Friday 5 July 2024

Sea Change by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications) | review by Stephen Theaker

This review originally appeared in Interzone #286 (March–April 2020).

Quite a difficult book to review without spoilers, since it's as slow as its protagonist to trust the reader with any information, Sea Change begins with a self-driving house holding up the traffic, and only gets more mysterious from there. Renata knows what the teal paint on its window sill means: the house belongs to a member of the Org. She uses her electronic key to gain access, and investigates. There's no one inside, not even a corpse, though she suspects foul play. She nabs a toothbrush for DNA testing and bluffs her way out past the police.

This intriguing story happens in 2032, but there are also flashbacks to 2010 and 2011, when she gets back together with an old boyfriend, an actor who will marry her and then go on to be very famous, while leaving her to raise the son they had together. Back then was also when the Catastrophe began, though no one realised it at the time. The reader doesn't discover the precise nature of the Catastrophe until halfway through the book, but we know it had tragic consequences for Renata's family, and that she is trying to do something about it.

Hence her involvement with the Org, a group of scientists and their allies working in secret to do what they feel must be done to save our overheating planet. Sometimes the world doesn't know what's best for it, she tells us. The Org is considered to be a terrorist organisation by the Department of Homeland Security, and those caught serve lengthy prison sentences. In that secret life she goes by the name of Caroline Denton, and uses a chess club as a cover for clandestine meetings.

While this might sound like what you might get from a collaboration between Philip K. Dick and John Brunner, Renata isn't on drugs or at all paranoid. She's clear-sighted and right to be careful, and she's conscious of the risks involved in her group's actions. It makes for a tense and enjoyable sf thriller, one unafraid to address difficult and urgent questions, where the reader can only hope, as Renata does, that she is doing the right thing, and that she'll come out of it alive. Stephen Theaker ****

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