Michael Swanwick: Stations of the Tide

Stations of the Tide
Michael Swanwick
252 pages
First published 1991

How do you make a character unsympathetic to the reader? - easy - give him a distasteful name. The central character in Michael Swanwick's novel is referred to simply as "the bureaucrat". At a single stroke the character is defined as being staid and unimaginative. This is an example of Swanwick's skill of packing maximum effect into his use of language. His phrases drip with imagery as he applies a generous supply of adjectives. However his prose, while colourful, is not overly florid - he achieves a good balance between description and actually getting on with the story.

As for the story, for the major part it is solidly put together. Our bland friend the bureaucrat has been sent to track down a tricky troublemaker. Of course the person being tracked runs rings around the bureaucrat - but then how could it be any other way with a title like that. This is all set in a background of a planet about to undergo a massive seasonal change. This type of device has become popular in recent years - at least this time the author does not have the bad taste to pretend that this change is a mystery. Usually such a mystery lasts until about the second page.

Oh yes, there is one other element - a mysterious ancient alien race - reputed to be shape shifters. Well there are not that many original ideas anyway. The important thing is that they are well executed - and they are in this case.

So far so good - the book sounds great. The flaw is that it becomes incoherent in places. The pity is that the author has done it deliberately. In order to give the impression of the disorientation caused by drugs, the narrative takes a number of diversions along some strange pathways of the mind. This is all very well, but the thread of the story tends to get lost. No matter, just enjoy the quality of the language.

So that's "Stations of the Tide" - go drown in some words.

Review volume kindly supplied by Quicksilver

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