Book Review – Sea of Tranquility

I had not read any of Emily St. John Mandel’s books until just a couple of months ago. I picked up her newest release–Sea of Tranquility–as an audiobook and made my way through it quickly. While her books are linked thematically and through some of the characters, you can read them in any order. You can find my review of her earlier book, Station Eleven, here.

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Here is the blurb:

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal–an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.


While I didn’t like Sea of Tranquility as much as I did Station Eleven, it was still an intriguing story. Both books are told through different points in time, but Sea of Tranquility is actually about time travel. Like in Station Eleven, pandemics are also part of this story, and eventually the different viewpoint characters become interrelated through the actions of the time travelers.

I had a harder time getting into this book because I didn’t find the opening chapters as engaging as I did for Station Eleven. However, once the overall theme and story started to take a concrete shape, I found myself enjoying it more. I don’t want to spoil anything by giving too many details, but the book delves into concepts of what is real in our world and how people act when faced with knowledge of mortality.

The audiobook is narrated by an ensemble cast, featuring John Lee, Dylan Moore, Arthur Morey, and Kirsten Potter. This is always a little odd to me, as I seem to grow attached to one narrator for a book. One of the voice actors (Kirsten Potter) narrated Station Eleven, and I also enjoy John Lee’s narrations, having listened to several of his performances in the past.

Have you read Sea of Tranquility or any of Emily St. John Mandel’s other work? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my book reviews here.

Fencing During COVID

I wanted to get back to my habit of writing about fencing events, but with the COVID pandemic, all travel and sports competition was thrown into a gigantic snarl. Now much of the fencing world has resumed modified practices and competitions, so I wanted to put down my thoughts about how things have changed.

Lunging fencer. (c) Sylvain Sechet, reposted under Creative Commons license

Get Vaccinated

First off – now that there is a vaccine available to protect you against COVID-19, everyone that doesn’t have a MEDICAL contraindication should go and get vaccinated. The sooner the majority of the population has some immunity to this virus, the sooner we can get back to “normal.” I had some not insignificant side effects from the vaccine, but I’d much rather go through that again than have COVID and risk passing it to my friends and family. The only valid excuse for not getting the vaccine at this point is if your doctor has advised you not to.

Challenges of Practice

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Once facilities were allowed to open and conduct athletic activities, I was back in the club. The number of people at practice went down, as many had decided to continue to isolate. That is fine and I figured that as an essential worker, I was more likely to be exposed to COVID at work than I was in a gym with two or three other people, all masked.

It did take some time to figure out how to workout with a mask on. Mainly I had to find one that didn’t suck into my nose and mouth when I breathed more heavily. This is one style I have been using successfully. The other challenge was that I had been so busy at work that I was dreadfully out of shape with my cardio and fencing muscles. Even once I had returned to practice, I often didn’t make it every week, so I’m afraid the practice that I did get wasn’t terribly effective.

Competitions

I don’t remember exactly when the first competitions returned in the fencing world. These weren’t on my radar as I was terribly busy with work and hadn’t been practicing consistently. At least a few local/regional events were held this spring though, while the FIE tried to hold international competitions to finish Olympic qualification.

The first event I competed in was in July in Philadelphia and was one of US Fencing’s North American Cup events. The July event has traditionally been called Summer Nationals, so this event both was and wasn’t that. I competed in individual Vet-40 and Team Women’s Sabre events. But the “National Championship” only applied to the team event and not the individual one. That has been set for August in Atlanta.

What Have We Learned?

As the pandemic continues and measures to prevent spread of the virus are still changing, what have we learned?

  • I’m happier when I can fence regularly.
  • Sometimes we need to be flexible and adapt to the circumstances.
  • It’s really hard to plan a national event that will make everyone happy.
  • You should get vaccinated.
  • Go get vaccinated now.
  • You don’t want COVID – get the vaccine!

What have your experiences been in fencing as the pandemic has progressed? How have you adapted? Let me know in the comments above.

Find more of my fencing posts here.

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