make you feel as if you’re holding a thematic collection of short stories rather than a novel. Practically every chapter contains a tale that yet again directs the reader away from the main plotline. It’s on purpose, of course, but a bit irritating nevertheless.
The plotline itself isn’t especially brilliant. A quibble, given the novel’s atmospheric bias, but it might grate on the story-geeks.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Stations of the Tide has won the Nebula – the more high-brow of the two Big Ones. It is as much a philosophical book as it is a work of science fiction, even if the philosophy is not quite of the concrete, intellectual kind. One thing is certain – you are obliged to read it.


Translation: Trip

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