Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide (1991)
American Science-Fiction author Michael Swanwick began his career in the early 1980s with several novellas and short stories but it was his 1987 ‘Vacuum Flowers’ that ensured his fame. It was widely regarded as one of the first of the new ‘cyberpunk’ wave of Sci-Fi literature that came to the fore in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, and that included the likes of William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ (1984), Bruce Sterling’s ‘Schismatrix’ (1985) and John Shirley’s ‘Eclipse’ (1986). It remains a genre favourite but Swanwick followed it up with several equally impressive works, foremost of which is his 1991 novel ‘Stations of the Tide’. Unusually for a modern SF title it began life as a serialized story in the ‘Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’, a prestigious start for any book. It describes the adventures of a staid and conservative bureaucrat sent to Miranda, a planet quarantined from the effects of high-technology, in pursuit of a rebellious ‘magician’ who has smuggled proscribed technology past the orbital embargo, with a time-limit for his search imposed by an imminent global flood which alters the planet every fifty years – the Jubilee Tides.
Swanwick’s writing, as always, is literary and inventive and it is hard to escape the exotic magic that permeates the story. Nominated for several awards the book has a wonderfully dark, dreamy and at times disturbingly playful tone with all types of strange and wonderful technologies combined with themes more familiar from Fantasy literature: shape-shifting, altered perceptions, mysticism and sorcery. Miranda proves itself to be a strangely seductive, almost erotic world, everything permeated by the fertile, resurrecting effects of the Jubilee Tides and the main character, along with the reader, is slowly drawn into its watery embrace.
The creative power of the novel is evident in its continued popularity and ‘Stations of the Tide’ has more or less stayed in print since its first publication. A new edition is scheduled for release in early 2011 but older versions are readily available.