The Sea of Tranquility

The good book/bad book ratio for Austin Feminist Sci Fi Book Club has been a little wonky as of late. I insinuated a lot of very not-nice things about You Sexy Thing earlier; a couple books before that was Moira Grant’s Into The Drowning Deep. We don’t usually get two stinkers in such close company (I don’t think?).

Cover of The Sea of Tranquility y
Image courtesy Knopf

Once bitten, twice shy, so I went into Sea of Tranquility  with no small amount of trepidation. I loved Station Eleven so now the stakes were higher. Would Mandel stick this landing? Or would this book suck and thereby lead to retroactive mixed feelings about a book I loved? (I also want to say that I’m glad I read Station Eleven before a devastating flu-like pandemic happened.)

Good news everybody! It didn’t suck!  There is so much in Sea of Tranquility to make it sci-fi, but as with what I think is the best kind of sci-fi, the point isn’t “story for the sake of cool sci fi ideas” but “using sci-fi ideas to tell an interesting story.” The entire story hinges on 1) a very pernicious and annoying pop philosophy “problem” and 2) time travel, but neither of those are really what the story is about. A lesser author would have exhausted the reader with their preferred solution to The Problem, or at least a detailed explanation of The Problem and its ramifications, while Mandel cuts through the Gordian knot of pontificating by telling a story that arises from The Problem but leaving any specific philosophizing or moralizing out of it.

Author: katherine

Stockholm-based translator and copyeditor of American extraction.

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