Stations of the Tide – Michael Swanwick

About the Book

The “JubileeTides” will drown Miranda beneath the weight of her own oceans. But as theonce-in-two centuries cataclysm approaches, an even greater catastrophethreatens this dark and dangerous planet of tale-spinners, conjurers, andshapechangers. For Gregorian has come, a genius renegade scientist and bushwizard. With magic and forbidden technology, he plans to remake the rottingdying world in his own evil image — and to force whom or whatever remains onits diminishing surface toward a terrifying, astonishing confrontation withdeath and transcendence.

256pages (paperback)
Publishedon: 1991 (first published)
Thanksto Tor for sending me a copy of this book to review.
Thereis a reason I’m not an English major. While I enjoy the subject, I can’t standsitting in a classroom for hours discussing what such-and-such author wastrying to symbolize when he/she wrote this one obscure passage in some book. Itook the classes I needed to take before I could get my degree, but by the timeI was in my last class I felt like screaming to the professor, “I don’t knowwhat he was thinking when he wrote that and I can guarantee you don’t either.How about, instead of navel gazing and discussing obscure symbolism andprofound topics, we either write the author a letter or go find a medium so wecan discuss this with his ghost? How does that sound?!”
Now,why on earth is this important for the intro to a review?
Ireally struggled with Stations of theTide and after a few days of wondering what it was about the book thatreally set me off, I figured it out. It was the sense of, “I’m trying reallyhard to be really profound and here, look at all this hardcore symbolism Iheaped onto this passage here….and here….and here…” that really got to me.While I tend to enjoy deeper-than-surface reads more than anything else,there’s a definite line an author can cross where deep just becomes annoying.By the time I put the book down I felt like sending it to every Englishprofessor I ever had because I have a feeling that university Englishprofessors would start foaming at the mouth with their desire to psycho analyzea book like this.
Despitethe fact that Stations of the Tidedid get on my nerves, I enjoyed it. It’s an incredible, almost surreal, jauntthrough a strange world. One reviewer on goodreads called the atmosphere“carnivalesque” which is a good term for it. Another good way to think ofSwanwick’s work is by describing it as the literary equivalent of a SalvadorDali painting. All of the details I’m use to being sharp are rounded, drippingand completely off kilter. If it does get bogged down by moments of, “OMG guys,look at all my hardcore symbolism,” there are moments where the layers of theworld and plot itself are, simply put, quite amazing.
Themain character is known as nothing more than the Bureaucrat, and while thereader learns more about him as the book progresses, he has a way of staying asillusive as his name implies throughout. Accompanying him is an artificiallyintelligent briefcase and a woman named Agent Chu. These three characters arewell worth reading the whole book for. While they are all quite mysterious,they are also entertaining and serve to peak the readers curiosity. While Inever actually felt engaged with them, I found them to be odd enough to keep myattention focused throughout the book – even through the parts that frustratedme.
Stations of the Tide is both a mystery(the hunt for Gregorian) and a race against time, as the characters need tofind this individual before the ocean rises to basically drown everything. Inthe process of this is an incredible transformation that overtakes theBureaucrat. While the plot is interesting, and many of the details are nothingless than fascinating, the book itself is unevenly written. The start is greatat setting all of this up, toward the middle it becomes hard to distinguishbetween reality, dreams and memories. This can cause readers quite a bit of unnecessaryconfusion and possibly some frustration as they try to figure out what exactlyis going on.
Theending, however, is haunting. It will leave the reader with an image that willconfound, puzzle and haunt them for quite a while after the book is actuallyover. It may also leave many readers with a sense of, “wait a minute… what??”In my opinion, this is a mark in the book’s favor. Swanwick has an incredibleability to pleasurably confound his readers and leave them wanting more, whichisn’t something many authors can do.
Allin all, Stations of the Tide hasbaffled me. It’s a wonderful, surreal book told with a rather interestingwriting style. The characters and world are never quite engaging, but theyremain incredibly interesting throughout. The overuse of symbolism and theobvious attempt at amazing depth in some places were frustrating, as was theinability to tell what was reality and what was fantasy in parts. However, despitethis, the ending left me haunted. Stationsof the Tide is one of the rare books I’m putting down completely unsure asto whether I loved it or hated it, and in my opinion, that’s actually a mark inSwawick’s favor.

One Responses

  • Scott

    Swanwick is one of those authors with good ideas and bizarre execution. And you are right, his work normally smacks of "Look how awesome I can be" and yeah, it put me off his stuff.

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