Steven Gould,
Blind Waves
(Tor, 2000)

The greenhouse effect has warmed the atmosphere. The Antarctic ice cap has melted substantially, the release of the weight has set off volcanoes there, and one of the large ice shelves slid off the continent. The ocean level has risen 100 feet. Blind Waves is a novel of the relatively near future, perhaps 50-150 years or so ahead.

Stephen Gould has written one of the best science fiction novels I've read recently. I was very sorry when it ended, and plan on re-reading it soon! His world and his characters are living, complex and interesting, and the combination of the thriller plot and the budding romance of the two main characters is very satisfying.

Gould has explored the ways in which the rising ocean levels could impact a culture that's recognizably ours, and how it could change in response. Although some of the ways are unexpected, none were implausible. Much of the world's population lives within 100 feet of sea level, and the displacement this rise caused affected social, economic and political structures profoundly. I'll be re-reading this book partly to pay more attention to the world in which it takes place; this time, I grew distracted by the plot and people.

Often when a plot and world are both strong, the characters can fade in comparison. It's a particular risk when we're privy to the characters' innermost thoughts and feelings; they can easily end up as generic stand-ins, so "normal" and inoffensive that they act mainly as placeholders through which a reader can enjoy the book. Gould avoids this. His main characters -- and many of the secondary ones -- have idiosyncracies, tastes, histories and individual ways of approaching life that give them a reality often absent in fiction, especially genre fiction. Both the main characters have reasons for avoiding relationships, and it's nice to see a developing romance in which the dilemmas revolve more around their hesitancies about the choices they want to make for their lives, and not artificial misunderstandings or power struggles. Gould says in his ending acknowledgements that he was inspired by Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, and while his people are not copies, the mutual affection and respect are similar -- and welcome.

The plot is very exciting, involving underwater salvage, a mysterious sinking of a ship, rogue governmental officials (I don't think that's giving too much away), and a great deal about sonar and other underwater tracking options. The book begins with a chase, which lasted a bit too long for my tastes, although other elements of the world and the characters were brought in. I hope that those who also may feel it's a bit of a slow start (although tense) will stick with the story; it gets more engaging soon.

All the above is interspersed with quotes from Shakespeare, and some plot elements and supporting characters are adapted from his work, I suspect. I look forward to trying to identify more of them in future readings.

I am particularly appreciative of Gould's Patricia Beenan, one of the best female main characters I've encountered in science fiction. The scenes where she is in a disguise which includes a special bra that gives her significant cleavage for the first time in her life are wonderful! Funny and wry, but not crude or offensive (although any males reading who sometimes have difficulty raising their eyes above a woman's chest level may squirm a little). Gould really captured, I think, the way a woman might react to that sort of attention when she's not used to receiving it, finding it flattering, amusing, and also annoying -- sometimes all at once. Patricia is wonderful. And Thomas is in all ways worthy of her.

I do have to mention the cover art. The cover design (the way the picture is used, the title and author's name layouts, the incorporation of the quotes) is creative, elegant and legible. The artwork, on the other hand, displays many of the worst cliches of such art. While technically very competent in an almost photo-realistic way, the colors are too saturated for realism (particularly underwater), and the female has a buxom Barbie-doll figure and is shown next to a submarine vessel barely big enough for one person for a few hours, when her figure in the book is not so exaggerated and the submarine contained three people for an extended time at one point. I know that artists often do not have a chance to read the novel before doing the art. Still, the use of these cliches would have put me off in a bookstore, and probably even in a library -- and I would have missed a very enjoyable book as a result. Seeing it, I expected something far more formulaic -- and that's a shame. It's too bad that the cover art doesn't live up to the originality of the writing and design.

If you haven't read anything by Steven Gould, this would be an excellent book to start with. I'd previously read Wildside, and Gould just keeps getting better! Blind Waves is a lot of fun to read, and with a depth and complexity that keeps one thinking.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]



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