Sea Change by Nancy Kress
Tachyon Publications £15.95
Reviewed by Ian Hunter
In just two years’ time, Caroline Denton’s world will change forever, as will the rest of the world, but her loss is a bit more personal, while the rest of the world descends into economic and agricultural collapse due to the event known as the Catastrophe. Now, in 2032, Caroline leads a double life as Reneta Black, a member of the outlawed group known as the Org, who are trying to find a way out of the biodisaster and refeed the world, but given that genetically modified organisations caused this in the first place, all such work is banned and the Org are a hunted organisation, and even worse there appears to be a mole in the Org, and even worse, a climate-change collapse is looming.
Therefore, the stakes couldn’t be any higher in Nancy Kress’ new novella, a tale that mixes biotechnology, with espionage, and intrigue and double-cross in what could, and should have been, a fast-moving plot that slips between past events – going all the way back to 2005, and flitting between the events of 2022 and 2032 as we learn how Caroline reached this point in her life.
The only problem with it is that it is too slow, the first-person voice of the main character is too knowing, looking back at the past and making judgement calls on events and how she behaved and reacted. We get glimpses of a world with major problems and a definite divide between the rich and poor, but we also get a heck of a lot of info-dumping which just gets in the way of the plot and slows everything down, including an opening involving a moveable house that seems out of place and superfluous, except to reveal that she has the required ID evidence, for whichever identity requires them. The story might have been better told through a third-person narrative or from multiple viewpoints, as I never really felt for Caroline, and because she is telling the tale, wasn’t really that concerned about her.
It’s a pity because eco-disaster books are pretty common, while those revolving around the food supply and agriculture are less so. Given that we are in the middle of a pandemic, with people queuing outside shops and panic buying, and leaving the shelves bare of essential items such as pasts and rice, Sea Change could have been a very timely book. Kress is a prolific author, with books stretching back to the 1980s and she has been the author of many standalone novels, short story collections, and several trilogies. Here, there is an ending of sorts, but events have clearly been set up for a sequel; however, I have to confess that Caroline will have to continue her adventures without me, but, somehow, I think she’ll be alright.