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the pathetic caverns - books by author - Steven Gould

eclectic reviews and opinions

Steven Gould

Blind Waves

Usually, I don't put much of my politics into my reviews. I think it's often difficult -- not impossible, but difficult -- for a piece of art to convey a specific political message and still be effective as art. The message can overwhelm the artistry and the craft if the artist isn't very careful; I've certainly criticized things for sounding too "preachy" or too "obvious."

I suppose I've probably also dinged things for being sexist or racist or homophobic, but I don't see that as "political" per se -- it's more sort of an extension of the Golden Rule.

And likewise, I don't think reacting politically to a piece of art is necessarily the most useful or productive way to respond to it. But sometimes you don't have a choice.

Lately I've been feeling increasingly frustrated by things that my government is doing, and the depth of my powerlessness to affect them (as a DC resident, I don't even have national elected representatives to complain to). I've been wanting to put more of my money, (or my work, since I don't actually have any money) where my mouth is.

And I've been feeling vaguely pissed-off about a book that I read last November. This book.

I should state up front that in many ways this is not a terrible novel. It did entertain me at a basic plot level; it does evidence craft and some growth in writing ability since the last Gould novel I picked on. In fact, if any executive producer types are reading this, you should option it, because you could proably due so cheaply, and it could make a great movie. It's got a lot in common with Waterworld, but it's far less stupid. It has a tough, smart female lead (think Sigourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton). It's got a tough, principled male lead (think Tommy Lee Jones). It has corrupt government officials, racist conspiracies, artifical floating islands, terrorists, romance, and tense underwater chase scenes. Waterworld + Hunt for Red October + Speed? I admit that I zoned out during some of the descriptions of equipment, but if the camera were smoothly panning across the same equipment and the music was swelling ominously, I might stay more alert. The novel doesn't actually feature the scene with a mostly-nude gal pointing a raygun that adorns the cover, but that could be added in easily enough. It's got a bunch of references to Shakespeare and Dorothy Sayers novels, but they're not integral.

What's also not integral are its politics; they're almost completely absent. See, Blind Waves is set in a near future after something has flooded the earth and raised the ocean levels a few hundred feet. Gould doesn't address the question of what might have done this -- the phrase "global warming" doesn't appear in the novel, though he does imply that it happened fast -- perhaps faster than global warming might allow for. But I don't know -- what if some really big chunks of ice broke off of the caps, floated south, and melted much more quickly due to their greater exposed surface area, and their movement into warmer waters? I can envision scenarios that might involve fairly rapid changes.

And it's the lack of politics that ultimately makes this a very queasy read for me. I don't really want to talk here about what I think this country should do to lessen its dependency on fossil fuels, but I do think we, as a nation, and even as a species, need to modify our behaviors, on a big scale, right quick.

But Blind Waves suggests that we don't have to modify our behavior at all; it's implicit politics are in favor of Business As Usual. Let the oceans rise! Good ol' American ingenuity will see us through. The low lands are flooded? We'll build new islands, and settle on those. In Blind Waves' 21st century economy, the U.S. is still as dependent on fossil fuels as ever -- Patricia Beenan, the female lead, makes a good chunk of her living salvaging oil from drowned tanker vessels. It's plausible-- although I think it's more likely that the nations will tear themselves apart when and if the populous coastal regions are really threatened and high ground becomes insanely valuable -- but in no way is this a cautionary tale.

And I don't mean to suggest that it is Steven Gould's duty to write cautionary tales, or to agree with me that is imperative that we take action to avoid the sort of scenario he describes (if possible).

But on the other hand, I think this book is pernicious and that it promotes an intolerably dangerous disregard for the consequences of our actions.

And maybe it was my duty to say that.

Steven Gould


A few years back, I devoured Gould's first novel, Jumper, a novel which explored a familiar fantasy notion (a kid who can teleport) with a fair amount of rigor, and a mix of adventure-story and romance that justifiably drew comparison's to Robert Heinlein's classic (well, in the sf genere, anyway) "juvenile" novels, like Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, or The Rolling Stones.

Wildside also reminds me very much in mood of the same novels, and in fact bears some superficial resemblance to one of them, The Door Into Summer.

I didn't like it quite as much, I think mostly because I've gotten a lot pickier about what I read in the last couple years. The prose was a little clunky -- y'know when an author overuses a particular descriptive phrase, you notice, and it just gets (unintentionally) funnier as the book goes on? -- and i thought the way the sexual tensions between the main characters evolved was quite predictable.

On the other hand, i didn't foresee all the plot twists -- only about half -- and the okay-what-happens-next? factor kept me up late two nights running.

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