Sea of Tranquility: A wondrous journey through space and time

It took me a while to get to this novel, but after solid recommendations from more than one person, I picked up The Sea of Tranquility, and thoroughly enjoyed the read.

The book is set across centuries and across the universe, not an easy feat to pull off but Emily St. John Mandel does it as well as one could hope for. The book has time travel, digs at HR and bureaucracy, living in artificially built worlds or a simulation, paradox of a working mother’s life, the relation between a writer and the audience…and oh yes, pandemics! But the book really doesn’t come across as a disjointed series of themes, but a coherent examination of many contemporary (or perhaps timeless) themes. Not to mention relatable, interesting characters and a well-paced storyline. This is the author’s sixth novel, and her mastery of the craft shows! If you are convinced, get the book here.

The book opens in 1912. Edwin is the second son of a noble family, a remittance man who is exiled to the far shores of Canada. We then meet a young woman in 2020, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Fast forward to life in the moon in the 2300s and 2400s, and then we circle back again to all these timelines, once we understand the connection between these disparate events. That’s some dizzying back and forth in the span of a book!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, thought-provoking even when stripped off their context:

“Sometimes you don’t know you’re going to throw a grenade until you’ve already pulled the pin.”

“If we were living in a simulation, how would we know it was a simulation?”

“I studied the history of work in university, and if there’s one historical constant over the centuries, it’s that no one especially wants to mess with HR.”

“What you have to understand is that bureaucracy is an organism, and the prime goal of every organism is self-protection. Bureaucracy exists to protect itself.”

“When have we ever believed that the world wasn’t ending? I think, as a species, we have a desire to believe that we’re living at the climax of the story. It’s a kind of narcissism. We want to believe that we’re uniquely important, that we’re living at the end of history, that now, after all these millennia of false alarms, now is finally the worst that it’s ever been, that finally we have reached the end of the world.”

“What if it always is the end of the world? Because we might reasonably think of the end of the world as a continuous and never-ending process.”

“But what makes a world real?”

“if definitive proof emerges that we’re living in a simulation, the correct response to that news will be So what. A life lived in a simulation is still a life.”