Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mendel 2022

Mendel’s previous book, ‘Station Eleven’ was a terrific read, a dystopian novel about life after a pandemic that was adapted for a popular TV series of the same name on HBO. In this book, she revisits the pandemic, but as only one point in time as the book shifts abruptly from the year 1912 to 2020, 2203, and 2401.  At each of those times, we meet a vivid character who experiences a weird phenomenon involving a strange shift in light, the sound of a violin, and the whoosh of an airship taking off from the Oklahoma City airship terminal.  Time travel, simulation, an anomaly—these are the elements of this engaging and for me, somewhat confusing novel.  Mendel writes with skill and a light touch and does manage to pull all the story elements together in a final paragraph, but my linear brain doesn’t manage sci-fi as well as traditional novels.

The characters are wonderfully rendered from a British youngest son exiled in British Columbia to a best selling novelist who returns to earth for a book tour from her home on Colony Two on the moon (located in the eponymous Sea of Tranquility).  Several other characters through this 400 year odyssey are tied to one Gaspery Roberts who works for the Time Institute in the year 2401 and is sent on a time travel mission to explore these strange phenomenon experienced by each character.  As Gaspery travels through time, Mendel weaves a fascinating story about time, space, and human nature.

In a wonderful coincidence (or perhaps, not?), Mendel’s underlying question is one of the nature of ‘reality’.  Is earth and all that we see simply a simulation, a video-game being played  by some super-being, God, or another planet’s advanced technology?  This question of simulation versus reality is the core of the other sci-fi book I read this month, ”The Anomaly’.  Not sure why we’re seeing a spate of books that question the very reality in which we see, hear, feel, and ‘exist’ but perhaps it’s due to the very unsettling and weird time that we live in.  Is trump and the republican right wing, putin, climate change, mass shootings, white supremism, lack of infant formula any way to run a planet????  Maybe we should all sign up for time travel and hopefully arrive in a better world at a better time.