Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was some kind of amazing. The main character, who was never referred to as anything but Bureaucrat, was hardly my definition of a bureaucrat. He was part outcast, part superspy, part magician's apprentice, and part avenger. He wears so many hats during this superb little gem that I never slow down and even consider why. The plot is also so damn interesting and the pacing so fantastic that I almost miss exactly how wonderfully crafted the writing is.
Am I a fan of Swanwick? I have read a few of his short stories, years ago, and I loved them. I remembered them very fondly, but in passing, because I prefer novels over anything else. So why am I so damn late to the table, now? Hell if I know, and I'm ashamed because of it. I'm going to be going through his entire catalogue shortly.
So many wonderful sf ideas were crammed in here, and all of them were firmly in the service of the overarching story that happens to have an awful lot in common with The Tempest. The obvious bits were intended by the colonizers of Miranda, and the allegorical allusions were fully conscious and intended by the characters. It was delightful in that respect. The things that happen give the feel, but thankfully not the full substance of the play, so never worry, if you think you might be turned off by a shameless cribbing. This novel is truly a one-of-a-kind brilliant homage to all things SF and Fantasy. A lot of the time, it's impossible to separate the two, but what else can you do when you have awesome worldbuilding on colony worlds, cloning, terraforming, world-AIs, NSA game theory puzzle boxes the size of nations, AND indigenous aliens who shapeshift, who's biology is mostly incompatible with us except when triggered, turning us into wizards with grand powers, morphing into angels and demons, mind-control, as well as the summoning of immensely powerful archetypes? Is it SF or Fantasy? Clarke's razor applies.
But lo! This is no simple tale to mix elements and say, "Hey, look what I did!" No. The story here is king, from old world to new, disillusionment to renewing perception, retribution to revelation to understanding.
Of course, it also borrows concepts to sweep a wide circumference, even stooping to crib from some classics (Dune fans rejoice, pain by nerve induction). For this, I don't care too much. It serves a serious and pretty much identical purpose, but in the service of magic apprenticeship. There's other examples, too, but it slides by so fast and delicious and moves on to the next wonderful surrealism and solid chink of plot, that I'm left gasping with joy.
THIS IS A GRAND GEM, people. Fantastic writing, wonderful ideas, and nothing short of intensely memorable characters. It won the Nebula award in '91 and was nominated for Hugo, alas that it hadn't won.
I will probably read this one again, just to bathe in it. The tide is coming. Can YOU read between the lines of the tv station?
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