Volume 24, Number 2, Winter, 2006


By Scott MacKay

Pyr, 2005, $25
ISBN: 1-59102-334-3, 356 pages
Reviewed by Anders Monsen

Scott MacKay’s novel, Tides, appears at first driven by impulses of the fantasy genre. The society in which mariner Hab Miquay dwells contains minimal technology, one supreme king, a stratified society of mainly ease and plenty, and few people concerned with science or the prospects of discovery. Much like brief history texts showing only a singular person here or there affecting the world or making discoveries, MacKay’s book contains two or three individuals in an entire society (which to them means the world) willing to look beyond quotidian events. Such a microcosm view hampers what otherwise is an entertaining and engrossing novel, where some individuals risk everything to see what’s beyond the horizon.

In the early years of adulthood we find Hab in command of a whaling vessel, hunting animals somewhat different from those on Earth. The locale is a vast, watery world with two moons, generating massive tides that lock the inhabitants of Paras within an island, able to sail only short distances before being turned back or killed by mountainous waves. While he is an accomplished sailor and whaler, inside he feels empty. When he encounters a scientist, Esten, and the scientist’s sister, Jara, on a rocky shore working experiments that prove the existence of a faraway land, Hab finds himself compelled to go there.

The need to satisfy some inner longing drives Hab to sacrifice all he loves, breaking the very rigid rules of conduct that govern his society. He steals from his family, defies his king, and risks the lives of all those who sail with him. After one failed attempt, Hab set sail again using a new design, submersible boats. He hopes that these vessels can ride under the gigantic swells where all others foundered on the surface. Setting sail with three of these boats, Hab and his crew head north into the arctic regions for the new land.

With only three boats, and a crew of under twenty per boat, Hab’s venture seems doomed from the start. Whether MacKay here alludes to Christopher Columbus and his three boats that sailed to the New World is unknown. Hab’s three boats meets a harsher fate, however, when one boat is lost in the ice during a mutiny, and a second vanishes in a storm. The latter is discovered adrift, empty and battered, by Hab’s sole remaining ship, with no evidence of what happened. Soon after this, however, Esten’s work is vindicated when they come across a rocky and unknown shore.

Here they discover another species, a lizard-like animal that hops and swims. Starving, Hab’s crew slaughters several of these, when suddenly the tides turn, and a larger, more intelligent lizard-being arrives and kills some of the crew, and blows up their last ship using some sort of grenade. Trapped upon a hostile and alien shore, they find themselves fighting for survival. The three main characters are captured and hauled off to the main lizard city, where they are treated almost like pets. One of the aliens, however, has darker designs upon Hab’s homeland, something he fails to discover until too late. He now must race to stop the inevitable invasion and destruction of his homeland. When the invasion takes place, both Hab and the lizard-people will realize long-forgotten truths about their origins.

At this point the novel takes on some known SF aspects, but never lingers there. Instead, the ending is somewhat ambiguous, but the resulting effect of Hab’s adventure is massive societal change for both cultures. Early in the novel there are some pro-liberty stands by Jara, and Hab certainly defies his king, but the book reads more on an adventure level. The depictions of the tides and voyage around the world were gripping, though the ecosystems at times seemed hardly varied enough to support some of the inhabitants. Despite a few stumbles with the language, and frustrations with Hab’s character, I enjoyed Tides and found it difficult to put down.

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