Emily St. John Mandel is one of those authors that wrote a book of such stature and reputation that the success can morph into a burden whenever a new release comes out. Every new book is inevitably going to be compared to Station Eleven, for better or worse. Luckily, I think Sea of Tranquility is innovative enough to make its own mold. It’s a tight, elegant, and fast science fiction that, while a bit of a slog at the start, comes together in the end with themes of family, empathy, and the classic problems of bureaucracy.
Expect multiple characters, settings, and times. But never overwhelming enough to lose track. And while the writing can feel sterile at times, it serves a purpose in strengthening the novel’s setting, which includes earth, moon, and beyond.
There are some problems. Mandel is a little too self-indulgent in describing one of her character’s stories. The great pain and suffering of being on a book tour around the country, the difficulties of meeting overzealous fans, the boredom in hotel room after hotel room: it seemed like Mandel projecting her experiences, which didn’t serve to the narrative arc or the character development. It felt like too much time was spent here, and when I got to the interesting parts I wished most of the book had been like this.
When I saw “COVID-19” in print in this book, I sort of flinched. It will be difficult to see how authors in the coming years handle writing about the pandemic, and more importantly how readers receive it. To Mandel’s credit, pandemics have been her “thing,” even before COVID (Station Eleven), so she has some authority and standing to be writing about it. I’m concerned of the endless attempts in the horizon that will try to speak on the loneliness and hardships of quarantine. And while Mandel is graceful in her descriptions, sometimes its borderline too much. I’m not interested in reading mundane descriptions of wiping counters with Clorox, working from home, or the wonders of stepping outside and touching grass.
When it comes to science fiction, I’m usually left ruffled if the author teases history and lore without any subsequent engagement. Here, I am still ruffled, but not enough to leave me unsatisfied. The story is still focused and achieves an overall purpose.
I recommend this book!