Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Sea of Tranquility

So far, I’ve got a 50/50 hit rate with Emily St. John Mandel. I absolutely loved Station Eleven but was left completely ambivalent / annoyed by The Glass Hotel. Luckily for me, this was definitely more like the former, in that it made sense and had an ending. She did reference people from The Glass Hotel which I can’t quite make up my mind about being good or just indulgent.

Just FYI, it’s really hard to describe this book without being a bit spoiler-y, so here is your warning.

Sea of Tranquility takes places across several periods in time, following a set of interconnected characters (a little bit like The Glass Hotel). I really enjoyed the central physics-y question at the heart of the book, which is basically are we living in a simulation. And then how, if you were in this simulation, would you detect it? Essentially in the future, they recognise an anomaly has occurred with several people experiencing several different times and places. Because they invented time travel, the can also now go investigate this.

One of the main characters of the book is essentially sent to investigate these anomalies and the people who experienced them. As the end of the novel approaches, all the pieces fall into place and it really is quite a satisfying ending. I really enjoyed the structure of it all.

I also really liked the setting of the moon colonies. I don’t now why, but it seemed so normal and futuristic at the same time.

If I had a criticism of the novel, it would be that some of the emphasis of characters felt a bit unbalanced. We only really get to the time travel bit about halfway through the book. So in the mean time, there are these jumps in time where clearly there is some time travel shenanigans happening, but it takes awhile before it makes sense. Why do we spend so much time with the novelist character as well? I guess it relates to the main time traveller’s motivations but it still felt a bit disjointed. And again, why revisit the characters from The Glass Hotel? They were familiar to me (and I don’t think you had to have read The Glass Hotel for it to make sense in this novel), but given I dislike that book it did rip me out of the main narrative a bit.

I think I just like more strutured novels. This one felt adjacent to This is how you lose the time war, which is more free flowing as a story. I feel Sea of Tranquility also leans a little on impressions and feelings, and not so much a fully rounded plot. Saying that, I really like the atmosphere of the worlds and time periods they travel through. But I also like details on how they get there.

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